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Give Derrick Henry One More Chance: Why His Late-Season Fantasy Explosion Is Not a Mirage

Raise your hand if your fantasy teams have been victimized by Derrick Henry. Now, take a quick glance around the Twitter-verse. Most hands are up. In 2018 in particular, your shares of Henry hit you hard. You probably drafted him with your third-round pick only to fall victim to inconsistent usage that all but killed your fantasy football team.

I’m here to state my last and final case to give Derrick Henry one more chance on your fantasy roster. He’s being drafted as the RB17 in FFPC best ball leagues, which I do believe can be a value – even in full-PPR formats. Yes, I know, he doesn’t catch passes, but bear with me.

For the other side of this argument, be sure to check out Shawn Siegele’s recent piece urging caution on Derrick Henry.

The Upside

Even though we’ve all been burned by Henry in the past, I want to take a moment to recognize the very reasons he was so highly drafted in the first place.

Former Heisman winner. Strength, agility, explosion. Did I mention size? At 6 feet 3 inches and 247 pounds, Henry has a frame that is built to withstand contact and wear down defenses as the game progresses. Even with that frame, Henry managed a 4.54 40-yard dash, scoring in the 59th percentile among all other running back prospects (regardless of size). His speed score of 116 is among the best at the RB position.

Coming out of college, we knew Henry was a running back built to handle a significant workload. He finished his junior year at Alabama with 395 carries, and despite that, has a pretty limited injury history that includes just a fractured fibula in 2013 and calf strain that kept him out week 9 in the 2016 NFL season. Active for 98% of his career games in the NFL is certainly a plus, as the best tool in the arsenal for a running back can really be availability.

Although Henry has often not looked to be the running back we’ve expected him to be, we saw plenty of reason to believe that back is still in him and that the Titans think that too.

First, let’s examine Henry’s splits when receiving more than 12 carries per game – a feat accomplished just 14 times in his three NFL seasons.

Henry’s size and strength are assets that allow him to be a true bruiser back that can wear down a defense as the game clock ticks on. Putting a stop to a physically demanding running back like Henry is exhausting. His speed and burst are a lot to keep up with at the line, especially if you’ve got to make an effort to stuff him 12-plus times per game.

It’s impossible to discuss Henry’s upside without noting his touchdown potential as a workhorse back in a run-first offense. No, the Titans offense is not a powerhouse. However, despite receiving 12 or fewer carries in ten games, Henry somehow managed to find himself ranked third in the NFL for rushing touchdowns. Let’s take away his entire game versus Jacksonville (which I know you’re all imploring me to do), and he finishes with eight rushing touchdowns … still 11th most in the league.

Concerned defenses will stack the box with the lack of playmakers on the Titans offense? Good news – the Titans added receivers Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown, which should help alleviate pressure off the line and allow Henry some room to run. Given Henry’s overall uptick in snaps in the second half of the season and the addition of pieces to open up the passing game, opposing defenses should be have a harder time discerning whether Henry is going to be running the ball or not, which should lead to fewer stacked boxes. Despite the fact that he’s not a particularly good route runner, Henry’s actually boasted a decent career average catch rate of 78%.

Why Is 2019 Different?

If you drafted Henry in the third or fourth round of your fantasy football drafts in 2018, you did it with the assumption that he was going to be a workhorse back in the Titans offensive scheme. DeMarco Murray announced his retirement, and that was all it took for fantasy owners to run away with the narrative. But perhaps we misread the Titans’ signals all along.

Throughout the offseason, the Titans’ coaching staff has repeated from top to bottom their intention to funnel the offense through Henry, as they did in the last five games of 2018. How does this differ from last offseason? We didn’t really hear that kind of coach speak … at all. We heard that Derrick Henry would lead the team in carries, sure. But we also heard that Henry and Lewis would be a “1A and 1B.” It’s a subtle but significant difference.

It’s hard to say what accounted for the sudden jump in snaps for Derrick Henry in 2018, aside from the fact that it just made sense, as it did to us when we drafted him in fantasy football. Henry himself notes a mid-season pep talk from former Titans RB Eddie George that was a bit of a wakeup call.

Perhaps George’s intervention was just what the doctor ordered. Before the bye and infamous pep talk, Henry saw a lackluster 84 total rushing attempts and didn’t do much with him. Disappointing considering you drafted him in the fourth round, right? After the bye, Henry’s efficiency improved drastically.

His yards per carry jumped from 3.2 to 6.0 — and yes, remove the 99-yard run versus Jacksonville, and he’s still averaged a hearty 5.5 yards per carry in his last five games. The Titans coaching staff took notice, gradually increase his rushing attempt market share until eventually Dion Lewis was phased out of the running game entirely.

In order to see Derrick Henry as a draftable asset in 2019, you have to be willing to subscribe to the narrative that he has the potential to see the carry load we know he’s capable of. Given that workload, we’ve seen that the upside is immense. And now we have ample reason to believe the Titans want Henry to get that workload as much as we do. Success in fantasy football is often about being willing to look past surface stats and, occasionally, to forgive the circumstances that may have stifled them. I think 2019 is the year to forgive Derrick Henry.

Image Credit: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Derrick Henry.

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