There has only been seven 2,000 yard rushers in NFL history, and Derrick Henry could become the eighth this season.
Yes, the Derrick Henry that plays for the Tennessee Titans.
Chris Johnson eclipsed the mark in 2009, which would make the Titans the first team in NFL history with two 2,000 yard rushers if it were to occur.
And I get it…that’s a HUGE if.
But the stars are uniquely aligned this season for Henry to accomplish this rare feat.
Physical / Mental Toughness
To eclipse 2,000 yards you must be extremely durable, and Henry checks that box.
He’s built like a mack-truck and has played in 49 of his first 50 games for the Titans. He played in all 34 games the last two seasons, and looks to be in the best shape of his career heading into year four.
Henry showed mental toughness last season after a dreadful start. Facing fan fury, decreased playing time, and trade rumors, Henry responded with a franchise record 238 yards in a must-win game against Jacksonville. He closed the season with 585 yards the last four games.
That’s 146 yards per game, well above the average of 125 needed to reach 2,000.
Improved – Motivated O’Line
Tennessee’s o’line was shaky at times last season, yet the Titans still finished seventh in the league in rushing. Left guard Rodger Saffold was brought in via free agency to bolster the unit, and should make a formidable duo with three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan.
On the right side, we should see the best out of Jack Conklin this season, if for no other reason than business. The Titans declined the fifth-year option for Conklin, who has an All Pro selection in 2016. Nothing motivates a player to perform at his best like the thought of being a pending free agent by year’s end.
Better Complimentary Pieces
If a good running game is a quarterback’s best friend, then competent weapons on the outside are a running back’s best friend.
The Titans were 29th in passing last season, and second year receiver Corey Davis provided the only true threat on the outside. He averaged 13.7 yards per catch.
That should change this year with several key additions.
Rookie second round pick A.J. Brown was one of the most explosive receivers in this year’s draft, averaging just under 16 yards per catch in three seasons at Ole Miss.
Adam Humphries was brought in via free agency, giving Tennessee one of the most reliable slot receivers in the league last season (76 catches, 816 yards, 5 tds for Tampa Bay).
And the return of tight end Delanie Walker is the best addition if he can return to form. It is not only his elite hands in the passing game, but his physicality at the line of scrimmage that Tennessee’s offense sorely missed last season.
With the additions in the passing game, teams will have to pick and choose when they commit extra people to stop the run.
Henry is heading into a contract extension in the near future, and is quite aware that a follow up performance to December 2018 would benefit him financially. Whether it’s a lucrative extension or free agent deal, the money still spends the same.
As it stands right now, he has not proven worthy of either. A monstrous season would change that.
Yes, it’s a lofty goal. And no, it is not a prediction. But if the Henry we saw to close 2018 is what we’ll see going forward, then he has a great shot to become the league’s eighth 2,000 yard rusher.
He’s done it with the right pieces around him at every level of his career.