While the Tennessee Titans focus on fixing their defense for 2021, there is also another area they probably should plan to address this offseason – offensive production.
Why is that? After all, the Titans offense was one of the top attacks in the NFL in 2020, led by Derrick Henry becoming just the eighth man in league history to have a 2,000-yard season.
And therein lies the answer. In looking at the follow-up totals for the previous seven men who rushed for 2,000 yards in a season, none of them got close to that level again in the season after surpassing that milestone.
In fact, all of them not only had fewer yards rushing, but most of them had significantly less carries the following year after hitting 2,000 yards.
That means that even though Henry is still in the prime of his career, and will still be the focal point of the Tennessee offense that is now under the direction of Todd Downing, the Titans are likely to have to spread things more among others in order to be as productive as it was in 2020. Whether that means more passing from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown and others, or more involvement from backup Darrynton Evans, history says the Titans will need to make up at least 500 yards in production that Henry gave them this past season. Henry could put together a fantastic follow-up season of 1,500 yards rushing and still the Titans would need to account for that other 500 yards of offense from other sources.
Consider this from the other seven backs to reach the 2,000-yard plateau. Of that group, only Barry Sanders had more carries in the follow-up season than he did in his 2000-yard campaign. Sanders rushed the ball 335 times for 2,053 yards for the 1997 Lions, and followed that with 343 carries for 1,491 yards in 1998. He then abruptly retired after that season. That decrease of 562 yards, though, is the best season after of any of the previous seven that went over 2,000 yards.
The Titans own Chris Johnson had the next best year after 2,000. He had 1,364 yards on 316 carries in 2010 after having 2,006 on 358 attempts in his historic season.
Others fared much worse. Single season rushing leader Eric Dickerson had just 292 carries for 1,234 yards in 1985, a year after setting the record with 2,105 yards. Dickerson did bounce back in 1986 for go for 1,875 yards on a whopping 404 carries. Dickerson and O.J. Simpson are the only members of the 2,000-yard club to have as much as a 1,500-yard rushing season after crossing the 2,000 threshold. But even then, Simpson’s milestone 1973 season where he first broke the 2,000-yard barrier in 14 games, was followed by a 270 carry season for just 1,125 yards.
The three other members of the exclusive club all experienced big drops the next year. Adrian Peterson fell from 2,097 yards in 2012 to 1,266 yards. Jamal Lewis’ total dropped more than 1,000 yards from 2,066 yards on 387 carries to just 1,006 on 235 rushes. Terrell Davis had the biggest fall of all, suffering an injury just four games into the 1999 season and going from 2,008 yards down to just 211 on 67 carries. Davis was never the same and did not reach 1,000 yards again.
What Henry has going for him is his drive, his work ethic and his age, as he accomplished the 2,000-yard feat at age 26.
Even Sanders said last week leading up to the Super Bowl that he felt Henry had a chance to be the first to reach 2,000 yards twice. But even the NFL’s best and most punishing running back would continue to need good health, a good offensive line and a bit of luck to get close to 2,000 yards again.