Derrick Henry Fantasy 2020: First Round Centerpiece?

Derrick Henry can stand next to a fellow Heisman Winner and make him look like you or me — that is saying something. The 6’3”, 247 lb. back has always been a physical specimen, producing at the highest levels at each stop along the way. For fantasy purposes, he’s been a pick that you can look to for upside or value each year, but with an ADP of 1.07, you’d be lucky to see him slip out of the first round this year. When drafting this high, you have to hit on your picks or you will be facing an uphill battle all year. So is Derrick Henry worthy of being the centerpiece of your fantasy team in 2020?

Rushing Stats for Days

Derrick Henry’s second consecutive 1,000-yard season placed him as RB2 in STD and RB5 in PPR leagues last year. He finished the year in PPR leagues as the 13th overall player, which speaks highly of his performance when factoring in the massive trend to high power passing offenses. He led the NFL in just about every rushing category; 303 carries, 1,540 yards, 16 rushing touchdowns, 102.1 yards per game, and including the playoffs, a staggering 1,677 yards after contact — the most by any back since 2006. This sets the table for an encore considering the Titans face only one team over the final 13 weeks of the 2020 season in the top half of run defense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) from 2019.

https://twitter.com/PFF_Titans/status/1287115515379322880

Tennessee’s run-centered offense presents concerns about stacked boxes (8 or more defenders), but it seems as if they aren’t worried about handing it off to Henry. According to @NextGenStats, Henry led the NFL with 188 carries against stacked boxes last season (37% of his carries). During the playoff win against the Ravens, he faced a stacked box on 63% of his attempts, producing 124 yards on 19 carries, which is the most by any player in 2019 when faced with this situation. 

Big Plays

Henry’s rise in the fantasy world can be traced directly back to his 99-yard rumble in the first round of the fantasy playoffs against the Jaguars two seasons ago. However, he has produced big plays consistently before and after that. Over the past three seasons, he has produced a play of at least 75 yards, with multiple plays over 60 yards in two of the last three seasons. Henry leads the NFL in rushes over 70 yards (3) since 2017, while also pitching in a 75-yard reception last season. Henry isn’t the type of back who instantly comes to mind in these categories, but his mix of incredible size and speed make him a nightmare in the second level. Rostering a player with these characteristics leaves you feeling like you’re never out of any week and can instantly drive the nail into the coffin of your opponent.

Injury

Henry is at high risk for injury according to sportsinjurypredictor.com, factoring in previous injuries and his bruising running style. Henry ranked only behind Dalvin Cook when limiting the sample size to backs with ADP’s in the first round. Last season, players with stock in Henry felt this at the worst time as he was absent from week 16, the championship game for most leagues.

  • Chance of Injury in 2020: 92%
  • Chance of Injury per Game: 14.6%
  • Projected Games Missed for 2020: 2.7
  • Durability Rating:  33
  • Overall: High

Receiving and other Concerns

Henry’s 2019 season also produced career highs in receiving. It’s alarming to see 18 catches for 206 yards (supplemented by a 75-yard reception) and two touchdowns as career highs. Targets for a back equate to about three times as valuable as a carry in PPR leagues, which raises a huge red flag when building your team around a player that was 40th in receiving yards amongst backs in 2019.

Perhaps Henry was a victim to game script and opportunity though. According to PFF, Henry ranks fifth of all backs at 7.5 yards per target over the last three years. Dion Lewis is gone, and third-round pick Darrynton Evans is expected to fill in this role. Henry’s experience and big-play ability may prove to be too much to take him off the field.

One of the most alarming stats about Henry is that he was only on the field for 59% of the Titan’s offensive plays; not exactly what you are looking for out of a workhorse back. After signing a long-term deal, Tennessee may want to conserve their feature back for the future and for playoff aspirations. Game flow could take him out of a game quickly with his limited role in previous seasons’ passing game. Putting your trust in Henry requires putting it in Tannehill, too. Henry was RB19 with Mariotta under center and RB2 with Tannehill. The Titans played with incredible efficiency, largely in part to Tannehill’s league-leading quarterback rating at 117.5. Many believe this is the exception after his production in Miami, but Tannehill also led the league in play-action completion percentage at 75.9%, a sign of the beneficial relationship between Henry and his new QB. 

The Final Take

I would feel confident drafting Henry as a mid to late first-round pick, possibly higher in standard scoring. Would I take him above the likes of McCaffrey, Barkley, Elliot, or Kamara? No; I don’t believe he’s in that tier. For me, he’s securely in the second tier of almost elite fantasy backs with Cook, Mixon, Chubb, and the ascending Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Due to his lack of receiving, he may not offer the upside that some of these players do. However, he has fewer question marks due to experience, playing behind a strong offensive line, a solidified contract, and a lack of a crowded backfield that some of these backs are up against. Getting top value that you can count on is vital in the first round and depending on the spot you land, Henry may be about as close to a sure thing as you can get.

Derrick Henry

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