Derrick Henry is an outlier in almost every way – a workhorse racer who has missed only a small handful of snapshots throughout his career and managed to cleverly dodge the fast-moving hook that he often takes out. to the high-volume runners of the stage after a handful. over 375 hauling seasons.
And while it’s unfortunate that a season-ending injury would be needed to test this hypothesis, we’re about to take a full look at the true irreplaceability of a running back at a time when the NFL is at a crossroads in how the league Consider the importance of the position. Henry is in his own class, but what happens next with the Titans may inform the rest of the league for years to come.
In the midst of this massive devaluation of brokers, we have seen some very smart and pragmatic franchises reach and overpay on the position. The Panthers signed Christian McCaffrey to a long-term extension even after Todd Gurley raged at the Rams. Andy Reid, long known as a non-believer in premium running back talent, took Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the 2020 draft, despite cultivating decades of war room stories about his disdain for wasting so much. capital in position. The Steelers, a team with myriad needs that have often outpaced their opponents in terms of draft returns, chose Najee Harris in the first round of the 21 draft, and Harris was one of two running backs selected in the first round. The Ravens’ biggest barrier to making a Super Bowl run may be their injury-depleted running back space.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley made it through the battle between analysis and run the baw traditionalists this year by explaining the true value of the running game In a way that we could all understand Since then, the battle between the runner-are-important crowd and the completely-ignore-position-and-pass-all-down crowd has been a bit smoother. We’re almost to the point where Dave Gettleman can mention Saquon Barkley’s name in public without getting an egg thrown at his head.
But imagine if Adrian Pederson, who signed with the Tennessee practice team on Monday, comes in and starts averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5 yards per carry. What if the Titans can schematically force a similar box-loaded percentage (eight or more defenders in the box) like Henry, who, outside of McCaffrey, Mark Ingram and Elijah Mitchell, saw more brick walls than any running back in the NFL this year and so create some of the advantageous matchups in the passing game?
It feels highly unlikely due to Henry’s completely unique skill set. His almost God-given ability to exist in this precise single-cut running offense remains one of the best schematics to fit in modern NFL history. But easier said than done to find a comfortable job in the outer zone. There’s a reason Kyle Shanahan coveted certain running backs during his first few free agencies, and reasons the Packers spent second-round capital on AJ Dillon (aside from holding on to Aaron Jones after a tepid entry into free agency). . Not all runners are as decisive and powerful as Henry. No runner presents Henry’s biological wrecking ball. No backup can be stronger in close combat and skilled enough to contribute situationally in the passing game.
This offseason, I asked Henry about the inevitability runners always face and he said, “God has a plan for you; just live it. “He seemed to embody that zen and he never modified his running style to turn towards longevity (not that it exists, but he had the financial incentive to try). At the start of the year, if he separates Henry’s yards after first contact and gives him That distance to an isolated back, that person would be second in the NFL in rushing since 2019 … Henry himself.
All of this morphed into a player who made up a large part of the Tennessee team’s total identity. And while I’ll continue to argue that the Titans are more than just Henry, testing that hypothesis firsthand will be an instructive endeavor. If Tennessee thrives without the most gifted running back since his replacement, Peterson, in his prime, then the perception of the position itself will change. If the Titans plummet (which, again, I don’t expect), we may see more teams less likely to treat their own running backs with the indifference of a rental car.
More NFL coverage:
• Von Miller Trade Winners and Losers
• MMQB: Saints beat Brady again, familiar-looking patting, more
• Week 8 Conclusions: Frantic Divisional Games, Explosions and More
• Snyder will not assume responsibility; Goodell won’t
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.