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The Seahawks should not spend big money on Derrick Henry

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Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Thursday I did a quick review of the way the Seattle Seahawks have addressed running back in each of the offseasons since the 2015 injury disaster at the position. In looking at that, I also did a quick list of the free-agent-to-be running backs that have the bigger body type that the Hawks look for. Several commenters responded that the only free agent running back from those listed that would be worth it would be Derrick Henry, who spent the past four seasons with the Tennessee Titans after being selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft.

Here’s a sampling of some of the comments in support of Henry:

  • “The only one of those names worth any decent money is Derrick Henry.”
  • “Henry Is the only RB worth bringing in on that list and even then i still dont want to pay an RB big money”
  • “Henry please He’s the closest thing to Beast mode there is in the league.”
  • “Henry would be worth it. Whatever that guy did the last couple of years is working. He’s at beast mode level right now.”

Now, I could spend time digging through other articles in order to find comments supporting Henry, but four comments is enough to show that there is at least some minimal level of support for the idea of bringing him to Seattle. Of course, if Henry’s willing to take sign a very inexpensive contract, it seems like a great deal to me. However, based on his recent comments regarding what he’s looking for in free agency, I’m going to operate under the assumption that Henry’s looking to cash in and not truly interested in a team-friendly contract. Thus, let’s take a look at something else very quickly to perhaps find a clue as to what led to Henry’s ascension to Beast Mode level during the latter part of the 2019 season.

Derrick Henry rushing production by season, with 2019 split

Year Att Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns
Year Att Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns
2016 110 490 4.45 5
2017 176 744 4.23 5
2018 215 1059 4.93 12
2019 Games 1-6 113 416 3.68 4
2019 Games 7-19 190 1124 5.92 12

Now, what was it that changed in the Tennessee Titans offense that allowed Henry to explode starting in Week 7? It wasn’t the offensive line, which saw the same five linemen start 71 of 80 regular season games and 86 of 95 games when including the postseason. It presumably wasn’t injury, because the only time Henry was listed on the injury report - questionable with a hamstring injury - was in Weeks 15 and 16, right in the middle of his run of dominance.

So, after coming in under 4 yards per carry in four of the first six games, what was different starting in Week 7 that allowed Henry to finish eleven of the next twelve games at over 4 yards per carry? The answer is surprisingly simple:

NFL Pro Bowl
Ryan Tannehill
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

In Week 7 the Titans benched Marcus Mariota and inserted Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Tannehill was far, far more efficient and dangerous as a passer. So, did that allow defenses to stop stacking the box against the Titans? To some extent, yes, but not by as much as one might expect.

  • Henry stacked boxes faced Weeks 1-6: 38.9%
  • Henry stacked boxes faced Weeks 7-20: 35.9%

So, the number of stacked boxes Henry faced did decline a small amount, but not by an amount that would be expected to make a massive difference. Thus, the question remains, what changed?

Getting back to Tannehill, here’s how Tannehill’s passing efficiency compared to Mariota:

  • Marcus Mariota Weeks 1-6: 7.73 AY/A
  • Ryan Tannehill Weeks 7-20: 10.42 AY/A

In short, Tannehill stepped in and performed better than Mariota, leading to an increase in the efficiency of the Titans passing game, which resulted in the run game performing better. Effectively, Henry only established the run once Tannehill established the pass.