Gauging Derrick Henry’s 2020 season

Photo via Geoff Burke/ USA TODAY Sports

Pound. 

Thump. 

Bam.

The surplus onomatopoeia comes in the form of helmets, pads and bodies colliding to create what is the game of football. These sounds specifically resonate most vividly with that of the running back.

One running back, in particular, fits that mold perfectly.

Derrick Henry.

Since donning a Tennessee Titans uniform in his 2016 rookie season, Henry has steadily gotten better and better. The gradual increase in production reached its crescendo last season. The then-25-year-old rushed to a career-high 16 touchdowns, 1,540 yards and averaged over 100 yards a game. The most important facet of his traditional playstyle is that he was able to pound away to 303 rushing attempts. Henry’s 303 attempts, in fact, would be the most since he rushed 395 times during his senior year at Alabama in 2015. 

Even through the excellent production, the question remains.

What can Titans’ fans expect from their star rusher in 2020? Can they expect more production, or less? 

Let’s not get too greedy and ask for more production, Tennessee fans. After all, his touchdown total, rushing yard total, yards per game and attempts all led the NFL or was tied for it (his touchdown total was tied with Green Bay’s Aaron Jones) last season.

As Titans’ fans might have to soon realize, less production might be a certainty simply due to the fact that he rushed a lot last season. While his rushing attempts led the NFL, he was also one of only two running backs to rush for over 300 attempts last season (Dallas’s Ezekiel Elliott had 301 attempts last season). 

To put up that rushing attempt total production again, Henry would have to go against the norm for running backs over the past 10 seasons. 

Since 2010, 17 running backs (including Henry) have rushed at least 300 times in a season. When excluding Henry, only four of those 16 running backs were able have repeat performances (meaning the running back was able to rush over 300 times two seasons in a row). Those four performances came in 2010-11 with Michael Turner (334 and 301, respectively), Marshawn Lynch in 2012-13 (315 and 301, respectively), LeSean McCoy in 2013-14 (314 and 312, respectively) and Elliott in 2018-19 (304 and 301, respectively). 

While all four running backs rushed over 300 times in back-to-back years, all four saw a decline in rushing yard totals; Turner dropped from 1,371 to 1,340, Lynch dropped from 1,590 to 1,257, McCoy dropped from 1,607 to 1,319 and Elliott dropped from 1,434 to 1,357. Aside from Turner (who saw his yard per attempt total increase from 4.1 to 4.5 yards), Lynch, McCoy and Elliott all showed a decrease in average rushing yards per attempt (Lynch from 5.0 to 4.2, McCoy from 5.1 to 4.2 and Elliott from 4.7 to 4.5). 

While it is possible a healthy 2020 Henry could put up a 300-plus rushing attempt campaign again, it would be safe to say his rushing yards per attempt total could drop due to the simple grind of what the running back position brings to the body. 

When looking at the case of Henry, his in-your-face and ground-and-pound style is extremely physical when he stampedes through tackles (his 29 broken tackles in 2019 were tied for second in the entire NFL last season). Even while Henry is going into his age-26 season and has youth on his side (the four running backs mentioned above were all close to the same age in their back-to-back seasons), his style of play might be too physical. When coupled with the fact that the Titans lost a durable offensive tackle in Jack Conklin (who started all 16 games in 2019), the unit in 2020 might not be the same unit it was a year prior (per footballoutsiders.com, the Titans’ offensive line ranked fourth in average running back yards per carry with 4.83). 

That is not to say Henry will be sub-par next year. After all, in Henry’s four seasons in the NFL, he has played in all 16 games every year except his rookie year (where he played in 15). However, the physical tole of what playing running back does (along with how past running backs have fared with a similar workload) could mean a drop-off is on its way. 

Do not worry, though, Titans’ fans.

No matter if the production remains the same or declines, a healthy Henry will still poundthump and bam his way to healthy totals on the ground. 

Published by John Crane

I am originally from Alexandria, Louisiana, but have lived in South Carolina, Texas, and now Arizona. I am a huge sports fan, with baseball being my primary sport. The dream is to one day become a sports reporter or broadcaster.

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