NFL player prop debate: Derrick Henry is scary, it's even scarier to bet against him

Derrick Henry is fun. He's unlike any other running back, a 247-pounder who runs as fast as anyone in the NFL, even speedsters 50 pounds lighter.

And let's not even get into his stiff-arms. You do not want to be on the receiving end.

Because Henry is so big and athletic, we believe he's indestructible. At least until last season, when he suddenly wasn't.

Henry missed seven games last season with a foot injury. He returned for the Tennessee Titans' playoff opener and has had a healthy offseason, so he should be ready to go.

But his rushing yardage total at BetMGM is a very high 1,349.5. Only one player in the NFL had more than 1,259 yards last season. Of course, if Henry stayed healthy, he would have breezed past 1,350. So what do we do with Henry's over/under rushing total this season?

The case for the over on Derrick Henry's rushing yards

Since 2018, when the Tennessee Titans finally woke up and realized they should use the former Heisman Trophy-winning behemoth as a featured back in his third season, Henry has been a machine. Here are his per game averages the past three seasons: 102.7, 126.7, 117.1. It doesn't take long to do the math and figure out any of those three numbers push him well above 1,350 yards in a full season.

It's not like the Titans should be easing back on Henry, either. They traded top receiver A.J. Brown in the offseason, which presumably will mean more of a focus on the rushing game. The Titans don't have a great backup. They're not taking Henry off the field just to give carries to Dontrell Hilliard or rookie Hassan Haskins. They'll be used only when Henry needs to come off the field. It won't be voluntary.

Henry has the track record, talent and opportunity to beat 1,350 yards, even if it's a high number. It's hard to bet against that.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is coming off an injury-marred season. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is coming off an injury-marred season. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The case for the under on Henry's rushing yards

Henry has already beat the odds in some ways. Running backs have short shelf lives, and Henry has had remarkable workloads. That starts with a 395-carry (!) season at Alabama his final year there. He led the NFL in carries in 2019 and 2020 and had a career-high 27.4 carries per game last season before he got hurt. That's an astonishing pace. And when we count playoffs, he logged an unbelievable 484 touches during the 2019 season.

Henry will turn 29 years old in January, and by that age most running backs have slowed down. Even some really, really good running backs are well out of the league or at a journeyman stage by age 29.

Maybe last season's foot injury was the first sign of Henry breaking down. It's hard to buy that because he seems larger than life, but he's an NFL running back who has lapped the field in carries the past three seasons and is in his late-20s. He's in an offense that might not be able to take much pressure off him with a passing game. Who among the Titans receivers do you need to worry that much about? Henry will get all the attention this season, even more than usual.

And 1,350 yards is still a pretty big number.

The verdict

It's not fun to bet against Henry, one of the most likable players in the NFL. It's also scary to bet against him because he's one of two backs, along with Jonathan Taylor, who could realistically rush for 1,800 yards or more this season. An under bet on him might end up looking dumber than trying to tackle him in the open field.

Still, I have to side to the under. When you bet an over on a season-long prop, especially at a high number, everything needs to go well. That player needs to play well and also stay healthy. I don't have that much concern about Henry as a player, though I think he could have some regression in an offense that might not be very good if the passing game doesn't find some answers. Then there's the chance he's finally breaking down a bit under the weight of so many carries through his career. That can't be discounted. Any disruption in his playing time and over 1,349.5 yards becomes a tough ask.

I'll lean toward the under on Henry. Even though it's frightening to bet against him.