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3 Reasons Why Derrick Henry Won't Deliver - Footballguys

A detailed look at Derrick Henry's fantasy prospects for 2018.

REASONS DERRICK HENRY WILL DISAPPOINT IN FANTASY FOOTBALL

  1. The feature back role does not exist in the current iteration of this offense.
  2. Usage will be more predictable than most believe, but will still result in a split backfield.
  3. Henry’s blocking and pass-catching limitations compared to Dion Lewis’ will hold him back, particularly in points per reception (PPR) formats

SUMMARY

While he may be appropriately valued in standard formats, at current ADP in PPR redraft formats, Derrick Henry isn’t the best choice to return value. Our projectors at Footballguys all disagree with this stance, but there is a compelling case to be made against Henry living up to expectations. The departure of the previous coaching regime -- head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie -- and the acquisition of veteran Dion Lewis means this situation is more of a timeshare than hoped. Expect new head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to emphasize a committee approach, based on what they learned in New England (Vrabel) and under Kyle Shanahan (LaFleur). Considering Henry also has limitations as a blocker and pass catcher, it makes Dion Lewis the runner from this committee who is more likely to end the year with better fantasy numbers. As he is being taken several rounds later than Henry, avoiding Henry makes sense.


THE WAIT IS OVER… OR IS IT?

When the team released DeMarco Murray early in the offseason, a resounding cheer went up from Derrick Henry supporters. “It’s finally his time to take over,” many proclaimed in fantasy circles. Then came a cry of frustration when Dion Lewis was signed to a four-year, nearly $20 million dollar deal -- a hefty investment for a running back acquired in free agency. The community now is divided about how this situation will shake out. Will Henry or Lewis lead the committee? How will the work be divided? Are one or both values at current ADP?

THE LEAD ROLE DOES NoT EXIST

When making a case for Henry, many point to last year when the Titans insisted on using DeMarco Murray as the lead option, even when he was clearly injured. Though there were times Murray dominated touches, the duo ended the year with a difference of only eight carries between them, signaling the split was more even than it appeared. It’s also important to remember that even if one believes that Mularkey preferred a workhorse back, his regime is no longer in Tennessee. The new coaching staff has already indicated it intends to rely on multiple players, Henry and Lewis included.

When people think about offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, they think of the success of Todd Gurley last year and how he was used as a true do-it-all running back. There are two reasons that dynamic won't follow LaFleur to Tennessee. Neither Henry nor Lewis have the elite, every-down abilities of Todd Gurley. Lewis has not proven he can hold up to 20 plus touches per game consistently; he's been massively injury prone. Henry is certainly built more sturdily, but his receiving ability and reliability as a pass blocker are not nearly as developed. In short, Tennessee doesn’t have a Todd Gurley caliber talent on the roster. Also, the running game will more likely be modeled after a hybrid that crosses Kyle Shanahan’s system (LaFleur's mentor) and the Patriot’s system under Bill Belichick (Vrabel's mentor and coach as a player). Both of these systems tend to utilize multiple backs in specific roles.

USAGE WILL BE PROBLEMATIC

The coaching staff has made statements to suggest they want to use these backs to attack the weaknesses of opposing defenses. Sound familiar? That’s because the Patriots (the primary team after which the Titans seem to be modeling their culture) use this strategy with great effectiveness. The Patriots backfield is likely the closest to match to what we can expect out of Tennessee. It makes sense to explore their tendencies to get a better idea of what that may look like. The Patriots often have the reputation of being unpredictable with their running back usage, but the data shows that this is really true only for the second and third back in their committee. In 2017, the Patriots had seven games in which they gave at least three carries to three or more different runners. There was a leader in touches in each of those games (Mike Gillislee in Weeks One through Five, Dion Lewis in Week 6 through 17), but the split between the lead back and the runner-up was within five touches or less in six of those seven contests. Surprisingly, the lead back in touches only tied for the lead in running back receptions three times and only led in this category in Week 16 and 17. In Week 15 through 17, Lewis’ touches were ramped up in preparation for the playoffs, which explains the abnormalities in the data on those weeks. If the Titans are truly trying to follow the Patriot way, the coaching staff will split touches between two backs. The one who leads in carries will not lead in receptions.

LEWIS IS BETTER FOR THE PASSING GAME

Lewis is going to be the third-down and passing situation specialist, at least while he stays healthy. He is the more accomplished pass blocker and receiver. While Henry can improve in both areas in time, Lewis is already fully formed at both disciplines. Reliability endears players to their coaches and Lewis is currently more dependable. Also realize that despite his reputation for pass catching, Lewis is very competent between the tackles, which gives the Titans more options on offense when he is in the backfield. If this is indeed how it plays out, it will make it more likely that Lewis is the one to value more highly in PPR formats.

2018 PROJECTIONS

Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
Yds/Ru
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
Yds/Re
ReTDs
FumLost
FanPts
David Dodds
15.3
213
888
4.2
7.3
24.0
197
8.2
1
2.3
182.3
Bob Henry
16.0
210
915
4.4
8.0
20.0
210
10.5
1
1.0
186.5
Jason Wood
16.0
230
960
4.2
8.0
20.0
165
8.25
1
2.0
186.5
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
213
891
4.2
5.8
20.4
172
8.43
6
2.0
165.1

FINAL THOUGHTS

Dreams of Henry being utilized as the feature back are not realistic due to the coaching staff’s desire to create a split workload and Henry’s deficiencies as a blocker and pass catcher. Outside of a Lewis injury, which can't be ruled out, the Titans will utilize a true committee with Henry leading the way on first- and second downs and Lewis playing the 3rd-down role and staying in as a blocker for key passing downs. While Henry seems appropriately valued in standard formats, it is Lewis that is the value in PPR formats.


THOUGHTS FROM THE FOOTBALLGUYS MESSAGE BOARD

Dr. Dan thinks that Henry’s usage will limit his potential:

"The coach has called Henry a two-down back. His words, not mine. I'm not saying Henry is useless. I'm saying Lewis is going to eat into his carries and receptions enough to deflate his value.”

bostonfred doesn’t believe the coach speak:

"Henry is the main first- and second-down guy, Lewis is a third-down/change-of-possession guy who could get a lot more early-down touches against certain types of defenses. Like every team, they seem to envision themselves running the football a lot during the offseason, but when the bullets are flying, I think the Titans are still on the high end of the NFL in terms of running back touches. I also think Henry ends up with comfortably more carries and touches than Lewis.”

Chaka takes a more moderate stance on Henry versus Lewis:

“Anyone who thinks Lewis will be nothing more than a change-of-possession or pass catching specialist isn't paying attention. And anyone who thinks Henry will be a two-down grinder is equally not paying attention. I think Henry ends up with more carries and more touchdowns (I also think more total touches is likely), I think Lewis will have more receptions. I think that total yards from scrimmage will be close.”

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Marcas Grant of NFL.com lists Derrick Henry as a player to avoid:

“As someone at the vanguard of the #FreeDerrickHenry movement, this is like watching Han Solo die on-screen all over again. (Oh, uh ... spoiler alert!) After the Titans released DeMarco Murray in March, it was like all of our Derrick Henry dreams would come true. Fantasy managers and analysts alike went to a mental happy place that featured a running back built like a defensive end getting to the edge and causing smaller defensive backs to consider their own mortality. Then Dion Lewis happened. Lewis' arrival in Nashville effectively killed any dreams of Henry becoming a workhorse back. Though the narrative initially was that Lewis will be the third-down, pass-catching back, that might only be half true. Last season in New England, nearly 93 percent of Lewis' offensive snaps came on first and second down. Combine that with the aforementioned pass-catching acumen and this has the makings of a full-blown committee.”

Jody Smith of FantasyPros is shying away from Henry:

“While he’s made some strides in the passing game, Lewis’s arrival all but assures that Henry still won’t play much of a role in the passing game, which hurts his PPR value. Even with a modest 25-percent increase across the board in 2018 and Henry would hit 169 PPR points, which would have placed him outside of the top-20 running backs last season. I view Derrick Henry as a touchdown-dependent borderline RB2/3 in standard scoring leagues, and a running back to avoid in PPR leagues. With an ADP that is in the third or fourth round, there’s much better value in waiting another couple of rounds and targeting backs who will be advantageous in PPR formats. Proven PPR assets like Duke Johnson Jr, Chris Thompson, and even teammate Dion Lewis are all currently being selected well after Henry in early fantasy drafts.”

CBS Sports gives Henry the edge in this committee situation:

“Tennessee's Derrick Henry should end up as the lead back, but not the only back. That's because the Titans added Dion Lewis, a smaller, quicker, sleeker rusher with very good pass-catching skills. The prevailing thought is that Henry will handle early-down work while Lewis will work in passing situations. Fantasy owners would just prefer finding ways to give Henry the ball -- in six career games with at least 14 carries touches, he's scored a touchdown and posted at least 11 Fantasy points every time. The reason why he's rarely had games with 14-plus carries is because DeMarco Murray hogged work from him, but those days are done. Lewis is a very good runner but he's more injury prone than Henry. It doesn't matter how much the Titans paid Lewis to come to Music City, the truth is Henry has the chance to put up bigger, better numbers. He's the Titans running back to target with a pick as soon as Round 3 in non-PPR and Round 4 in PPR.”