The Tennessee Titans and running back Derrick Henry are now less than one month from the hard date to get a long-term extension done. Reports insist talks of an extension are positive, but this is a business, and the Titans have Henry on the hook for just $10.278 million on the franchise tag, which is nearly $5 million/year less than Ezekiel Elliott’s extension. In the current climate of the NFL, it’s prudent of us to at least look at possible replacements for Henry in the 2021 NFL Draft.
First and foremost, it’s important to point out that both Ryan Tannehill and Henry were very good during stretches of 2019. Tannehill was a top-10 performer in most advanced metrics during his 11 regular season games. Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric placed Tannehill at the peak of the mountain. Number one.
Secondly, as Tannehill transitioned into the starting role and became comfortable, Henry’s performance skyrocketed week to week. It’s as if competent quarterback play helps the rushing attack. However, it’s impossible to quantify the toll of consistently having to tackle this behemoth of a man. So why let that go? Well, they may not have to, even if they do. Take this journey with me.
Najee Harris is the modern Derrick Henry
Najee Harris runs with the same physical nature of Henry, but with the upside of some fantastic receiving ability, which he exhibited against the LSU Tigers as he elevated to the front pylon for a back-shoulder touchdown. Harris also requires a bit of a runway to get going given his stature, just like Henry, but with a bit more natural wiggle and a bit less natural power as Henry.
Harris certainly isn’t a jitterbug back, but he can make an initial defender miss before being forced to break subsequent tackles with tenacity and momentum. He will consistently shake arm tackles and stand up defenders bringing shoulders to the party instead of decent form.
So stylistically sans 15 or so pounds and the added bonus of nice receiving ability, Harris would be a near-perfect fit for the Titans offense.
Travis Etienne brings back Chris Johnson vibes
He wouldn’t have to move very far and the fanbase surely has a great feel for Etienne already. Etienne possesses a silly amount of burst and acceleration, which he’s able to use at all three levels of the defense. He doesn’t lack a high-end top speed either.
He’s a true home run threat on every snap, especially when his impressive contact balance is added to the mix. Even though Etienne is more slight of frame than other bell cow types, he’s able to pick up the tough yards that are required as a teams go to option.
Unfortunately, though, he’s not much of an option in the passing attack outside of screens. It’s an admitted struggle in his game, and he has been open about those struggles and the desire to improve. He also isn’t the strongest pass protector either, which will limit his case further for being on the field for third downs.
But if Etienne can improve his vision and patience as a runner it’ll be difficult to argue he isn’t the most intriguing pure runner in the 2021 class.
We’ll see the full Kylin Hill picture in Leach offense
He’s just a solid runner through and through. Hill is a compact runner with sturdy legs and strong shoulders. He’s won’t be mistaken as one of the shiftier backs, but he possesses the vision and enough juice to make a man or two miss.
He also does a nice job setting defenders up by firing his feet and forcing them to commit early so he can work opposite leverage.
Unfortunately, before this upcoming season, he hadn’t had much to show as a pass-catcher. That will undoubtedly change within the structure of a Mike Leach offense, which features hundreds of leak routes back to the line-of-scrimmage for the quarterback to coward up with. Showing that versatility as a pass-catcher will help his draft stock going forward.
Trey Sermon could be a day 3 option
Trey Sermon has the kind of stiff arm that mom would give you trying to get into the freezer for ice cream when you didn’t eat all your vegetables at dinner. And that’s not all from a physicality perspective – this young man packs a whoopin’ between the tackles.
But Sermon’s vision and natural feel for slight creases in adverse blocking conditions is his most intriguing trait. For his overall lack of burst, Sermon brings a calming consistency to the game.
He’s the type who will have the highest % of positive runs in the league, and rank lower third in explosive plays. And behind the Ohio State offensive line, he shouldn’t have any issues producing in 2020.