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Late for Work: Pundit Says Derrick Henry Is in Position to Have a Big Year

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, left, runs against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tre Brown during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, left, runs against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Tre Brown during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

Pundit Says Derrick Henry Is in Position to Have a Big Year

One of the first questions Derrick Henry was asked during his introductory press conference yesterday was what he would say to those who think his best days are behind him.

"Tell them to keep watching," said Henry, who signed with the Ravens this week after eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson believes King Henry is set to have a big year.

Henry, who turned 30 in January, finished second in rushing last season with 1,167 yards and tied for fifth among running backs with 12 rushing touchdowns. His yards-per-game-average did drop to 68.6, his lowest mark since 2018, but that number is deceiving.

Monson noted that the Titans were last in PFF's offensive line rankings in each of the past two seasons, and said Henry is in a significantly better situation in Baltimore.

"Henry was running behind the worst line in football for two years and still averaged 3.5 yards per carry after contact," Monson wrote. "Tennessee's blocking generated Henry an average of 0.82 yards per carry before contact over the past two seasons, the worst mark in football. We know running backs are, to a huge degree, a product of their circumstances — chief among them is blocking — and nobody has had a worse situation to deal with than Henry. One could easily argue that Henry is also more dependent on avoiding those early hits because of his play style: a runner who needs to get up to speed but, once he does, is very hard to take down.

"At a minimum, Baltimore's offensive line is a complete sea change for Henry. The unit finished last season ranked fifth in the league, and even with some projected turnover (both guard spots will be new starters at the time of writing), it will be a totally different picture in front of Henry."

Monson said that playing in the same backfield as Lamar Jackson, the greatest running quarterback of all time, also will benefit Henry immensely.

"One of the biggest variables that dictates rushing success is box count, or simply how many defensive bodies are stacked in and around the line of scrimmage that could potentially get in the ball carrier's way," Monson wrote. "The threat Jackson poses at all times changes the math and potentially alters run fits altogether from the defensive perspective. All of that creates more space for Henry to attack.

"Over the past three years (ostensibly the period of Henry's decline), Henry has run into an eight-plus-man box 126 times more than any other player in the NFL. He has the highest PFF rushing grade of any back on those plays and has still averaged 4.0 yards per carry, with 3.3 of that coming after contact. Simply liberating Henry from those looks will immediately transform his box-score production and reveal the old King Henry once again, and Jackson can help achieve that or, at the very minimum, capitalize if teams refuse to adjust."

Marquise Brown Reportedly Signing With Chiefs

After a two-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown reportedly is back in the AFC, where he'll be catching passes from Patrick Mahomes.

Brown, a 2019 first rounder who played his first three seasons in Baltimore before being traded to the Cardinals for a first-round pick (which the Ravens used to select center Tyler Linderbaum), reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs worth up to $11 million last night.

The Chiefs, whose wide receivers had issues last season with dropped passes and a lack of explosive plays, will look to Brown to be the deep passing threat they've lacked since trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins two years ago. Brown, tight end Travis Kelce, and second-year wide receiver Rashee Rice figure to be a formidable pass-catching trio.

Brown's best season was with the Ravens in 2021, when he had 91 catches for 1,008 yards, the only time he has reached 1,000 yards in his career. Despite getting 146 targets (10th in the league) that year, he requested a trade after the season.

Brown's production fell off in Arizona, where he had 118 receptions for 1,283 yards and seven touchdowns in 26 games. Brown had six catches for 33 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens at Arizona last season in a game won by Baltimore, 31-24.

The Ravens will play at Kansas City next season.

Ravens Continue to Get High Marks for Offseason Moves

Other teams have made more, and splashier, free-agent additions this offseason than the Ravens, but General Manager Eric DeCosta continues to receive high marks from pundits for his moves thus far.

NFL Network’s Adam Rank gave Baltimore an A, in large part to its signing of defensive tackle Justin Madubuike to a long-term contract after placing the franchise tag on him.

"I really do believe the Ravens did a great job, not necessarily because of who they brought in — and Derrick Henry's great —but what they were able to retain," Rank said. "Madubuike is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He led all defensive tackles in sacks, quarterback hits, and quarterback pressures. That makes this defense one of the toughest to run against or do anything against because they're able to disrupt through the middle of the field. They lose Patrick Queen, which is fine. Is Roquan [Smith] still there? OK, fine, we'll be good."

PFF’s Brad Spielberger gave the Ravens a B.

"Madubuike had one of the best contract years in recent memory, making splash plays seemingly every week and improving his efficiency as a pass rusher along with a boost to his traditional stats," Spielberger wrote. "The Ravens finally get their man, with Henry a target at last year's trade deadline as Baltimore geared up for a deep playoff run. The duo of Henry and Lamar Jackson in the backfield is going to be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses, and we can't wait to see it in action."

What the Ravens Still Need to Do This Offseason

With the first week of free agency concluding, The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker looked at what the Ravens still need to accomplish this offseason.

Rebuilding the offensive line continues to be the top priority, as the Ravens have just two starters (Linderbaum and left tackle Ronnie Stanley) returning.

"The real takeaway is that DeCosta sees this as the right year to rebuild one of the team's core units through a draft that's considered one of the richest in recent memory for offensive linemen," Walker wrote. "Whether they use the No. 30 overall pick on a replacement for [right tackle Morgan] Moses or look stock up in later rounds, there's little question they'll look to 'augment the roster with good, young, cheap, talented football players.' as DeCosta put it Thursday."

Walker said it's a risky approach for a team that figures to be a Super Bowl contender, but "the Ravens have always trusted their ability to solve problems through the draft, and if they believe the 34-year-old Kevin Zeitler and the 33-year-old Moses will struggle to maintain peak form because of knee and shoulder injuries, respectively, better to move on a year early than a year late."

Walker added that he expects the Ravens "to add at least one experienced lineman to start or compete for snaps, perhaps after the draft, when he has a fuller grip on the team's assets."

Also on the Ravens' to-do list, Walker said, is to "fortify a secondary that's long on front-line talent but lacking the depth that made it special last season" and add edge rushers.

"The Ravens would like to bring Jadeveon Clowney back but could be outspent for his services," Walker wrote. "They'll hope that 2021 first-round pick Odafe Oweh breaks out in 2024 the way Madubuike did last year and that 2022 second-round pick David Ojabo finally enjoys a healthy season."

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