2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency: Can Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry make sweet music together?
We were all excited about Derrick Henry's breakout when the Titans cut DeMarco Murray. Does the signing of Dion Lewis put a damper on that?
In a perfect world, Derrick Henry would still have Mike Mularkey and his exotic smash mouth offense in charge of the Titans and his only "competition" for playing time would come from some piddling day-3 draft pick. But, life's not perfect.
Days after giving DeMarco Murray his walking papers, the Titans signed former Patriots rusher Dion Lewis to a four-year deal worth $20 million. Lewis came up huge for New England starting in October, totaling 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns in his last 14 games while averaging 13.9 carries and 2.9 catches per game. Pretty incredible stuff.
But what was most impressive about Lewis in 2017 was his availability. After missing at least seven games in each of the previous three seasons, Lewis didn't miss a game. He also managed to be efficient as he averaged 31.5 snaps per game in the 14 matchups he was noticeably more involved in, landing over 35 snaps just three times.
Hold up. Wait a minute.
13.9 carries per game?
2.9 catches per game?
31.5 snaps per game, and only three with over 35 snaps?
One season in his last four with more than nine games played?!
ARE WE SURE THIS GUY IS SUPPOSED TO OVERTAKE DERRICK HENRY?!?!
A running back with a long history of missing games and a short history of heavy touches isn't an ideal fit to handle 15-plus touches week after week. It would be stunning if the Titans signed him to do that.
The alternative, however, might annoy Fantasy owners even more.
Lewis and Henry seem poised to create a thunder-and-lightning pairing, perhaps like Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta. Who might have such an idea? How about the former quarterback's coach with the Falcons from 2015-16 and the current Titans play caller, Matt LaFleur? Seems pretty obvious he didn't want to make Henry a full-time back à la Todd Gurley, and instead chose to roll with a second rusher with established versatility. The idea probably wasn't tough to sell on head coach Mike Vrabel, a Patriots disciple familiar with New England's typically irritating (yet productive) run game.
So... get ready to be irritated.
Lewis and Henry are both elusive (they're in the top-5 in Pro Football Focus' elusive rating, with Lewis No. 1) and both averaged over 3.0 yards after contact last season. But Lewis was the more effective pass blocker and is clearly the better pass catcher. Henry is the bowling ball almost certain to land the short-yardage/goal-line role, and he also has the better track record when it comes to health. Those are pretty good tiebreakers when you consider your options on Draft Day.
If I'm picking between two guys who are going to split reps and one of them has a spotty track record with staying on the field, I'm taking the other guy. Henry's likely goal-line role is even more of a bonus.
And here's another reason to be wary of Lewis: he put up his best numbers with the best quarterback in NFL history! Patriots running backs usually don't face many stacked boxes with Tom Brady under center. Things won't be quite so easy in Tennessee. That'll impact Lewis' averages for sure.
It's probably a risk to predict anything more than 10 games for Lewis. His history suggests it. In those 10 games he's a lock to average 16 touches, but not much more with Henry lurking. Give him 12.5 carries and 3.5 catches per game with rushing (4.3) and receiving averages (6.1) south of what he had with the Patriots and minimal touchdowns.
Early projection for Dion Lewis: 125 carries, 538 yards, two touchdowns, 35 catches, 214 yards, three receiving touchdowns.
Those numbers would equate to the No. 37 running back in Fantasy in non-PPR last season, No. 28 in full PPR. No one should think about trusting him before Round 7.
Henry's outlook is a little more complicated. He'll see somewhat limited touches in those 10 games I project play with Lewis, maybe 10 carries per game without even the guarantee of a reception. But in those other six there's obvious upside for him to get closer to 15 carries and a couple of grabs. Combining those totals with his 4.3-yard career rushing average and a likely decline in receiving average (down to 10.2) should create an honest stat line for Fantasy owners to buy into.
Early projection for Derrick Henry first 10: 190 carries, 817 yards, seven touchdowns, 21 catches, 214 yards, zero receiving touchdowns.
That would have been almost dead-on with Marshawn Lynch's stat line and a No. 17 finish in non-PPR/No. 23 finish in PPR last year. He's still okay as a Round 3 pick in standard formats, but a Round 5 choice in PPR.
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