101 Reasons Why Derrick Henry is Superior To Dion Lewis
Ever since the Titans signed runningback Dion Lewis early in the free agency process to a four year twenty million dollar contract. The so called "experts" have anointed him as the teams unquestioned number one runningback with Henry essentially being an afterthought. That is completely and utterly insane people, for an array of reasons that I will be detailing throughout this article. It was just two short years ago when the dynasty community was infatuated with the 245 plus pound Heisman winner out of Alabama. Especially after he blew up the combine and was then drafted in the second round 45th overall. Anyone with any common sense knew that Henry had a one or two year wait before being made the Titans workhorse back. As talented and dependable veteran DeMarco Murray was firmly entrenched as the teams starter and lead back. Fast forward to 2018, Murray is gone, no backfield competition was brought in via the NFL draft and the only back that was acquired during free agency was Dion Lewis. A nearly 28 year old, 5'8", 195 pound pass catching back with a lengthy injury history was signed to a somewhat questionable contract in both salary and term. Now I'm supposed to believe that Lewis will miraculously become a full time starting NFL runningback for the first time in his career? Despite having a considerably more talented back on the roster who makes a fraction of the salary Lewis does with considerable draft capital recently invested in him. This should not even be a debate as far as I'm concerned, this backfield is about as straight forward as it gets. I recently completed a ten part "Complex Backfields" series that did not include Tennessee due to the fact it is simply going to be a backfield dominated by Derrick Henry. As I do in my "1 Vs 1 RB Edition". articles I will be putting them up against each other, comparing them in a variety of categories. Such as draft pedigree, age, combine results, measurables, PFF grades, size success rate, ADP, and current depth charts.
Lets begin with age and measurables which will lead directly to size success rate. Dion Lewis as I mentioned is only 5'8, 195 pounds compared to Derrick Henry at 6'3, 244 pounds, Henry is also nearly four full years younger than Lewis is. I recently completed a series examining the weight classes of runningbacks titled "RB Success Rate In Relation To Weight" I used a three year sample size 2015-2017. As far as fantasy points scored by RB's over those three years runningbacks over 230 pounds had exactly double the success rate that backs under 200 pounds did. From the past three seasons RB's weighing under 200 pounds accounted for only 7.3% of the annual top 50 in PPR scoring. Whereas the big backs who are over 230 pounds annually occupy 14.6% of the top 50 in PPR scoring leaders since 2015. When it comes to runningback total touches in relation to weight the gap widens even further. With runningbacks weighing under 200 pounds accounting for only 6.0% of the annual top 50 in RB touches. The "plodders" or "bruisers" had nearly two and a half times the touches than the small backs did, as they accounted for 14.0% of the top 50 annually in touches since 2015. When it comes to just being on the field over the past three years, runningbacks weighing under 200 pounds accounted for only 8.0% of the annual top 50 in snaps played. While backs over 230 pounds or "big backs" had more than double the snaps played than the small backs. They account for 18.6% of the top 50 annually in RB snaps leaders since 2015. Advantage: Derrick Henry.
Two of the three depth charts I use and trust in the off season have Dion Lewis listed above Derrick Henry, as the Titans starting runningback??? I personally don't believe Lewis is capable of an every down role over the course of 16 games as he has only played a full season once in his career, playing in nine games or less four times. Prior to last season where Lewis rushed 180 times his career high was 64 rush attempts. The Patriots were forced to use him as a rusher that often out of necessity due to injuries. He was serviceable for New England in 2017 but when reviewing his career touches last season was certainly an anomaly. In the past three years he has averaged less than 98 carries per season while averaging 28 receptions annually over that span. Hardly workhorse or lead back numbers. Despite being a rookie behind DeMarco Murray, Henry averaged more touches per game than Lewis did in 2016 (9.5-9.1). In 2017 they had very similar touches as Lewis had a career high 212 touches and Henry managed to pass Murray on the depth chart late in the season and received 187 touches. The point to highlight here is that 212 touches is likely a one time thing for Lewis due to circumstance and his absolute maximum ceiling. Whereas 187 touches for Henry in 2017 is likely to be his lowest total over the course of the next few season, and should be considered his floor. Advantage: Derrick Henry.
The next comparison is where Henry truly separates himself due to his incredible athleticism and unbelievable size speed combination. One would have to assume since Dion Lewis is an incredible 50 pounds lighter than Henry is, that there combine numbers wouldn't even be comparable with Lewis having a considerable advantage. That is just simply not the case, there combine numbers aren't even close, it's as lopsided as it gets actually, with Henry, NOT Lewis dominating in nearly every single combine event. At 247 pounds Henry ran a 4.54, 40 compared to Lewis running a 4.57 at 191 pounds, Henry out lifted Lewis on the bench 22 reps to 17. In the vert it was 37.0" to 34.5" in favor of Henry, the broad jump wasn't even close with Henry out jumping Lewis by an incredible 18 inches, 130.0" to 112.0". The only relevant combine event that Lewis came out on top was the three cone (6.90-7.20) where his diminutive stature obviously gave him an advantage. Their draft pedigree also isn't close with Derrick Henry being drafted in the second round in 2016, 45th overall, Lewis was selected over 100 selections later at 149th overall, picked by Philadelphia with the 18th pick in the fifth round in 2011. So there is also a significant advantage in draft capital as well. As I recently documented in my "RB Success In Relation To Draft Capital" series there is a drastically different success rate comparing fifth round draft picks to seconds especially when it comes to rushing yards. Second rounders annually represent an average of 18.3% of the top twenty rushing leaders, with fifth round draft picks only averaging 8.3% annually, between 2015-2017. Advantage: Derrick Henry.
The ADP graphs below display the recent nonsense I was referring too earlier, as in the months since being signed as a free agent Dion Lewis has seen a 24.46 drop in his ADP which is a 22.9% improvement. Conversely Derrick Henry has seen an increase of 8.91 in his ADP which equates to a 21.4% loss. This is what I'm talking about people, those trends should have gone in the opposite direction as no real threat to Henry's workhorse role was added in the off season. Lewis should have seen his ADP rise not drop when acquired by Tennessee as he was brought in to play a complimentary role. Instead completely unjustified or unwarranted Henry began to fall in drafts as Lewis began to climb. Strictly due to a few "experts" on twitter and podcasts looking for attention and somehow managing to convince the bulk of the industry that Dion Lewis will lead this backfield it touches. As is the case with the depth charts two out of three projections that I normally trust seem to favor Lewis. You know what they stay, stupidity can be contagious. The only advantage I could find for Lewis came in 2017 PFF Grades where Dion Lewis had a 87.2 grade compared to Henry's 79.3. Don't look to far into those grades though one of them played in a 13-3 Tom Brady led offense, the other was in a 9-7 banged up Marcus Mariota led offense. The Patriots O-line ranked third in the NFL last season where as the Titans offensive line ranked fifth according to PFF. Another contributing factor to Lewis having a superior grade to Henry last season. Advantage: Dion Lewis?
Despite what you may think I have nothing against Dion Lewis, I just feel that anyone who believes that he will be a better dynasty option than Derrick Henry is a crazy person. All Lewis has to do in order to out touch Henry in 2018 and beyond barring an injury scenario would be. Overcome years of historical data proving RB's under 200 pounds rarely succeed as lead backs, disprove the fact that runningbacks drafted in the fifth round only have averaged an 8.3% success rate annually. As well as out perform Henry who is bigger, stronger, faster, more talented and has a considerable draft capital advantage. The bottom line is the Titans over payed Lewis in free agency and people are trying to justify that by devaluing Derrick Henry, automatically assuming Lewis is the lead back. With Lewis due nearly 5 million dollars next season as a 29 year old and only 1.7 million of that being dead cap space it's entirely possible he is cut next off season. Let's not overlook the fact that Tennessee scooped up talented and versatile Iowa product Akrum Wadley as a priority UDFA. Wadley carried a fourth round draft grade by many respected people in the scouting community and it was surprising he went un-drafted. He is exactly the same size as Dion Lewis both in height and weight with a very similar set of skills. They are essentially the same player having redundancies in skill sets, with the exception of experience, age, career tire wear, and salary. If Wadley is able to produce like he did in college as an excellent receiving back with the ability to run between the tackles when asked too throughout 2018. Then his $570,000, 2019 cap hit will be a bargain when compared to the $4,862,500 that Dion Lewis is set to make next season, not too mention Henry will make one third of what Lewis will next season. I'm sorry to break the hearts of Dion Lewis truthers out there but I fully anticipate Derrick Henry to play a full time role, including third downs as he is a very capable receiver and superior pass protector to Dion Lewis. Dion Lewis will be nothing more than a change of pace back, who contributes occasionally in the pass game. Likely topping out in the neighborhood of 125-150 touches, with roughly a 50/50 ratio of targets to rushing attempts. This shouldn't even be up for debate as far as I'm concerned, this is a "David Vs Goliath" battle so to speak, with Henry being the un-slayable giant in the Titans backfield. Winner: (By a landslide) Derrick Henry.