By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
Want to be on the right side of history?
Strike now before this season’s signature league-winning opportunity vanishes. Do whatever it takes to get Derrick Henry on your fantasy rosters and in your week 3 lineups and end up the right side of the NFL’s next generational running back talent.
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Henry has been a polarizing running back prospect going back to his time at Alabama. In college, Henry was labeled “stiff” and “upright.” Armchair scouts across the sports media landscape claimed Henry’s game, like Trent Richardson before him, would not translate well to the professional level, unless an NFL team designed system specifically to limit his flaws.
Henry’s advocates in football’s advanced metrics community disagreed. In fact, Elliott vs. Henry was a real debate heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. Matthew Freedman, originator of the Workhorse Score, strongly believed Henry was superior to Ezekiel Elliott.
I lamented the Elliott selection, believing the Cowboys should have selected Jalen Ramsey in Round 1, and then paired him with Henry in the mid-second round. A Ramsey-Henry opening would have better optimized the Cowboy’s talent configuration on both offense and defense. Yet, Elliott went on to become the NFL’s leading rusher as a rookie putting him in elite company. Meanwhile, Henry was a late-second round pick and afterthought throughout 2016.
Fast-forward to Week 2 of the 2017 NFL season. Elliott posted eight yards on nine carries in the wake of a tumultuous offseason. On the other hand, the workmanlike Henry posted 92 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. It is time to reopen the book on Henry’s talent profile.
The amateur scouts still clinging to the notion that Henry is “scheme dependent” and “needs a runway” to succeed are trending on the wrong side of history. Henry offers three of the four key pillars of an elite running back profile:
College Dominance: Check
Receiving Skills: X
At 6-foot-3, 247-pounds, Henry has no current NFL comparables. Looking back through history, Brandon Jacobs was similarly proportioned. If Jacobs is an eye roll-worthy comp, recall that Jacobs posted three 9-plus touchdown seasons, including a 15 touchdown season in 2008.
Yet, even Jacobs is a weak comp for Henry, because he did not play college football in a major conference program, and Henry is a far superior athlete, evidenced by a 116.3 Speed Score (97th percentile among NFL running backs) and a 127.9 Burst Score (88th percentile) on PlayerProfiler.com. Given Henry’s size, explosiveness, and college résumé, he has no true comparable player in the real world. For this reason, Henry’s Best Comparable Player on PlayerProfiler is Zangief from Street Fighter.
Henry put up the video game numbers at Alabama. His 2,219 rushing yards in 2015 ranks No. 5 all-time, and his 43.5-percent College Dominator Rating crested the 90th percentile for NFL running backs. A rare combination of linebacker dimensions, explosive athleticism, and exceptional college production suggests that Henry is a generational running back talent.
His college profile is as impressive as Elliott’s and more impressive across than board than fellow SEC steamroller, Leonard Fournette. And while Henry is the more devastating pure runner, Elliott and Fournette are better receivers. The [X] on Henry’s profile is low usage in the passing game, because at a robust 6-3, he lacks the fluidity in space of smaller, more nimble NFL satellite backs.
Fortunately, Henry landed on the perfect team to maximize his skills between the tackles and outside the tackles. Tennessee finished the 2016 season as a top-graded run blocking unit, and the Titans brought back all of last year’s starters and have begun the year healthy up-front. Henry’s 5.8 yards per carry in two games is No. 12 among running backs, and his 113 yards blocked (also known as vision yards) leads the NFL.
The Titans also feature a run-first philosophy. Thus far, Tennessee’s 55/45 pass to run ratio is one of the top-10 most run-heavy play-calling ratios in the league. Furthermore, playing in an anemic division against Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Houston six times over the course of the season, Tennessee will likely enjoy positive game flow/script throughout 2017. Second half leads future incentivizes running the ball in late game scenarios when Henry is best-equipped to deliver splash plays on power runs.
After a dominant 92-yard rushing performance last Sunday, Tennessee coaches and fantasy gamers alike glimpsed the future of the Titans running game. Since Henry posted superior efficiency metrics to DeMarco Murray in back-to-back games to open the season, there is no guarantee that Murray will return to a primary back role when he’s fully over his latest hamstring strain.
Henry is a once-a-generation human wrecking ball running back. Serendipitously, he was dropped onto a high-efficiency, run-oriented offense featuring one of the league’s most effective run blocking lines. Henry’s advanced stats and metrics player profile indicates that he is a Fantasy Football league winner who is ready to be unlocked.
Buy high and acquire Henry at any cost before gamers clinging to antiquated scouting reports realize that a new alpha running back has arrived.