Derek Henry A Lock to Repeat As Rushing Champ?

November 3, 2020

Tennessee Titans running back Derek Henry is a beast. The man is like a human bulldozer when he runs the ball and just plows through defenders. His running led to the Titans making the playoffs last year and then recording upset wins over the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

It is why he was able to overtake Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb last season and win the 2019 rushing title, and it is why he is the current leader heading into Week Nine with 775 total yards on the ground. With more than a hundred yards on his nearest competitor (Dalvin Cook), he looks like he has a great shot at winning it.

He does, of course, which is why he has the shortest odds at DraftKings, -155. But at this juncture in the season, it is certainly way too soon to call him a lock. While Tennessee’s dependence on the run game helps his cause, it could also be what kills it.

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He has recorded 161 rushing attempts through seven games, for an average of 23 carries a game. Assuming the average holds, his season rushing attempts total is projected to be 368. That would be 65 more than he had last season and the most by a rushing champ since DeMarco Murray carried the ball 392 times for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.

If that average holds, at 4.8 yard/carry (if that average holds), he will have around 1766 yards rushing this season. The last time anyone had more was back in 2014 (DeMarco Murray). In that case, it is probably safe to bet on him to repeat as the rushing champ, right?

Not exactly.

Can Derek Henry Be Overtaken?

After carrying the ball 82 times in the first three games, he has only carried it 79 times in the last four. Because of his 212-yard game against the Texans, his average per carry is exceptionally high in those four games.

But if we use his season-long average and his four-game average of roughly 20 carries a game, his season total projects out to be 1639.

That is still an incredible number, but it may not be enough with a few guys already hot on his tail. Factor in the possibility he could have fewer carries if the team is forced to pass, if he gets banged up (which is entirely possible), or if the Titans sit him for the season finale (or more)– his total could be much lower.

Consequently, it may not be as hard to catch him as it may appear. So—who can do it?

Heading into Week Nine, Henry has run for 775 yards in seven games. His closest competition is Dalvin Cook (+400), who is over 100 yards behind him with 652, followed by Clyde Edwards-Helaire (+2000) with 572 yards, but in eight games.

Rounding out the top ten is Todd Gurley (531 yards), Kareem Hunt (529), Ronald Jones II (529), Josh Jacobs (522), Ezekiel Elliot (521), Kenyan Drake (512), and James Conner (498).

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And the Best Candidates Are…

Dalvin Cook is the only player other than henry to average over 100 yards a game. He is also averaging almost as many carries as Derek Henry (roughly 20 a game to 23 for Henry). But he is averaging much more per carry (5.3 to 4.8).

So, if anyone was going to catch him, Cook is the obvious choice. But they both have nine games left, and he has about 100 yards to make up. It’s not an impossible deficit to overcome, but it is not an easy one either.

If it is not going to be easy for Cook, it will not be easy for anyone else. However, it is worth pointing out that Henry only had 644 yards through ten games. But then he exploded for 896 yards in the last six to overtake Nick Chubb and steal the title.

Josh Jacobs (+1200) is getting enough work in the Raiders offense (average of 21 carries a game). But he is not doing enough with them; he is averaging just 3.6 yards/carry. Ezekiel Elliot (+2000) would be a great pick under normal circumstances—but not this year.

The Steelers will probably not run James Conner (+2000) as much as the season progresses to make sure he is healthy for the postseason. James Robinson (+2200) is doing an excellent job for the Jaguars, but not good enough to overtake Henry.

Ronald Jones Jr. and Kareen Hunt are tied for fifth with 529 yards (and odds at +2500), but neither will be a big enough part of the offense going forward to close the gap. Kenyan Drake (+3000) will really have to pick his game up to catch Henry.

But with the Dolphins acquiring DeAndre Washington before the trade deadline, his carries could get cut into soon.

So—Who Should You Bet On?

Betting Play: Derek Henry is the safe bet, but take Dalvin Cook to lead the league in rushing yards. 

Derek Henry looks like a good bet going forward, but Dalvin Cook certainly has value. If last week’s game against the Packers is any indication, it seems like his touches could go up.

Should that be the case, it may not be that hard to catch and pass Henry after all.

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