Dynasty Valuation Discussion – Derrick Henry…Buy Now or Avoid/Bust?
It’s funny how the football universe treats formerly hot rookies a few after they’ve been in the NFL years. It’s a fast-forwarded marriage cycle…all the hype when you first meet, and the all the possibilities of the honeymoon phase…and then the spark subsides – you either work to keep it lit or you let it fade and start looking at the new crop of potential spouses with their better 40-times and verticals, I mean new crop of rookies, and suddenly your former love isn’t as exciting in your mind.
Coming into the 2016 NFL Draft, Derrick Henry had it all – freakishly big, strong, played for ‘Alabama’ (the #1 thing a prospect can have on their resume these days). He was mostly a mid-to-late first-round draft prospect – the draft that saw running backs falling out of favor in the draft for a few years…the draft that saw Ezekiel Elliott go #4 overall, in a very controversial/debated move and then 41 picks later Derrick Henry joined a backfield that had just traded for then thought-to-be star, but coming off a bad Chip Kelly/PHI one year RB DeMarco Murray.
All the fanfare fell off for Henry when he joined a backfield with Murray already there. People hoped Henry would overcome Murray…but he didn’t. DeMarco was an ace in 2016 and Henry was mostly a flop.
In 2017, DeMarco and the entire offense died. Henry had some moments of promise, but he was as low production as Murray with lesser workload. Then coach Mike Mularkey would not quit Murray, who was having a disastrous season…he wouldn’t turn things over to Henry – and, yet, somehow the Titans made the playoffs. Henry would star in their shocking wild card win vs. KC…23 carries for 156 yards and 1 TD. Just as the bandwagon started rolling, the Patriots completely shutdown Tennessee and Henry (12-28-0) the following week. Still, the momentum was building back for Henry.
In preseason 2018, Derrick Henry was a hot name for fantasy…and then Tennessee, with a new coaching staff, signed the very successful Dion Lewis -- and cold water was thrown on a hot Derrick Henry story. A split role was assumed.
Henry was the 2018 main RB early on, but he was pretty ineffective and then Dion Lewis took over and sparked life into the offense for a bit. Just when it looked like Henry was about to fall off the map, and had fallen onto redraft waiver wires, he started catching fire midseason with 4 TDs in three games Weeks 7-10 (a BYE week in there), but then he fell off again…just a guy getting 8-12 carries for 40-60 yards and no TDs again.
Then, in Week 14, Henry had that epic 17 carry, 238 yards, and 4 TD game on Thursday Night Football vs. Jacksonville. He could’ve had 250-300+ yards and 5 TDs if they really wanted to push it but they pulled back the reigns. Henry fever was back – the next game, 33 carries for 170 yards and 2 TDs. Henry had a strong finish to the 2018 season.
That strong 2018 finish, and his stature -- I assumed it would lead to him being the apple of everyone’s (among the masses) eye this offseason. I thought we’d be sick of the Derrick Henry push by the end of March 2019…and I assumed it would get worse all summer. So far, compared to what I expected, you could hear a pin drop on Henry.
This same exact time last year, Henry was trading about the same ADP -- #18-22 among RBs, #40-50 overall. Last year, all we had was unrequited hype and Dion Lewis fears. This year we have that killer end of 2018 and milder Dion Lewis fears, and yet the worldly FF-valuation is about the same? What happened to all his lovers from years gone by? He finally gives you a ray of hope and his ADP is about the same as when he was an oh-so-promising rookie?
How Damien Williams, Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michel, Dalvin Cook, and Mark Ingram are trading ahead of Henry in many drafts right now…I don’t get it.
What has happened since 2018 season end only enhances the Henry upside ahead…
-- First, head coach Mike Vrabel is a power-run mindset. He wants Henry to be that guy. Vrabel pushed Henry right out of the gates in 2018, but it was ineffective, but as soon as Henry hit it late…Vrabel ran with it hard to finish 2018.
-- O-C Matt LaFleur left for Green Bay this offseason, and their former TE coach Arthur Smith was promoted…and all his talk I’ve seen so far is about Derrick Henry. I’m not sure he realizes Dion Lewis is on the team.
-- What did Tennessee do in the offseason? They spent/paid up to steal Rodger Saffold from the Rams – one of the top run-blocking guards in the NFL in 2018. A 2017 Pro Bowl 2nd-team guard.
In addition to Saffold, the Titans get ace tackle Jack Conklin back to full health in 2019. If Conklin is healthy and Saffold added in with Taylor Lewan – the Titans are building a big, bad O-Line…a great one to have a power run game behind.
I mention all of this because I see Henry trading below value to our projected 2019. It’s possible the Titans go all-in on Henry with a beefed-up O-Line and he gets 15-20+ carries a game and hits 10-15+ TDs this season and is an RB1 trading as a back-end RB2 right now.
The corresponding moves by Tennessee in 2019 indicate they are planning to roll with Henry as a lead punch…and they can feel some confidence and excitement in that because of what Henry did late last season (and showed flashes of for three seasons prior). I liked Henry coming out of college but didn’t think he was worth the initial hype, especially when he joined up with DeMarco Murray.
Henry in the pros has mostly been a disappointment. He’s not the greatest RB that I’ve ever seen, but I know this – you take a guy with gravitas (higher draft pick and from ‘Alabama”) and he starts to produce smashmouth-wise for a tough guy head coach and it doesn’t matter how you want to grade his skills…A, B, or C – if he is going to get 20+ touches a game, and be the goal line back, etc., then I’m down versus taking physically smaller, supposed lead backs like Aaron Jones, Damien Williams, Marlon Mack…guys trading ahead of him ADP-wise in too many drafts right now.
Marlon Mack is OK as a talent, but he is in a great spot in Indy (pre-2019 NFL Draft)…but he shared touches in 2018 just as much as Henry might in 2019. Mack lost touches in the passing game to Nyheim Hines. Henry is more built for the big workload vs. Mack, and Henry might have as good an O-Line as Mack has as well – Henry could be on the verge, especially in non-PPR.
I’m writing this ahead of an upcoming ‘Rewind’ where I will look back at that late 2018 Derrick Henry surge to see just how talented or lucky Henry was. But there was some mix of talent and luck, I’m sure, and it doesn’t matter IF Henry is about to be a 20+ touch per game guy.
If you were wondering why I, of all people, have been pro-Henry in our 2019 Dynasty and Best Ball rankings this offseason – now you know.
If want to take a shot, you should be paying what you would for an RB2-2.5. Henry is not a sure thing, but the pieces are starting to lineup that he might be a 250-300+ carry guy this season.