There’s no denying that Derrick Henry has shown us what dominance at the running back position looks like during the last two-plus seasons.
The Tennessee Titans’ fifth-year veteran, who went on a tear to close out the 2018 season, established himself as the NFL’s premier back after leading the league in carries, rush yards and rush TDs in 2019. He’s on top in each of those categories again in 2020.
- 2019 in 15 games: 303 carries, 1,540 rush yards, 16 TDs
- 2020 in 14 games: 321 carries, 1,679 rush yards, 15 TDs
He’s drawn comparisons to several Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs along the way, which has had me pondering this question: Is Derrick Henry already a Hall of Famer?
I can see the eyerolls now, but hear me out. There are certain achievements that merit Hall of Fame status, so let’s break them down before making a final decision. The checklist for HOF voters is extensive but there are five key items to look at in the case of rushers:
1) Was the running back the best player at his position for a multi-year span? The answer to the first question is undoubtedly yes. As shown above, Henry has been the gold standard in terms of dominance and consistency. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound back uses his size and strength to routinely bulldoze defenders at the line of scrimmage, in space and at the goal line. Nearly 200 rush yards ahead of Minnesota’s Dalvin Cookfor the league lead, Henry is closing in on his second straight rushing title. He would be the first player since my colleague LaDainian Tomlinson (2006-2007) to lead the league in rushing in consecutive seasons. Furthermore, all nine players who’ve accomplished that feat since 1950 are Hall of Famers — great news for the Titans star.
2) Did he rush for 2,000 yards in a season? There are just seven players in NFL history that have reached 2,000 yards in a single campaign. To have a season like this, everything must be working in sync, from the play calls to the running back and his offensive line. Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has certainly given Henry a chance to reach 2,000 yards with his run-first offense. With 1,679 rushing yards and two games left on the regular-season slate (at Green Bay and at Houston), the mark is within striking distance but he’ll need to average 160.5 rush yards per game in those contests. The good news is Henry posted at least 100 rush yards in nine straight road games dating back to last season. He’s run for more than 160 in three games this season, including against the Texans in Week 6. A lot has to go right for this to happen, but I’m not going to put anything past Henry.
3) Did he reach 10,000 rush yards in his career? Henry still has a ways to go to reach 10,000 career yards as he sits at 5,512 with two games left in his fifth NFL season. The slow start to his career (1,234 total rush yards in his first two seasons) didn’t help, but his production over the last two seasons makes it feel like Henry could do it if he can stay healthy. A lot of players can’t handle the sheer volume of carries Henry has received over the course of several seasons, but his build and dedication to taking care of his body has allowed him to be available on all but one Sunday since 2017. So, I don’t think 10,000 yards is out of the question at all.
4) Did he win (or compete for) a league MVP award? Let’s be honest, this award is made for quarterbacks, especially in today’s pass-happy league. Adrian Peterson is the last running back to win it. He took home the hardware after the 2012 season, when he was a mere 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing yards record. Prior to Peterson, Tomlinson won the award in 2006 and Shaun Alexander did so in 2005. A 2,000-yard performance should put Henry in the MVP conversation but there’s no telling exactly what the voters will do.
5) Did the player and his team have postseason success? The guy I think about here is my colleague Terrell Davis, who played a key role in the Denver Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. He had a 2,000-yard season (1998) but is probably best known for his postseason performances. After all, he was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXII. This is the kind of dominant postseason that helps a back earn a spot in Canton. Henry played this type of role in the Titans’ postseason success last season. A wild-card team, Tennessee knocked off the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens with Henry spearheading the charge. In those two victories, Henry had a total of 64 carries for 377 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and one rushing TD. He literally carried the Titans to the AFC Championship Game before the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs stalled their Lombardi aspirations.
The Titans (10-4) currently hold the lead in the AFC South over the Indianapolis Colts and seem to be peaking at the right time. They rank second in total offense, first in scoring offense and second in rushing offense, with Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill leading the way. Barring a late-season collapse, Henry will have a real opportunity to bolster his Hall of Fame resume come January.
As you can see, Henry is well on his way to earning a gold jacket, but I believe it’s still a bit premature to start measuring him for one.
Top 10 Running Backs
Former NFL rushing leader and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 10 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 16.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
2020 stats: 14 games | 321 att | 1,679 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 15 rush TDs | 19 rec | 114 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
After everything I just said about Tennessee’s star running back, there should be no questioning why he holds this spot.
2020 stats: 13 games | 297 att | 1,484 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 15 rush TDs | 42 rec | 349 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Cook has gotten better and better in each of his four seasons with the Vikings and was deservingly selected to his second Pro Bowl earlier this week. With the Vikings quickly falling from the playoff race, Cook and the Vikings still have an opportunity to once again play spoiler on Friday against the Saints, who are vying for the first-round bye. Cook averages more than 100 rush yards per game in two career games (including playoffs) vs. the Saints.
2020 stats: 10 games | 165 att | 907 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 11 rec | 112 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
This is the only season in which Chubb won’t play a full 16-game slate due to the knee injury suffered in Week 4. That hasn’t prevented him from being effective, though, as he already has season highs in rushing touchdowns (10) and yards per carry (5.6).
2020 stats: 14 games | 165 att | 777 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 80 rec | 739 rec yds | 5 rec TDs
Kamara has logged exactly 81 receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons. With 80 catches this season and Drew Brees back on the field, Kamara should record a new high by season’s end. The Saints shied away from fully utilizing his talents when Taysom Hill was in as the starter, but if last week was any indication (three catches for 40 yards and one TD), Kamara should be one of the more impactful players down the stretch and beyond.
2020 stats: 14 games | 240 att | 1,070 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 49 rec | 344 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
What a year for the undrafted rookie! The rookie passed my rookie scrimmage yards mark (1,377) to move into second place on the Jaguars’ rookie list. Now only following my buddy Fred Taylor (1,644), it’ll be tough for Robinson to climb to the top spot after suffering an ankle injury against the Ravens. Hoping we see him back on the field for the final two games.
2020 stats: 12 games | 180 att | 968 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 41 rec | 298 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Jones has found his footing again in averaging 114.7 rush yards per game in December. The balanced attack Jones has provided this month will be key in the final games vs. Tennessee and Chicago and to locking up a first-round bye.
2020 stats: 13 games | 202 att | 906 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 43 rec | 349 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Montgomery ran all over the Mike Zimmer’s defense to help the Bears leapfrog their division foe in the NFC wild-card race. With the way Montgomery is running and the defense is playing — and I guess I could give Mitchell Trubisky and the passing attack a little credit — the Bears have a legit shot at the final postseason slot. They must take care of business and pray they get a little help from the Cardinals.
2020 stats: 13 games | 184 att | 842 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 35 rec | 298 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Taylor has been exceptional over the last three weeks for the Indianapolis Colts, racking up 324 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries (6.6 rush yards per carry). The rookie’s success has helped the passing game to turn the Colts’ offense into a unit that’s peaking at the right time.
2020 stats: 13 games | 245 att | 907 rush yds | 3.7 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 33 rec | 238 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
After logging his 10th rushing touchdown last week, Jacobs will have his hands full against the Dolphins’ No. 1 scoring defense on Saturday. The good news is he’s averaged 100 rush yards per game and scored a total of four TDs in two games against top-two scoring defenses. The Raiders need this type of outing to remain in the playoff hunt.
2020 stats: 14 games | 184 att | 793 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 34 rec | 259 rec yds | 5 rec TDs
Though Chubb’s received a majority of the carries, Hunt’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season. The second-year Brown should pad his stats against the Jets’ 14th-ranked run defense and continue to be a contribution in the passing game.
DROPPED OUT: Ronald Jones, Buccaneers (previously No. 6).
The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.
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