Derrick Henry was the hero for several fantasy football league champions. After struggling through the early portion of the season, Henry exploded late in the year to power several teams to late-season victory. Henry has always flashed this game-breaking ability throughout his career, but will 2019 finally be the year that the Alabama product puts it all together?
2019 Fantasy Football Preview: Derrick Henry
With DeMarco Murray retired, Derrick Henry was supposed to be the star of the Titans’ backfield. That plan changed early in free agency when Tennessee signed Dion Lewis to a four-year contract. Because of this signing, Henry spent the majority of the season splitting carries with Lewis.
Henry had a miserable start to the season, never playing in more than 52% of the snaps or recording more than 58 rushing yards through the first 13 weeks of the season. This underwhelming performance made him the RB34 in standard scoring and a unanimous draft bust. However, the former second-round pick broke out in a big way to close the year. Finally given a full workload, Henry recorded 87 carries for 585 yards and seven touchdowns over the final four weeks. He was the RB1 by a comfortable margin, as his 102.8 points were 24.5 more than the next-closest running back (Chris Carson).
Derrick Henry was an efficient runner in 2018. According to Sharp Football Stats, Henry had a 50.9% success rate on carries, 3.4% above the league average. That solid number jumped to 58.1% over his final four weeks. Henry did all this despite having the 17th-best run-blocking offensive line along with a pedestrian passing attack. The fact Henry managed to be this efficient despite his surroundings means that the Titans coaching staff will want to heavily incorporate Henry into the 2019 offense.
The biggest downside with Henry is his work in the passing game. Henry is an old-school running back who simply doesn’t catch passes. He’s never had more than 15 receptions or 137 receiving yards in a single season, and that won’t change in 2019. Even during his hot stretch, Henry only recorded three receptions for 21 yards over the final four games of 2018.
Dion Lewis is still in town, but he’s clearly the afterthought. General Manager Jon Robinson said that Tennessee will “try to put that [heavy workload] back on him” heading into 2019. The Titans went 4-1 to close the season, and a lot of that had to do with Henry’s fantastic play. They’ll want to replicate that run-first mentality in 2019, so Henry should see a steady workload.
The only problem is that we’ve been down this road with Henry before. Henry is always the product of preseason hype but inevitably falls back into a committee role as the season progresses. A lot of this is due to his slow starts to the season. According to Pro Football Reference, Henry averages just 3.8 yards-per-carry in September and 3.99 yards-per-carry in October. His numbers gradually go up throughout the year, as his physical style of play is more effective later in the season. However, Henry won’t be as efficient early in the season, and Tennessee might re-evaluate their backfield plans if Henry comes out of the gate slowly.
Additionally, Henry is a prime candidate to get phased out of a game. Tennessee wants to run the ball early and often, but they won’t always be able to do that. The Titans play in the same division as Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck and also have to face off against Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, and Drew Brees. Running the ball only works in low-scoring games, and games against these quarterbacks will not be low-scoring. Tennessee will need to throw the ball to keep up with these elite quarterbacks, which means that Henry simply won’t produce in these matchups. While he could steal a goal-line touchdown, you cannot start him confidently in these nine matchups.
Derrick Henry Average Draft Position
As of this posting, Fantasy Football Calculator projects Henry to go off the board with the 24th overall pick in standard scoring. This places him right in-between Leonard Fournette and Marlon Mack and behind the likes of Nick Chubb and Damien Williams. He’s obviously not as valuable in PPR formats, as Fantasy Football Calculator has Henry as the 38th pick in that format.
Truthfully, this feels like too high a price for a player like Henry. The Titans want to run the ball with Henry, but Henry has yet to prove he can perform like a lead back over a full 16-game season. Henry is notoriously slow at the start of the season, which could make Tennessee go back to a committee approach with Dion Lewis.
Additionally, his inability to contribute in the passing game could lead to him being phased out of game plans. Unfortunately for Henry, the Titans have to face off against some of the best passers in the league. Tennessee will need to throw if they’re to keep up with these high-powered offenses, which means Henry will only have value if he can steal a rushing touchdown.
Henry will have some fantasy value, but he probably won’t be a dependable RB2. In standard scoring, you’d be better off grabbing someone with high upside like Devonta Freeman or somebody with no real backup like Josh Jacobs. Likewise, David Montgomery and Phillip Lindsay are both smarter picks in PPR scoring and both are projected to be mid-fourth round picks. Fantasy Football Calculator projects each player to come off the board after Henry, and each player will give you a better chance to win your league.
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