Derrick Henry Is A No-Brainer First-Round Fantasy Pick, But When Exactly Should You Draft Him? It Depends
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Derrick Henry.
Editor’s note: The following analysis was written in August, but when coupled with the latest rankings and projections in our 2021 Fantasy Draft Kit, is still valuable research for your next draft.
Derrick Henry Fantasy Rankings
|Consensus rankings via Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon are based on half PPR scoring and as of early August. » Create custom cheat sheets with their projections now|
Derrick Henry has been a truly dominant fantasy running back for the past two seasons. He is coming off of a banner year in which he exceeded 2,000 rushing yards, led the NFL in nearly every rushing category and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
But Henry’s upside comes with a significant price tag for fantasy managers heading into 2021.
Henry’s 2020 Season
- Games played: 16
- Rushing: 378 attempts, 2,027 yards, 17 touchdowns
- Receiving: 31 targets, 19 catches, 114 yards, zero touchdowns
- Fantasy finishes: RB3 in PPR, RB3 in standard, RB3 in half PPR
Henry met and exceeded high expectations in 2020. He began the year as one of the few unrivaled running backs in a run-heavy offense, making him an extremely valuable asset for fantasy managers.
His dominance stemmed from a combination of heavy usage and efficiency. The Titans leaned heavily on the Year 5 running back and the team tallied the second-most rushing yards per game behind the Ravens. Henry finished the season with an NFL-best 378 attempts — 66 more than Dalvin Cook — and a career-best 5.4 yards per carry. He also led the league with 2,027 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.
The Alabama product was used sparingly in the passing game and reeled in 19 of 31 passes (61% catch rate) for 114 yards. He finished as RB3 in all fantasy formats.
Previous Fantasy Performances
Henry is a former five-star recruit who set the high school record for rushing yards. He was heavily recruited and attended Alabama for three seasons where he won a CFP National Championship and the Heisman Trophy and received unanimous All-American recognition.
After an impressive combine performance, the Titans selected Henry 45th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft as the second running back off the board behind No. 4 overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott .
The Alabama product began his rookie campaign as a backup to DeMarco Murray, tallying 110 attempts for 90 yards and five touchdowns in 15 appearances as Murray’s backup. Henry finished the 2016 season as RB43 in half PPR scoring, while the veteran finished as RB5.
Henry saw a slightly increased role in Year 2, more akin to a committee with Murray as opposed to the veteran’s backup. He saw 176 carries for 744 yards and five touchdowns over 16 appearances and finished as RB38 in half PPR; Murray saw 184 carries for 659 yards and six touchdowns and finished as RB18.
Murray was released at the conclusion of the 2017 season and subsequently retired, paving the way for Henry to take over a featured role in the Titans offense. The team did acquire Dion Lewis, however, and opted to divvy up touches between the pair. Henry saw 215 attempts for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns over 16 appearances and finished as RB14, while Lewis — who was utilized much more in a pass-catching capacity — saw 155 carries for 517 yards and one touchdown.
Henry’s usage increased significantly in 2019 into much more of a workhorse role missing just one game. He saw 303 attempts for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns and led the NFL in all three categories. Henry earned his first Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro honor. He finished as RB6 in half PPR, and fourth on a per-game basis.
Henry’s 2021 Fantasy Outlook
There are very few negative arguments to be made against Henry’s 2021 fantasy outlook.
Wear-and-tear is always a concern for running backs — especially ones seeing 300+ carries per year. Henry has been utilized heavily since he entered the league in 2016, but has nevertheless remained healthy, missing just two games in five years.
Unlike many backfields which are trending toward running back committees, Henry has little to no competition from Tennessee’s depth chart. Next up are Darrynton Evans, Jeremy McNichols and Brian Hill. Evans and McNichols saw a combined 61 carries for 254 yards and one touchdown in 2020. Evans would be the player of the trio to roster as insurance for Henry.
Even if Henry’s carries were to dip to a more reasonable level (250 to 300 carries), his career 5.0 yards per carry would still put him well over the 1,000-rushing-yard threshold.
How to Draft Derrick Henry
Henry has improved consistently over the past five years and shows no signs of slowing down. He has developed into one of the league’s top pure rushers and has an enviable workhorse role in the Titans’ run-heavy offense.
Henry is currently being drafted between RB2 and RB3 depending on the format. He carries slightly higher value in non-PPR formats relative to some of the pass-catching running backs. His opportunity and talent give him a high floor and astronomical ceiling. He is a no-brainer, early first-round pick.