NASHVILLE – Former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew remembers watching Derrick Henry play in high school.
Jones-Drew was with the Jaguars at the time, and Henry was a rising star at Yulee High, just outside of Jacksonville.
"Derrick was actually playing against (former Jaguar) Fred Taylor's son, Kelvin," Jones-Drew recalled. "It was a big game, so some of us went to the game and watched. And it was like, 'Wow."
Years later, Henry has blossomed into one of the NFL's best backs, and Jones-Drew isn't surprised.
In 2019, Henry was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, and he was selected to his first career Pro Bowl, after leading the NFL with a career-best 1,540 rushing yards on 303 carries. He was named the Fed Ex Ground NFL Player of the Year after ranking third in the league with 18 total touchdowns, and second in the AFC and fourth in the NFL with 1,746 yards from scrimmage.
"I knew with the opportunities, if they were really going to commit to him, he could do what he's done (in the NFL)," Jones-Drew said of Henry. "He did it in high school, he did it at Alabama, and it only made sense that he could do it in the pros. So what he was able to do this year, I was not surprised at all. And I truly feel if they would have leaned on the running game more in the AFC Championship Game they might've done better in that game.
"But Derrick is a special player, and I really feel like he's just getting started."
Jones-Drew, who ran for 8,167 yards in nine NFL seasons, made his comments leading up to Super Bowl LIV earlier this month. Jones-Drew is now an analyst for NFL Network.
Henry was the only running back in the NFL to average more than 100 rushing yards per game (102.7) this season. From Weeks 10-13, he joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1985), Eric Dickerson (1984) and O.J. Simpson (1976), as well as Adrian Peterson (2012) as the only players to record at least 145 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games in NFL history.
Henry was a real workhorse in the postseason, setting a franchise playoff record with 182 rushing yards at New England (1/4/20) before resetting it with 195 rushing yards at Baltimore (1/11/20). Henry gained 69 yards on 19 carries in the AFC title game loss at Kansas City.
Can he sustain it?
"Oh, I definitely think he can," Jones-Drew said of Henry. "He's young, he's in great shape, he's a workout warrior, and I know he has earned what is coming his way. In this league we tend to give a lot to people who haven't earned it and don't deserve it. Derrick has earned and deserved everything he is supposed to get and hopefully the Tennessee Titans understand that and they try and build their offense around him."
A look back at RB Derrick Henry's 2019 Pro Bowl season that saw him rush 303 times for an NFL-leading 1,540 yards (5.1-yard avg.) and 16 touchdowns. (Photos: Donald Page)