Everyone knows the Tennessee Titans want to give the ball to Derrick Henry whenever possible. Henry led the NFL in carries last year. He leads the league in both carries and total touches this year. On approximately 38 percent of the team's snaps so far this season, the ball has ended up in his hands.
But the Titans mostly only ever give Henry the ball by handing it to him. They rarely do it by throwing to him. Of Henry's 1,131 career touches, just 71 of them have been receptions. Among the 43 players with at least 500 total touches since Henry entered the league, only two (LeGarrette Blount and Sony Michel) have had a lower percentage of their touches come via reception than Henry has with his 6.3 percent rate.
So, it's interesting that on Wednesday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel specifically noted Henry's improvement as a pass-catcher, and indicated that the team needs to do a better job of getting him the ball through the air.
Henry has just 14 receptions for 93 yards among his 26 targets this season, but those 26 targets actually represent a new career high, and the 14 receptions are just four behind the high-water mark he set last year.
The thing is, though, Henry is actually a pretty efficient pass-catcher. Consider this: among the 63 running backs with at least 50 receptions over the past four seasons, Henry ranks seventh in yards per reception (9.2) despite having an average route-break 1.4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus and Tru Media. Henry also ranks third among that same group of players in yards after catch per reception (9.9).
But unlike the rest of the players near the top of those leaderboards (Dalvin Cook, Austin Ekeler, Todd Gurley, Joe Mixon, James Conner, etc.), Henry is not targeted all that often when he's actually asked to run a route. Among the aforementioned group of 62 running backs, Henry's 12.8 percent target rate (the percentage of time he's targeted when running a pass route) ranks second-to-last, ahead of that of only Lamar Miller.
So, if Vrabel is implying that he thinks his star running back has been under-utilized as a pass-catcher, he's probably right. Given his size, Henry is probably never going to be an incredibly smooth route-runner on the perimeter like Ekeler of Alvin Kamara, but getting him more involved in the screen game and via flat routes is a strategy worth pursuing.