There have only been eight players in the NFL’s history to rush for 2,000 yards, and the Tennessee Titans drafted two of them. Chris Johnson accomplished this in 2009 (2,006 yards), and Derrick Henry did it in 2020, rushing for 2,027 yards. Henry is ready to return to the Titans backfield after playing in just nine games, including a divisional round loss to Cincinnati last season.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Henry told reporters about his workload. “My mindset has always been the same. If it’s going to be that type of game (with a lot of carries), it’s that type of game. Then go from there.”
Henry led the league in carries during his 2,000-yard season. He carried the ball 219 times last year in just eight regular season games. Derrick finished 10th in the NFL in attempts and missed Tennessee’s last nine games. So, it’s safe to say he likely would have led the league in carries again had he not been sidelined with the foot injury.
Now it’s time to move forward, as Henry commented regarding his workload. Derrick averaged 27 carries per game in 2021. Jonathan Taylor of the Colts played in all 17 games last season, won the rushing title, and had the most attempts. He averaged 19.5 attempts per game. Henry’s workload is ridiculous. During his 2,000-yard year, Henry averaged 23.6 rushes per game.
It’s well-publicized how much of a throwback Henry is to the days of ground and pound football. Henry and Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson rushed the same number of times per game in their respective record-setting campaigns. Terrell Davis averaged one more carry (24.5) than Henry and Dickerson in his 2,000-yard year of ‘98. Barry Sanders set a mark for the lowest number of attempts in a 2,000-yard season with 20.9.
With some members of the 2,000-yard club, we began seeing a considerable drop-off within the season or two following their accomplishment. Sanders was the oldest to do it at 29 years of age, and we never got to see a massive decline because he only played one more year after that. Sanders retired at 30 and rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in his final season for Detroit.
Davis fell off a cliff following his 2,000-yard season, primarily due to injuries. The former league and Super Bowl MVP played in 17 games from 1999-2001 for the Broncos. He was out of the NFL by 2002. As quick as his climb to the top was, the fall happened faster.
Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003 and was back down to barely cracking 1,000 the following year. We can blame part of that on Lewis missing four games in ‘04, but in ‘05, he played in 15 games and totaled 906 yards on the ground. Lewis did have one more big year in ‘07 with Cleveland rushing for over 1,300 yards. But it was kind of a boom or bust situation with him after ‘03.
Adrian Peterson is another back that began to fall off after rushing for 2,000 yards, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time. In ‘12, Peterson ran for 2097 yards, falling eight yards shy of Dickerson’s top spot at 2,105. AP rushed for a modest 1,266 the following year. He had one more big rushing year in ‘15 after sitting out nearly all of ‘14 on suspension after being charged for child abuse.
Peterson rushed for 1,485 in ‘15 and only surpassed 1,000 yards one more time after that. Most people thought AP would never slow down, especially after he returned from the ACL injury, but father time is truly undefeated.
Where Henry is concerned, it’s hard to tell what he’ll do this year, but if his workload continues along the same path as before the foot injury, I don’t know how much longer he’ll be considered among the top rushers in the league. Any lower extremity injury is bad for a running back, but it’s even worse when the guy is 6-foot-3, 250 lbs.
But with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, it’s easy to understand why the Titans run Henry the way they do. Tannehill isn’t bad, but he’s not a guy you can put the game on his back, and he carries you to the finish line on his back. Henry is, and if the Titans ever get over that hump in the postseason, it’ll be on his back.