running back

Running Back Battle: Derrick Henry versus Dion Lewis

By Hamid Sandhu

In this running back battle, we compare the two Tennessee Titans stars.

Everyone wants to figure out who’s the key player to keep on their fantasy team. The Tennessee Titans have two great players that could potentially be game changers this year. This running back battle will feature Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, as well as predictions for the upcoming season.

running back

Photo Credit: AL.com

This much is clear about Henry, If it was not for Kamara craziness last year, I think Henry would have been the most efficient RB in football. Don’t just look at the numbers, 176 carries 744 yards at a 4.2 yards per carry rate while facing stacked boxes exactly 50% of the time. That’s just ridiculous. Just to put this into perspective the next closest person who carried the ball more than Henry and averaged more than 4.2 yards per carry was Mark Ingram (229 attempts average 4.9ypc) who faced a stacked box 42% of the time.

Demarco Murray last year only faced a stacked box 35% of the time and the reason was obvious. Henry was designated by his team and opposing defenses as the guy that was not going to be a pass-catching threat and if you see Henry in the backfield it’s either a run up the middle or a short screen. Murray was the dual-threat back although Henry averaged double what Murray did via the pass 6.8 yards per reception to Henry’s 12.6 yards per reception (yes it’s inflated because of big plays but aren’t we use to seeing Henry make big splash plays annually by now?).

running back

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

How is this for a stat. In 6 games that Henry has touched the ball at least 14 times, he has scored a touchdown each time and had at least 11 fantasy points. In comes Dion Lewis crashing Henry’s bell-cow status. Let’s not be short-sighted and let’s take a look back at lewis’s history. In the past 4 seasons, last year was the first time he was actually healthy. Although he was healthy he was not the first choice for the Patriots, those honors went to Rex Burkhead and James White. It wasn’t until Rex got hurt did Lewis get his opportunity in which yes he did flourish averaging 31.5 snaps a game and only 3 games he averaged more than 35 snaps. Also, did you know 93% of Lewis snaps were on 1st and second down? Last I checked those downs belong to Henry.

Let’s take a look at the coaching staff (some good news for Henry owners) mainly the OC Matt Lafleur, he was the QB coach for the Falcons back in the 2015/2016 season which should benefit Henry since like Freeman, Henry likes to run right over defenders but isn’t as good at eluding defenders as Freeman is. Shop for official Tennessee Titans fan gear and authentic collectibles at NFLShop.com

 

running back

Photo Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Actually Lewis (no.1 in the elusive rating), yes better than lynch or Blount. Henry was top 5 in elusive rating and both averaged over 3 yards after the first contact. Why did Henry’s snaps not increase when the numbers clearly suggested he should? Pass protection in today’s NFL is vital and that’s where Lewis owns Henry in. If Henry has improved his pass protection skills that may give him a few extra snaps and opportunities.

The biggest difference between Henry and Lewis? Lewis played on a potent offense behind Brady where teams could not stack the box. In Tennessee, that is not the case so expect Lewis efficiency to drop some as Mariota is no Brady. The good news for Henry? No Murray means all the goal line work is his which will boost his fantasy outlook and a few extra touches? Bad news? Lewis is a faster and more elusive than Murray who can pass block with the best of them though not as big as him.

I expect Henry to be the starter running back and game flow dependent. If I own Henry I’m hoping Titans don’t play from behind often if I own Lewis I hope the Titans fall behind often. What will help Henry the most? If Mariota can take the next step, if Corey Davis can remain healthy in his sophomore year and make the jump as we expect him to, that will help open up the running game.

Use Henry as your weekly RB2/3with upside while Lewis as your RB3 with upside. I expect the offense as a whole to improve this year which will result in Henry receiving more volume as a running back. Last little stat, Lewis faced a stacked box 28% of the time, Murray 35%. Lewis better be ready to take a few extra hits and stay off the medical staff table.

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