Two Sizable Titans Prove Tough To Tackle
NASHVILLE – Size matters. Just look at the Tennessee Titans.
Their leading rusher is running back Derrick Henry and their leader in receiving yards is rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown. Henry is 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, Brown is 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, which makes both more than 25 pounds heavier than the average for players at their respective positions.
And each has been among the NFL’s best this season in gaining ground after getting hit.
Henry has racked up 703 of his 991 rushing yards (70.9 percent) after contact. Those yards alone would make him the league’s 14 leading rusher but the additional 188 he has gotten before being hit had him fourth headed into Week 13.
“When runners, especially [when] Derrick (gets) into his fourth or fifth step, it’s a little different than a guy with a different skillset,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “Everybody’s very aware of what his skillset is, and if we can get him into his fourth or fifth step, we feel very confident in his ability and our ability to gain meaningful yards. But if we can’t do that, that’s hard to ask him to make some of those cuts that a smaller, quicker back would make.”
The numbers do not even illustrate the times he breaks multiple tackles on a single carry. Take his 74-yard touchdown run last Sunday against Jacksonville. It started with a broken tackle one yard behind the line of scrimmage and it didn’t end there. He broke another six yards past the line of scrimmage and finally fended off another with a pair of stiff arms, the first of which was delivered 35 yards from the end zone.
His 7-yard touchdown run 16 seconds later included him fighting through a pair of defenders for the final two yards.
A rundown of the NFL’s leaders in rushing yards after contact (through Week 12):
Yards after contact
Derrick Henry, Tennessee
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville
Nick Chubb, Cleveland
Chris Carson, Seattle
Josh Jacobs, Oakland
“Derrick’s shown time and time again the whole year that he’s tough to bring down,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “He’s going to run through arm tackles. If you give him a crease, he’s going to gain yards. He also the speed to finish and the strength to finish down the field. It’s a rare combination to find in a running back.”
It's nothing new either. Last season, he had 656 rushing yards after contact, which was second in the NFL to Saquan Barkley of the New York Giants, who had 736. At his current rate, Henry will accumulate more than 1,000 rushing yards (1,022, to be exact) after contact this season.
Brown, on the other hand, has added an element that had been decidedly lacking among the team’s wideouts.
Of his 581 receiving yards, 270 (46.5 percent) have come after the catch. In 2018, five different wide receivers caught passes for Tennessee and combined for 593 such yards. Corey Davis led that group and accounted for nearly half of that total with 267, fewer than Brown has already. The second-round pick out of Ole Miss is on pace to finish with 392 receiving yards after the catch.
Some of those yards are the result of the fact that he has broken six tackles, tied for second among all NFL wide receivers. Only Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, with eight, has more.
“He’s 226 pounds. He’s fast. He’s strong. It’s probably a really good place to start,” Vrabel said of Brown. “You know, he’s got really good play strength, strong hands, turns up field and he’s physical. He’s physical. He’s a physical player.”
Brown barely cracks to the league’s top 40 in receiving yards so there are players with more yards after contact. In terms of average yards-after-the-catch per reception, though, only Kanas City’s Mecole Hardman has been better. He flashed that ability in the opener against Cleveland, when he had 100 yards on three catches, and reaffirmed it Sunday against Jacksonville with a 65-yard touchdown reception on a play that started with a 13-yard completion.
A look at the NFL’s leading wide receivers in yards-after-catch per reception (through Week 12):
Yards-after-catch per reception
Total yards after catch
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City
A.J. Brown, Tennessee
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco
Alex Erickson, Cincinnati
Cooper Kupp, L.A. Rams
“His run after catch has been great all year,” Tannehill said. “Going back to Cleveland in our first game of the year, he caught one and I don’t know how many yards he got on it but broke some tackles and got way downfield. He’s kind of just continued that throughout the year. I think he’s growing as a player, developing, getting more and more confident as the season goes on.
“… I like the track that he’s on. If we can just keep pushing him and ask him to get a little better every week, he’s going to be a great player.”
Not the only one of his kind for the Titans, though.