Sometimes, it’s wise to let the feelings settle a bit…
My initial reaction to the Tennessee Titans drafting Derrick Henry, despite their earlier trade for DeMarco Murray, was similar to most fantasy experts, including Yahoo’s Brad Evans and CBS Sports’ Jamey Eisenberg:
Ugh. Another timeshare.
With the right landing spot and featured roles (Cleveland? Philly? Miami?), Henry and Murray would have offered RB1 ceilings. Now, their fantasy stocks are far less defined in what projects as a timeshare, leading Brad Evans to call this pick “deflating” and Eisenberg titling the situation a “fantasy nightmare.”
A day later, my feelings are quite the opposite, and I’m finding plenty of room for optimism.
These types of early overreactions and negative vibes are what can create major fantasy value, and here in Tennessee we’ve got the potential for plenty to emerge. If the market doesn’t readjust, Derrick Henry will be on every one of my 2016 squads, and DeMarco has a solid chance at joining him.
Let’s take a closer look:
Major Price Reduction
The major benefit to Henry becoming a Titan will be the tremendous price reduction for his services. Yes, both Henry’s and Murray’s immediate fantasy stocks received a red, downward pointing arrow, but I feel many experts are vastly overreacting and losing sight of the very real value that still exists here.
Eisenberg and Evans are among the misguided crowd. Their current valuations and predictions of the Tennessee RB market could help create some juicy fantasy value:
- Evans on Henry: “As for Henry, he’s a double-digit round flier only, a handcuff.”
- Eisenberg on Murray: “Prior to the NFL Draft, we viewed Murray as a solid No. 2 Fantasy running back worth drafting in Round 4 or 5. But now with Henry as his new teammate, Murray should be considered a No. 3 running back in the majority of leagues, and he should not be drafted before Round 7.
- Eisenberg on Henry: As for Henry, he should be considered a No. 4 Fantasy running back in seasonal leagues, and he’s only worth drafting with a late-round pick. He’ll have to score plenty of touchdowns to save his Fantasy value, and he will be useless in PPR leagues.
Like I said, if Henry’s available as a late round flier come August, he’ll be on all of my teams.
Meanwhile, I’m not a huge DeMarco fan and think he was exposed a bit away from the Cowboys’ system and line that Ezekiel Elliot is going to milk for many years to come. But if he’s going after Round 7 and no one else is screaming upside at you, the former RB1 is worth a look assuming you’ll pair him with Henry and thus own the entire backfield.
The ripe set-up of Tennessee’s System and Surrounding Talent creates legit RB1 upside if a lead runner emerges. At these prices, you can afford to stash both and let it unfold (or just take Henry and watch him steamroll).
Tennessee is blatantly advertising they’ll be among league leaders in rushing attempts. This was the expectation after the conservative Mike Mularkey was promoted to head coach, and his offensive philosophy serves as confirmation:
Mularkey: Says his old offensive system in Pitt, which he hopes to replicate, was known as "exotic smashmouth."
— John Glennon (@glennonsports) February 18, 2016
Not something found in the hardcore section of Brazzers, an “exotic smashmouth”system and Mularkey’s history suggests heavy rushing volume will be available, perhaps in a variety of creative ways.
The promoted head coach has schemed some highly successful run games before:
- During 2001, Mularkey’s first NFL season as an Offensive Coordinator, the Steelers were #1 in rushing attempts and yards, and #2 in rushing TDs. They were 3rd in rushing attempts the next season, and 9th in yards.
- In his first year as coordinator for the Falcons, Atlanta was #2 in attempts and yards, and #3 in touchdowns.
True, this is selective picking, and you could throw out disaster offenses like the 2006 Dolphins as a counter. Yet, the build of this Tennessee Titans team is very similar to those above successful tenures:
A) A massive, powerful running back that can read the gaps and get downhill in a hurry (Jerome Bettis, Michael Turner).
B) A line powerful enough to knock defenders off the ball for dives up the gut, yet athletic enough to execute the various pulls and zone / gap concepts to stretch out the defense.
Both DeMarco and Henry fit the big-back mold, although the Alabama bulldozer’s Von Miller Measurables make him a far better fit in my eyes. This article at Bleacher Report defines exactly what an “exotic Smashmouth” concept would look like, and why Henry will dominate in such a scheme.
No wonder Mularkey went out and drafted him at 45 despite having a capable back on the roster already. Yet, he is nothing more than a double-digit flier… Puffs of air coming out of both nostrils emoji.
On the offensive line front, the Titans added toughness to a glaring gap at right tackle with the selection of Jack Conklin, a well renowned animal and nasty thumper who finishes his blocks. Following a pattern set by the Cowboys, Conklin marked third time in four years the Titans have used their first-round draft pick on an offensive lineman. He’ll slot in next to guard Chance Warmack, the 10th overall pick in 2013, and opposite left tackle, Taylor Lewan, the 11th overall selection in 2014.
One NFC North scout to @LanceZierlein on @Titans rookie OT Jack Conklin: 'He's tougher than old beef jerky.'
— Marc Sessler (@MarcSessler) May 6, 2016
Moreover, Hall of Fame coach Russ Grimm has been hired to maximize this talent. The man is brilliant, and when Grimm served as Pittsburgh’s offensive line coach from 2001 to 2006, the Steelers finished in the league’s top 10 in rushing in five of the six seasons. With this much talent on the field and in the classroom, this young Titans line could jump into the NFL’s top tier.
Beyond the line and backs, Marcus Mariota’s legs further just how exotic this mouth smashing can get. Mularkey has been vocal in his desire to maximize his QBs rushing upside (creating an ideal QB2 target):
Mularkey: We are going to design more running plays for Marcus Mariota.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) February 24, 2016
As we’ve seen most recently with Alfred Morris and RGIII, the zone-read possibilities created by a dual-threat QB can really widen running lanes. Either of these backs can get downhill in a hurry, with Henry having better open-field vision and finishing ability despite his massive frame.
We know Delanie Walker will terrorize the seams off play action. Should Dorial Green Beckham take a step forward and keep defense’s somewhat honest, this offense could take a massive leap.
Thus, Tennessee’s personnel and scheme are perfectly matched to produce an offensive leap, especially in the rushing department. Yet, the prices and current expert analyses don’t reflect this at all. Take advantage.
Summary – The Tennessee Backfield Goldmine
The initial fantasy reaction to Tennessee’s drafting of Derrick Henry has been far too negative. In fact, wise owners will recognize the value being created as experts like Brad Evans and Jamey Eisenberg bash Henry as a double digit handcuff.
They’re clearly missing what the Titans are blatantly building. Tennessee is telling the NFL exactly what they plan to do, and constructing the roster in the exact way to do it: adding behemoths up front and monsters in the backfield.
Now is just a matter of execution.
I’m not saying I fully trust the Titans to make the best talent evaluations. They originally had the #1 pick in the 2016 draft for a reason. Perhaps the line won’t mesh despite the first round pedigree. Maybe I’m misevaluating Henry and he truly is a plodder.
Personally, I think Henry is a monster and will be a tremendous NFL back. I think the Titans have a clear vision and his the exact fit, which makes him the #2 dynasty pick behind Elliot. I would not be surprised to see the Titans rank in the top 5 in rushing attempts and yards this season and Henry producing the majority of it.
For this price, the risk is minimal and the reward could be huge. .
In a worst case scenario, I see both Murray and Henry staying productive and healthy, thus keeping one another from truly elite numbers. Even then, I think there will be enough weekly rushing volume for both backs to manage flex value in the right match ups, a fairly safe floor at their prices.
In a best case, however, a lead horse emerges in the mold of Michael Turner and produces RB1 numbers. As you can probably tell, my guess is Henry. Behind the oft-injured and lesser-talented DeMarco, the legit train will be starting by Week 4.
So please continue pumping out “double digit flier” pieces, Big Noise and Eisenberg. I’ll gladly scoop up a discounted Henry and ride the horse to a ship.