NASHVILLE – "He's a big back who takes too much punishment, and soon, all the hits are going to slow him down."
"His window won't stay open much longer because of the wear and tear on his body."
Titans running back Eddie George heard it during his playing career in the NFL, and now he hears the same comments about running back Derrick Henry just five years into his career.
As it relates to Henry, George isn't buying it.
At least not now.
"Here's the thing, and people have to understand this: Derrick is not getting beat up like people think he is," George said. "He's getting the carries, the volume. But it is not nearly as violent as when I played, or when Terrell Davis played. Derrick has two receivers who had right at 1,000 yards each, and he had a quarterback who threw for nearly 4,000 yards. So that being said, there is a great deal of balance, and all the pressure is not on him to make all the plays and be the entire offense. There's a difference. He can now run the ball and do it very well because he has space to do it, and with his talent and ability and agility, he is lethal in that combination.
"So, I don't buy into the theory that he is getting the hell beat out of him by looking at all the carries he has. It is the quality of carries, and he is not getting bludgeoned, he is not getting beat up in between the tackles. With that being said, now it's just about him showing a level of consistent moving forward. But it's not one of those situations where I expect him to slow down."
Henry, named the Offensive Player of the Year at NFL Honors over the weekend, led the NFL and set a franchise record with 2,027 rushing yards in 2020, becoming the eighth player in league annals to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a season.
His 2,027 rushing yards gave him the fifth-highest total in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson's 2,105 (1984), Adrian Peterson's 2,097 (2012), Jamal Lewis' 2,066 (2003) and Barry Sanders' 2,053 (1997). Henry broke Chris Johnson's franchise mark of 2,006 rushing yards in 2009.
In five NFL seasons, Henry has carried the ball 1,182 times for 5,860 rushing yards with 55 touchdowns and a 5.0-yard average per carry. Henry carried the ball 378 times in 2020, a year after rushing for a league-best 1,540 yads and 16 touchdowns on 303 carries in 2019.
Hall of Famer Terrell Davis, who ran for 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns on 1,655 carries during his eight-year playing career with the Broncos, said Henry is a physical specimen who doesn't appear to be on the verge of slowing down.
"He just seems to get stronger, whether it is during a season, or during a game," Davis, an analyst for NFL Network, said leading up to Super Bowl LV. "The more you get the ball to him, he seems to have a tank of energy that never runs out. And he is uniquely built. I've never seen a back as tall, that weighs as much, and he is not stiff. He is flexible, we see him hurdle over players, and he doesn't have the biggest legs, but he is just tough to bring down.
"And it has always been that way, from high school to college, and now in the pros. He is a mismatch for the defense, when you are talking about the secondary. Nobody wants to tackle him. But uniquely, for him, like I saw he has a lot of gas in the tank and he gets stronger as the game goes on and the season goes on."
George, who played from 1996-2003 with the Titans, ran 10,009 yards and 64 touchdowns on 2,733 carries during his career. While Henry has two 300-yard carries so far in his career, George had eight 300-carry seasons, including a 403-carry season in 2000. In Henry's first three NFL seasons he carried the ball 110, 176 and 215 times, respectively.
The key for Henry now, George said, is "a level of consistency."
"Everybody in the league knows what to expect," George said of Henry. "I am almost sure that every defense in the AFC South – Houston, Jacksonville and Indianapolis – have to build their defense to stop the Titans offense and Derrick Henry. And I would think they're going to spend all offseason again to figure out how to do that. With that being said, Derrick has to be able to understand that, accept that, and prepare for that."
While looking ahead to 2021, George paused for a moment to reflect on the season Henry just finished.
It was nothing short of remarkable, George said.
"The year he had was one for the ages," George said of Henry. "When you have in front of your name, 'the only running back to do something in NFL history" or 'one of eight to run for 2,000 yards' or 'the only back to have this or that. … He had the ultimate year, and the only thing missing from it was an MVP accolade, Super Bowl MVP, and going to the Super Bowl. That is the only thing missing from going to a dream season like that. It was remarkable what he did this year."