Advanced football statistics website Football Outsiders has a relatively famous staple stat called DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which — as they put it — “breaks down every single NFL play and compares a [team or player’s] performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average.”
They update their rankings every week. And through the second week of the 2017 NFL season, the leader in terms of DVOA at the running back position is not Kareem Hunt, Devonta Freeman or Dalvin Cook. No, the most valuable-over-average running back in the league right now is a guy who hasn’t started a game yet this season and likely won’t in the immediate future.
He’s Derrick Henry, he’s the NFL’s most underrated young back and he’s breaking out as we speak, regardless of the fact his team, the Tennessee Titans, continues to insist that veteran DeMarco Murray is the No. 1 option in their backfield.
After rushing for 25 yards on six carries behind Murray in a season-opening loss to the Oakland Raiders, Henry got a chance to work as the team’s lead back with Murray dealing with a balky hamstring in the second half of Tennessee’s Week 2 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. And he was a big reason they put that game away, rushing 12 times for 87 yards in the final two quarters.
Eight of those runs gained five yards or more, and three gained at least 11.
Derrick Henry looking like Beast Mode Jr
— YourSports (@YourSports) September 17, 2017
Henry is undoubtedly beginning to gain an edge over Murray on the Tennessee depth chart. The latter is just a few months short of his 30th birthday, and he can’t have much tread left on his tires after carrying the ball an NFL-high 1,095 times between 2013 and 2016.
Entering this season, there were already clues Henry was primed to take over. Murray might have led the AFC with 1,287 rushing yards last season, but Henry actually averaged more yards per carry as a rookie in 2016 (4.5 to 4.4). What’s more, he came on late with a 5.0 yards-per-attempt average during the final five weeks of Tennessee’s season.
As NFL Research points out, Henry has actually outperformed Murray by a large margin in the Titans’ last five games:
Derrick Henry has more yards per carry, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns than DeMarco Murray in the Titans' last 5 games pic.twitter.com/IsYCgNMf3G
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 17, 2017
None of this should be too surprising. Again, Murray is at the end of the line. And Henry led the nation in rushing with 2,219 yards while scoring 28 touchdowns as a junior at Alabama in 2015. For that he won the freakin’ Heisman Trophy. He was a second-round pick for a reason, and as a big bruiser — he actually weighs more than any halfback in the league, including Eddie Lacy — he fits in nicely with the mean-streaking Titans offense.
It looks as though Henry’s going to have a chance to live up to expectations in Tennessee. In fact, he might even be on the verge of sudden running back stardom.
Derrick Henry's last 7 games: 355 yds on 68 att. (5.2 YPC)
DeMarco Murray's last 7 games: 356 yds on 102 att. (3.5 YPC).
Think it's time.
— Brad Gagnon (@Brad_Gagnon) September 20, 2017