Derrick Henry seems to be getting by on name value alone. He was expected to be a great running back in the league coming out of college. He has size and speed but was just waiting for his chance to shine. With DeMarco Murray off the Tennessee Titans roster, many feel like the Henry era is now. They will be sorely disappointed when Dion Lewis, who is going much later in fantasy drafts, outperforms Henry this season. With Lewis’ lower ADP and higher upside, he should be a target in place of Henry.
Dion Lewis Is a Better Fantasy Pick Than Derrick Henry
Average Draft Position
The coaching staff has called the Henry and Lewis running back tandem 1A and 1B, emphasizing that they are going to try and split the back’s carries. It also means that whoever is named the Week One starter is only done so as a formality. What will tip the scale in one back’s favor is “the hot hand,” or whatever running back is most effective for that particular game. Overall, both backs will be given a shot to prove themselves at the beginning of the season, but by the midway point, one will rise above the other as the offense seeks to establish a rhythm.
This makes both Lewis and Henry risky picks. One of them could end up beating the other one out at some point. This should be considered when drafting them, especially when considering their differences in ADP. In standard leagues, Henry is listed as the RB17, with about a fourth or fifth round grade on him. This is still pretty high in the draft, so it will be costly if he ends up losing the job. Even if he splits time evenly with Lewis, his upside will remain limited compared to other backs in a similar position with a stronger hold on the starting job.
Fantasy owners can grab guys like Kenyan Drake or Alex Collins, who have a much better shot at getting consistent carries week-to-week. Wide receiver could be an option as well, with proven upside players like Alshon Jeffery or Brandin Cooks also going around the same time. Then, players are still able to grab Lewis all the way down around the seventh round in standard leagues, or about the sixth in PPR formats. This is ridiculous for a player with far more upside.
Lewis saw the most work of his career last season with the New England Patriots, but still only started eight games. In those eight games, he had two games where he went over 100 yards, and two more with over 90 yards rushing. Consistency is important in fantasy, which Lewis has. He only had one game he started where he rushed for less than 50 yards.
On the year, Lewis boasted a whopping 5.0 yards-per-carry average (YPC). Sometimes that number is inflated by coming into games and only getting a couple carries as a change of pace back, but not in Lewis’s case. This is demonstrated by his two 100-yard games. The first, he had 15 carries for 112 yards, giving him 7.5 YPC. Even after taking out his longest run of 25 yards, it still gives him a 6.2 average. His other 100-yard game saw he get 24 carries for 129 yards with 5.4 YPC.
Lewis is also miles ahead of Henry as a receiver, something Henry struggles with. Of Lewis’ nine touchdowns last year, three were off receptions. He had four times as many receptions as Henry (44:11), even though he saw much less playing time early on in the season. Henry never had more than two catches in a game. About half of his receiving yards came on one play last year.
It also feels like Henry’s rushing ceiling is not very high. He is an inconsistent runner, who busts out for big runs at times, but is often stuffed at the line of scrimmage. He has above average jukes and speed for his size but could use better vision at times. Many Henry truthers spent the season screaming as to why he wasn’t given the starting job during the season in place of an ineffective, washed up looking Murray last season. It was because the coaching staff knew that he isn’t someone who can carry the load as a lead back.
Henry did get two starts last season and underwhelmed. In one, he saw only eight carries for 20 yards. The team really tried getting him going in his other start week 17, but he managed only 51 yards on 28 carries. Sure, he saved his fantasy day by taking a pass to the house from 66 yards out, but that was a fluke play. If this coaching staff really believed in Henry, they would not have gone out and signed Lewis. Then, they refused to name Henry the sole starter.
No Need to Worry About Lack of Starting Experience
What is probably scaring players away from Lewis is the fact that even though he has been in the league for seven years, he has never secured a firm hold on the starting tailback position. While this is a legitimate worry, it should be noted that he was never really in a good position prior to last season. He was running behind LeGarrette Blount in 2015 and 2016, and outside of Blount, the Patriots favored some kind of pseudo-run game, where running backs just caught passes out of the backfield. Guys like James White excelled in that position.
Lewis began his career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 but came in buried on the depth chart behind LeSean McCoy. The Indianapolis Colts briefly signed him, but cut him less than a week later. From there, the Patriots signed him to a futures contract that kept him out of action for all of 2014. On the surface, this is all worrisome, but when given the chance, Lewis always performs. No matter his role, he never had under 4.4 YPC on a season and goes into Tennessee with a nice 4.8 YPC.
Last Word on Lewis vs Henry
All things considered, players who are targeting Henry need to quickly rethink their strategy before it is too late. Lewis hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities throughout his career, but he consistently makes the most of them. Lewis is also a much more versatile back than Henry who struggles with consistency and catching the football. Some may worry that Lewis’s lack of playing time throughout his career is cause for concern. However, taking a closer look reveals that he just didn’t have many opportunities. Come the final draft days this weekend, Lewis should be a target for all players.