Through 11 weeks of the season, there is little separation between the running backs atop the NFL rushing race.
Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans leads Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings by 10 yards. Henry has 1,079. Cook has 1,069.
Both had big performances last Sunday.
Henry, the 2019 rushing champion, earned a Twitter shoutout from NBA legend LeBron James after he gashed the Baltimore Ravens defense for 133 yards on 28 carries. He scored a 29-yard game-winning touchdown in the Titans’ 30-24 overtime victory, which made him the first player in NFL history to score two overtime rushing touchdowns in a season. It was his 13th 100-yard effort in his last 19 games dating back to last season. He has rushed for 100 yards or more six times this season, including in three of the last four games.
Henry has now topped 1,000 yards in three straight years.
Cook has played one fewer game because of an October injury but has kept pace, nonetheless. Cook ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in the Vikings’ 31-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and surpassed 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He too has rushed for 100 yards or more in three of his last four and five times in all this season.
“Dalvin Cook is having a phenomenal season,” Henry said Wednesday. “Right now, I would say he’s the best back in football. Just week after week, always dominating. Always having a great game. Running the ball. Catching the ball. Very explosive.”
Only twice since 2010 has the race been this tight entering Week 12.
In 2013, former Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led then-Vikings running back Adrian Peterson by 12 yards, 1,009 to 997. McCoy eventually took the crown.
The last time a running back had a lead of 10 yards or fewer at this point of the season was 2011. Then, McCoy was ahead of Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, 1,050 to 1,040. Jones-Drew finished as the champion.
From 2010-19 the eventual rushing champion had a lead of 100 yards or more entering Week 12 and stayed at the head of the pack. One exception was in 2017, when Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell had an advantage but ultimately lost to then-Kansas City Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt.
Last season, Henry ran for 100 yards or more five times in his final six games to move from the back end of the top 10 to No. 1 in the race. He rushed for 896 yards in those games, which was 58.2 percent of his 1,540 and gave him a 46-yard edge over Cleveland’s Nick Chubb.
It has been seven years since two running backs finished with more than 1,700 rushing yards in the same season, but both Henry and Cook are on that pace. Averaging 107.9 yards per game this season, Henry is in search of his second consecutive rushing title. LaDanian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers last accomplished that feat in 2006 and 2007.
Cook, who leads the league in yards per game at 118.8, has been close before. However, the third-year star out of Florida State has never come out on top.
“I love watching him run on film,” Henry said of Cook. “He is doing a great job this year. That guy’s just been incredible the whole year. He runs hard, runs through tackles, makes guys miss. He’s just been balling.”
With six weeks to go, Henry is stride for stride with him.