Viewpoints were split, and people took sides: Would Derrick Henry, the engine for the Titans offense, get a contract done before the deadline? Some argued he has to get a deal. He should get paid before the Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The other side of the argument believed they would just run him into the ground and let him walk after his rookie contract, followed by the franchise tag, just like numerous other organizations. Both sides of the argument made sense.
Today the argument was settled. On July 15th Derrick Henry signed a 4-year contract with the Tennessee Titans.
The 2019 Titans showed they weren’t a team to be messed with, running through the Patriots in the Wild Card round, then stomping the NFL’s top-ranked Ravens on their way to the AFC Championship game only to lose to the Super Bowl Champions. It makes sense as to why they would like to keep that core intact for multiple years.
Questions have now arisen surrounding the Titans organization and the AFC South. The resigning has far more critical implications outside of just the organization and the AFC South, however. The primary question that needed to be focused on is, “What just happened to my fantasy team?!”
What does it mean for the offense as a whole?
There’s no denying the Titans are better off with him. However, the wide run zone scheme has made multiple running backs successful; Iggy Woods, Stephen Jackson, and Warrick Dunn are just to name a few. Titans tight end Jonnu Smith Ran even had a 57-yard run last year.
The Titans will continue to run the ball heavily with Henry. However, compared to last year, we could see a decrease in his workload now being under a multi-year deal. They had a historically efficient season in 2019: they were 31st in the league in pass attempts in 2019 with 448, only behind the ravens, yet the Titans were 1st in the league in yards per attempt at 8.8; They were 30th in plays per game behind only Washington and Pittsburgh which had horrific offenses, yet they were top 10 in scoring offenses.
The amount of third-down attempts combined with big plays on first and second down was also awing: They had the largest big-play rate of any NFL team last year on first and second down. Those big plays on early downs led to them attempting the third least amount of third downs with 11.6 while converting on only 39%. The lack of third-down attempts and success led to fewer plays run throughout the game.
Although the third-down success can be consistent, big-play efficiency can not. It’s more of a result of the strength of schedule. Derrick Henry faced three teams in 2019 that ranked in the top 10 of defenses verse the running back. Three of his worst five games came in those three matchups, and two of those three matchups he failed to gain double-digit points. In terms of big-plays, only one of his seven runs over twenty yards occurred during those games.
What does it mean for the receivers?
It doesn’t mean the scoring will go down. We now have to see more plays for those scores to occur. If we still see the high-scoring Titans, you’d have to project an increase in production from their wide receiver A.J. Brown and the aforementioned Smith as a result. The big question with Henry’s production is, “If he doesn’t get the breakaway runs in which he ranked second in for 2019, will he still be as productive?” The answer boils down to if they want to keep their reinvested prized running back fresh by letting rookie running back Darrynton Evans on the field for third downs and when they are down on the scoreboard.
Henry saw 18 targets last year, with only a 72% catch rate while dropping two. Not exactly what you’re looking for with a third-down back, which is typically brought in to catch passes. Insert Evans, who most would profile as a pass-catching back: 5’10, 203-pounds with a 4.41 40. The reality is he only caught 39 balls with a 70.9% reception rate. Surprisingly, Henry will be the better option if they do need to pass. Although this does hurt Evans’ immediate impact, dynasty owners need to hold tight. Henry hasn’t been the perfect example of health throughout his career. In addition, Evans is in the same spot Henry was in as a rookie, with the possibility of the Titans opting out of his contract after two years.
What does it mean for Henry?
Assuming they keep Henry on the field for third-downs, he could gain value by being less efficient in the run game if he steps it up in the passing. Keep in mind that the defense almost might not be as dominant. The Titans top player in the secondary, cornerback Logan Ryan was not re-signed, and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is now in Denver. All in all, they are losing seven players from their defense. They will attempt to replace them with rookies Kristian Fulton and Larrell Murchinson in the draft while adding defensive end Vic Beasley along with a few others in free agency, but those are big shoes to fill. We could see them trailing in games a lot more often in 2020, which, in turn, will potentially offer Henry more upside.
The result of his 2020 season could vary. He’s a very high risk, high reward asset. If the Titans want to preserve Henry for the next four years, we could see a drastic decrease in production. If the Titans want their best players on the field this year, he will play. The structuring of the contract- giving the team an option in 2022 and 2023- leans towards him having another high volume workload in both 2020 and 2021. Derrick Henry owners: Start your engines.
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