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Derrick Henry by the numbers: Titans superstar making MVP case as he seeks best season for RB in NFL history

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Derrick Henry is the best running back in the NFL and has been for a long time. Henry may be the best player in the NFL, changing the way the league evaluates the running back position. 

As the league has been trending toward quarterbacks reaching unprecedented heights throwing the football, Henry continues to dominate defenses on the ground — keeping the old-school style in the modern-day NFL. Henry is leading the NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns for the third consecutive season — a feat Jim Brown never accomplished in his Hall of Fame career.

Henry is in a class of his own amongst running backs, with numbers through six games that state his case for the league MVP award. What Henry has done in 2021  — and over the past three seasons — is historic. As Henry continues his quest to become just the fourth player in NFL history to win three consecutive rushing titles, this week’s “By the Numbers” will take a look at his hot start and how he’s on pace to have the greatest season for a running back — ever. 

Rushing yards leaders — 2021 season

  1. Derrick Henry — 783
  2. Nick Chubb — 523
  3. Ezekiel Elliott — 521

Rushing TD leaders — 2021 season

  1. Derrick Henry — 10
  2. Ezekiel Elliott –5
  3. James Robinson — 5
  4. Kareem Hunt — 5
  5. Jalen Hurts (QB) — 5
  6. James Conner — 5
  7. Sam Darnold (QB) — 5

Rushing attempt leaders — 2021 season 

  1. Derrick Henry — 162
  2. Joe Mixon — 111
  3. Ezekiel Elliott — 102
  4. Najee Harris — 102
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Henry’s numbers are eye-popping through six games in 2021. His 10 rushing touchdowns are twice as many as much as the next player (five) and he’s third amongst NFL teams in rushing touchdowns, trailing only the Cleveland Browns (12) and the team he plays for in the Tennessee Titans (12). The 10 rushing touchdowns are the most by a player in the first six weeks of a season since LaDainian Tomlinson (10) in 2005. (A year later, Tomlinson won MVP and set a league record with 28 rushing touchdowns.) 

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Henry’s 783 rushing yards are the ninth-most for a player in league history through the first six games of the season — Jim Brown has the most with 931 in 1963 — and the most for any player since DeMarco Murray had 785 in 2014. The 162 rushing attempts by Henry are the third-most by any player through six games in league history, trailing O.J. Simpson’s 171 attempts in 1975 and Eddie George’s 165 carries in 2000. Henry is just the seventh player in league history to have 10 rushing touchdowns through six games, trailing only Brown (14; 1958), Shaun Alexander (12; 2005) and Emmitt Smith (11; 1995). Henry and Eric Dickerson are the league’s only players since 1960 with 750 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in the first six games of a season.

Henry is on pace to break the single-season record for most rushes, most rushing yards, and most rushing touchdowns in a season. Henry is on pace for 459 carries, shattering Larry Johnson’s record of 416 (2005) and is on pace for 28 rushing touchdowns — tying Tomlinson for the most in a season (2005). He’s also on pace to rush for 2,219 yards — which would shatter Dickerson’s record of 2,105 (1984). This would leave Henry with the most carries and rushing yards in a season and tied for the most rushing touchdowns in a season — a MVP case that would be impossible to ignore. 

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As an added bonus, Henry is on pace for 2,609 yards from scrimmage this year, which would break Chris Johnson’s mark of 2,509 (2009). Henry’s 2021 season has been exceptional thus far, a microcosm of how good he’s been over the past three years. 

Rushing yards leaders — since start of 2019 season

  1. Derrick Henry — 4,350
  2. Nick Chubb — 3,084
  3. Dalvin Cook — 3,058
  4. Ezekiel Elliott — 2,857
  5. Lamar Jackson (QB) — 2,603

Rushing TD leaders — since start of 2019 season

  1. Derrick Henry — 43
  2. Dalvin Cook — 31
  3. Aaron Jones — 27
  4. Nick Chubb — 24
  5. Ezekiel Elliott — 23
  6. Josh Jacobs — 23

Rushing attempt leaders — since start of 2019 season 

  1. Derrick Henry — 843
  2. Ezekiel Elliott — 647
  3. Dalvin Cook — 642
  4. Nick Chubb — 578
  5. Josh Jacobs — 569

In the class of running backs, there’s Henry and then everyone else. Henry has 21 100-yard rushing games since the start of the 2019 season, the most in the NFL by a wide margin. (Chubb and Cook each have 15.) He has rushed for 50-plus yards in 31 consecutive games, tied with Chris Warren (1993-1995) for the second-most in NFL history and just seven behind Priest Holmes (38; 2001-2003) for the record. 

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Looking at what Henry has accomplished over the last three seasons, here’s how he stacks up against the three other running backs that won the rushing title in three straight seasons. 

  • Jim Brown (1957-1961, 1963-1965)* — 4,853 yards (42 games)
  • Earl Campbell (1978-1980) — 5,078 yards (46 games)
  • Emmitt Smith (1991-1993) — 4,762 yards (46 games)

*Brown won the rushing title in three straight seasons twice, so we took his 1963 through 1965 marks (which was his best three-year stretch). 

Henry rushed for 3,567 yards over the last two seasons. Adding his 2,219-yard pace in 2021 would give him 5,786 yards over a  three-year stretch, the most for any player in NFL history. He doesn’t turn 28 until January, so the prime of Henry’s career is still on the horizon. 

This offseason, the odds were against Henry to even get 1,500 rushing yards in 2021 since no running back that rushed for 2,000 yards in a season ever followed that up with 1,500 yards the next year. Barry Sanders has the most rushing yards following a 2,000-yard season (1,491), and he reached that total playing all 16 games. 

No player has ever rushed for 2,000 yards in a season twice, which Henry is on pace to accomplish. His 2021 season will reach historic proportions if Henry hits the 2,000-yard mark and rushes for 25-plus touchdowns.

The NFL is witnessing all-time greatness with Henry, a player that’s worth watching every single week. The numbers indicate Henry isn’t slowing down any time soon, either.


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