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  • Don't expect Derrick Henry's unlikely star turn to end in Week 16.
By Michael Beller
December 17, 2018

Every season produces unlikely fantasy playoff heroes, but that reality has reached a new level this year. Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, Kenny Stills, Brandon Bolden, Dede Westbrook, Damien Williams and Austin Ekeler were all among the top-20 non-quarterback scorers in Week 14, with Henry and Cooper finishing first and second. Henry followed that up in Week 15 by scoring more points than every back, receiver and tight end not named DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Williams. Other out-of-nowhere heroes joining Henry and Williams in the top 20 were Damien Williams, Kalen Ballage, Wendell Smallwood, Robert Foster, Jaylen Samuels, Robby Anderson, Jamaal Williams and Gus Edwards. It always gets weird on the fantasy football playoff landscape, a natural outgrowth of it being a random three-week sample of the season, but there’s an argument that the 2018 playoffs are setting a new standard in weirdness.

At the top of that weird list is Henry’s sudden star turn. Henry may be more of a name than Damien Williams or Samuels or Edwards, but his heroics came from much deeper out of left field than any of theirs did. All three of them stepped into lucrative roles for injured players, and their success, while also sudden, was entirely predictable once they were in position to lead their respective backfields. Henry’s situation is entirely different.

For starters, Henry was drafted in every single fantasy league this summer and, despite the struggles that dominated his season, remained owned in more than 50% of leagues all year. Back in draft season, he had a consensus ADP of 41.29 across the seven major sites that host fantasy leagues. That means he was, on average, an early fifth-round pick in 10-team leagues, and a mid-fourth-round pick in 12-teamers. Henry played his way out of fantasy lineups in short order, running for 240 yards through the first six weeks of the season. He didn’t score his first touchdown until Week 7 and, as of the end of the typical fantasy regular season in Week 13, still did not have a 60-yard performance to his name this season. Many fantasy GMs who placed their trust in Henry at the start of the season likely missed the playoffs, and those who advanced to the postseason probably didn’t have him in their lineups in Week 14. And that’s when everything started to change.

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In the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs, Henry ran for 408 yards and six touchdowns on 50 carries. For sake of comparison, he had 474 yards and five touchdowns on 120 carries in his first 12 games of the season. Through the first 13 weeks of the season, Henry ranked 38th among running backs in fantasy scoring in PPR leagues, behind Mike Davis and Duke Johnson. He’s now 18th, ahead of Aaron Jones, Chris Carson and Matt Breida.

Henry ran for 170 yards and two scores in the Titans’ 17-0 win over the Giants on Sunday and it was, far and away, the lesser of his two fantasy playoff performances. He’s the first back to run for 170 or more yards in consecutive games since Jay Ajayi did so in October of 2016, and just the 19th player in NFL history to pull off such a feat. You’ve likely heard of most of the guys who did it before him: Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson just to name a few. Henry’s 408 total rushing yards in his two-game streak rank seventh among the group, and his six touchdowns are second to Clinton Portis’s seven (2003).

If you started Henry the last two weeks, you’re almost certainly in your league’s championship game. If you understandably had him on your bench in Week 14, but survived and started him last week, you, too, are likely set to play for a championship. You’re also likely wondering if Henry can possibly keep this going, and whether he should be in your lineup in Week 16. The answer? Absolutely.

The Titans’ last two games have had something in common, other than Henry running all over the opponent. They controlled the game throughout, cruising to wins over the Jaguars and Giants. In Week 14 against the Jaguars, the Titans led for 54-plus minutes, and had at least a two-score lead for the entire second half, as well as seven minutes of the second quarter. In the Week 15 win over the Giants, the Titans grabbed the lead on their second possession, and led by two-plus scores for the final 17 minutes of the game. Those positive game scripts resulted in huge workloads for Henry. He got 17 carries against the Jaguars, his first game with that many rushing attempts since Week 3. The 33 totes he got against the Giants set a new career-high. Henry’s always going to be a player whose best games come with a strongly positive game script, something we’ve seen the last two weeks. There’s good reason to expect he’ll get another one in Week 16.

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The Titans welcome Washington to Nashville this coming Saturday in a game carrying huge playoff implications on both sides. You wouldn’t necessarily know that both teams are in the postseason hunt based solely on the point spread, though. The Titans opened as 11.5-point favorites, and if the game plays to that script, Henry will be in for another big workload. In recent weeks. Washington allowed 29.7 PPR-format points to Saquon Barkley, 25.3 points to Ezekiel Elliott, 13.8 points to Lamar Miller, and 32.6 points to Tevin Coleman.

Henry’s two-game fantasy-points binge is likely to turn into a three-game run this week. If it does, he will be unquestioned as the fantasy playoffs MVP. If you’re fortunate enough to be alive with him on your team, make sure he is in your lineup.

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