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Trusting Derrick Henry (or Not) in Fantasy Playoffs

Few things give me true pleasure in watching the game of football like watching a running back rip off a long run. Derrick Henry did just that in Week 14, running for 99 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He didn't stop there, posting a memorable 238 yards and four touchdowns on the day. That's the stuff of fantasy playoff legend.

With the timing of the year being so crucial, the question I saw over and over again this week was "Can he be trusted for my lineup next week?" It's nearly impossible he approaches the same numbers, but could he at least be an RB2 after a largely disappointing season?

This article will hopefully help you make your decision because it's not an easy one.

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Balance Of the Offense

The Tennessee Titans came into the offseason with a decent amount of hype. Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur was given the opportunity to truly run an offense after completing his apprenticeship as quarterbacks coach with the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and then as the OC with the Los Angeles Rams. LaFleur was going to be calling the plays for the first time, which was the reason widely accepted as to why he left Los Angeles, and the expectation was he would bring a small part of that Hollywood magic to Music City this season.

LaFleur has to date run a balanced offense between pass plays and rushes. Per Profootballfocus, he has run 366 rushing plays this season and 362 passing plays - as balanced as you can get. While not all of those rushing plays will have necessarily been called by him, with mobile quarterback Marcus Mariota able to break off a run if he can't find a good passing option, it does show some commitment to establishing the run for the team.

The red-zone plays are much the same- of the 117 plays in the red zone (the same number as the Pittsburgh Steelers) 46% were passes and 54% were rush plays. Henry has been a great goal-line back previously, and that has continued this season, scoring seven touchdowns this season in that area of the field.

Impact: The Titans have a balanced offense, make a decent number of red zone visits and Henry is a primary red zone weapon for them


Balance Of the Backfield

In the offseason, DeMarco Murray left the team and, finally, Henry was going to have the opportunity to run the backfield. Then the signing of Dion Lewis was announced days later.

Lewis had impressed in New England and the Titans looked like they would end up with a Running Back By Committee this season, but the exact split wasn't going to be known. A new coaching setup, combined with the new running back meant there wasn't much to go on, but the assumption was that Henry would be the early-down back with Lewis used as a change-of-pace option.

Looking at the rushing attempts from this season, its difficult to see a real trend- both players have had games where the game has gone their way, rather than the other back. Trying to split the backs on rushing attempts, therefore, is difficult, as the two backs have now actually had the exact same number of rushes as one another, and they have both had games where they have just fallen off and not had the majority of carries.

That being said Henry has had more attempts that Lewis in seven of the 13 games, and seems to have been given more consistent volume. His lows aren't as low as Lewis. However, recently it seems as though Henry is getting more carries than Lewis having had more rushes in the past three games.

Week 14 (Game 13 on the graph) shows that Henry was hugely productive, which is skewed by the 99-yard rush in the second quarter that he built his impressive game upon. Looking at the trend of the yards per carry, it's clear with this metric that Henry is the better running back, having only been outperformed by his teammate in just three games so far this season. Henry looks like his style of running certainly suits the system better, combined with his understanding of the strengths of the offensive line for the Titans.

That doesn't tell the whole picture though, as it takes out one of the most important parts of the modern game for a running back- catching the ball. That is where Henry struggles to make an impact, if the Titans start to lose in a game and need to try and get down the field then he can be scripted out of the game. To put it into context Henry has had 12 receptions this season, which Lewis has managed in his last three games, that is one thing that holds Henry back from having the same value as some of the better backs in the league. To put it simply, Henry can find himself on the sidelines if the game doesn't go the way of the Titans.

Impact: Henry is the more efficient ballcarrier and recently has had more carries than his teammate, but he can be scripted out of games.


Fantasy Output and Points Going Forwards

Based on the above data, the ability of Henry to be fantasy-relevant is based on two things:

  1. The opportunity of the Titans to win the game
  2. The ability of the opposition to stop the run

Henry has a matchup against the New York Giants this week, which isn't a bad matchup at all for him. The Titans are currently a three-point underdog with bookmakers, so it is certainly in the realm of possibility that they could sneak a win- the expectation is that they are at least going to be in the contest.

The Giants allow running backs an average of 97 yards and 0.8 rushing touchdowns per game so far this season, but truly that is on the increase since they traded away Damon Harrison to the Detroit Lions. In the six games they have played since the trade, they have conceded 131 yards and just over one rushing touchdown per game. So Henry should have plenty of opportunities to finish with decent numbers this upcoming week, even if he shares some of the load with Lewis.

To follow that game up the Titans play the Washington Redskins, which is again a winnable matchup for them- especially at home.

The Redskins have averaged 97 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game to the position, and so again the Titans have another matchup that Henry can get a lot of points in.

Impact: Positive Matchups for Henry Coming Up



Overall, Henry is in a team with a good balance of passing and rushing plays. He is also the clear red-zone weapon for the team, as he has been in previous seasons with the type of runner that he is. Henry certainly has an opportunity to be fantasy relevant with the matchups that the Titans have for the remainder of the season.

One limiting factor is clear- he isn't involved in the passing game, so if that Titans struggle then he will find his opportunity on the field to be limited.

In conclusion, as a result, he should be considered to be a fringe RB2/ RB3 and comparable to players like Kenyan Drake, Josh Adams, Adrian Peterson, Gus Edwards, and Tevin Coleman. At least, given the above analysis that is where I would value him for the remaining two weeks of the season.

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