Can Derrick Henry Break the Single Season Rushing Record?
As the 2021 NFL season rapidly approaches, many storylines across the league begin to take shape ahead of week one and included in those is one that Crimson Tide fans may want to keep an extra close eye on. With this new year also comes the introduction of the league's first ever 17-game regular season, giving the NFL's most dominant back one extra game to add to his totals.
Now, you may be asking yourself, which back is that?
Two-time consecutive, and current reigning NFL rushing champion, Derrick Henry, is that back.
King Henry finished 2020 with a whopping 2,078 rushing yards, earning him the fifth spot on the all-time list for single season totals. Despite being in just fifth place on that list, Henry was only 78 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's 1984 record of 2,105 rushing yards.
Looking back at the last two seasons, it's fair to assume that Henry could easily take this record, given he increased his rushing total by over 500 yards last year despite the Titans missing their Pro Bowl left tackle, Taylor Lewan, and that he has an extra game to do so. However, it's worth noting that Henry also increased his carry total by 75 in that span as well, and that number could see a dip in 2021.
Heading into this season, the Tennessee Titans have emerged as one of the top teams in the AFC, which can mostly be attributed to the acquisition of future Hall of Fame wide receiver, Julio Jones, from the Atlanta Falcons. Tennessee; however, also features a much bolstered defense led by some of the league's most underrated talents in players like Kevin Byard and Jeffery Simmons.
Now, this is not just an excuse for me to rave about my favorite team, though I do enjoy it, but rather me painting a larger picture of why it may be more difficult for Henry to obtain the record than it seems on the surface.
Last year's Titans featured a receiving core headlined by emerging star A.J. Brown (1,075 yards) and a supporting cast of Corey Davis (984 yards) and five other receivers who combined for just 560 yards. This season, that receiving core features Brown, the aforementioned Jones (1,394 yards when last healthy in 2019), Josh Reynolds (618 yards) and several other very promising young players that should combine for a vastly improved group. The Titans have gotten infinitely better at wide receiver, which will inevitably take carries away from Henry.
Looking also at the Titans schedule as well as the 2020 NFL rushing defense rankings, in the first five weeks on the season Tennessee plays just one top ten rushing defense, meaning Henry could easily jump out to a hot start. After that, the Bills, Chiefs and Colts all matchup against Henry with very solid units, but are followed up by some of the leagues worst rushing defenses in the Rams, Saints and Texans.
Finally, in the last six weeks on the season, Henry and the Titans take on just two top 15 units in San Francisco and Miami and cap off the year with another meeting with Houston where 'El Tractorcito' could be surging for the record. Most fans likely still remember the result of last season's week 17 meeting between the Texans and Titans where Henry entered needing 223 yards to reach 2,000 and finished the game with 250.
In all, the answer to the question of 'Can Derrick Henry break Eric Dickerson's record?' should be a resounding yes for any semi-competent football fan. The man was just 78 yards short in a year where he averaged 177 yards across his final four games and now has an entire extra game on the schedule in 2021.
The answer to the question of 'Will he get the chance to?' is much harder to answer. Henry has more than enough ability to break Dickerson's record this season, but with a much improved team from a year ago surrounding him, will he even get a solid chance?