It looks like “Derrick Henry season” has arrived a little earlier this year.
The Tennessee Titans' workhorse running back busted loose for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries last week. His 33.1 fantasy points in ESPN’s PPR scoring were the second-most of his career -- behind only the monstrous 47.8 points he scored in Week 14 last season, when he exploded for 238 yards and four TDs.
And ESPN Titans reporter Turron Davenport predicted more big days to come as he expects Tennessee to rely on its 247-pound closer much like it did late last year.
“His role is going to increase down the stretch, even though it already has been a significant one,” said Davenport, who recommended Henry as a fantasy trade target with ESPN’s standard trade deadline approaching a few days after the Titans’ Week 11 bye. “I'm not saying he'll have a December like last season, but expect a strong showing.
“The Titans want their identity to be a physical football team, and there is really no better way to establish that than to give Derrick Henry the football. They are also doing more to get him involved in the passing game. He is getting more game reps lining up over the numbers in empty formations. And offensive coordinator Arthur Smith likes to dial up screen passes to Henry, which have resulted in touchdowns of 75 yards and 23 yards this season.”
Henry has never been much of a pass-catcher, which has always restricted his value somewhat in PPR leagues. But he did catch three passes for 36 yards and a TD two weeks ago -- his most catches in a game since he was a rookie in 2016. And he is already two catches away from his career-high of 15 in a season.
And there is no doubting the Titans’ commitment to giving Henry the ball -- as long as they can stay close in games or play with a lead.
Tennessee ran a total of 49 plays in last week’s thrilling 35-32 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. And Henry touched the ball on 25 of them.
Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league with ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters:
Arizona Cardinals: Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss suggested last week that coach Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t be afraid to go with the hot hand at running back even when David Johnson returned to the lineup. Sure enough, Kingsbury wound up benching Johnson after a third-quarter fumble last week and explained afterward that new RB Kenyan Drake has “brought a little pop to the run game (and) pass game.”
Atlanta Falcons: Third-year RB Brian Hill, who got cut twice before earning his way onto the Falcons’ roster last year, will get a chance to prove himself while starting in place of injured Devonta Freeman, wrote Vaughn McClure.
Dallas Cowboys: Todd Archer suggested two players who could help with fantasy down the stretch. One is receiver Michael Gallup, who has started to come on a little bit with touchdowns in each of the past two games. Archer believes the opportunities will keep coming for Gallup as Amari Cooper sees more double-teams.
The other is probably only relevant in the deepest of leagues. But Dallas’ No. 2 tight end, Blake Jarwin, has made a few big plays in recent weeks -- including two touchdowns. “He’s not going to be an every-down tight end. That’s [Jason] Witten’s job. And some of the plays have been off-script,” Archer said. “But he is a guy to watch.”
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Denver Broncos: Jeff Legwold recommended rookie tight end Noah Fant as a player whose fantasy value could keep rising in the wake of the Emmanuel Sanders trade. “He had a rough go in the first seven games or so, but I think he’ll get a lot of targets down the stretch,” said Legwold, who wrote about Fant’s breakout performance last week before Denver’s Week 10 bye.
Legwold also wrote about how the Broncos are trying to find the right number of touches for RB Phillip Lindsay. They don’t want to overwork the 5-foot-8, 190-pounder. But their “often-clunky” offense needs more of his big-play ability. Lindsay has produced five of the Broncos’ six runs of more than 25 yards this season.
Detroit Lions: Michael Rothstein shined a little more light on WR Kenny Golladay, who quietly leads the NFL with eight touchdown catches and is tied for third in the league with four 100-yard receiving games.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Tyreek Hill is in the running for the title of NFL’s fastest player. But it’s more than just his speed that allows Hill to make so many big plays, wrote Adam Teicher.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are going to keep riding RB Dalvin Cook – hopefully into the playoffs, wrote Courtney Cronin. They ran the ball on 10 straight plays during a critical go-ahead drive against the Cowboys last week.
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New England Patriots: Mike Reiss broke down how new receiver Mohamed Sanu has quickly become a key part of New England’s passing attack. Sanu was targeted 14 times in just his second game with the Patriots.
New York Giants: Despite getting banged up again last week, Giants RB Saquon Barkley insisted he won’t shut it down for the rest of the season, as Jordan Raanan wrote. “It won't happen,” Barkley said. “I'm going to keep going until I can't go no more.”
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New York Jets: Rich Cimini recommended WR Jamison Crowder as a nice fantasy add down the stretch – either via trade or if you’re in one of the 30% of ESPN leagues where he is still available. Cimini pointed out that Crowder has 40 catches and two TDs in Sam Darnold’s six starts at quarterback. “He has become Darnold’s security blanket,” Cimini said. “The Jets get blitzed a lot and Darnold often looks to Crowder as his hot receiver.”
On the flip side, Cimini said he would look to trade away RB Le’Veon Bell because of the Jets’ offensive line struggles. “He has no running room and he doesn’t have enough elusiveness to create his own room,” said Cimini, who also doesn’t see much hope for WR Robby Anderson to turn things around and become a consistent fantasy producer because Darnold doesn’t have enough time in the pocket to throw deep.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones showed some highs and lows in his first game since being named as Tampa’s starting running back, wrote Jenna Laine. But the Bucs saw enough to stick with him. “He’s still a work in progress,” coach Bruce Arians said, “but it’s a hell of a good work.”