NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Generally, NFL running backs are replaceable, and it’s generally wise to do so once their rookie contract is up.

Over the last few weeks, though, Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans has proven to be an exception to that rule.

Currently fourth in the NFL in rushing, Henry has carried the once-putrid Titans offense to a height that seemed previously unattainable. He has become an unstoppable force when used at a high volume.

Above all, Henry has proven to be an irreplaceable commodity for the Titans due to his abilities to create big plays, help out his quarterback and spread energy to the entire team.

CREATING ON HIS OWN

Often, running backs in the NFL whose success is predicated on big plays are entirely reliant on their teammates to create those chunk runs. They need a big hole to run into, downfield blocking and the defense to be in a favorable alignment.

While those things certainly aid Henry, he has repeatedly proven to have the ability to create big plays on his own. He knows how to use his freakish athleticism and size to make something out of nothing.

Give Henry a sliver, and he can turn it into a massive play by slipping out of arm-tackles and catching his stallion-like stride.

“Derrick has shown time and time again the whole year that he’s tough to bring down,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “He’s going to run through arm tackles. If you give him a crease, he’s going to gain yards.

“He also the speed to finish and the strength to finish down the field. It’s a rare combination to find in a running back.”

Even Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, whose twenty years working in the NFL has allowed him to see his fair share of running backs, is blown away by Henry’s physical abilities.

“It’s not a normal thing, but that’s pro football players,” Vrabel said. “Pro-athletes make the hard look easy, and I think that’s what he does.

“I think the emphasis on his stiff arm and being able to control the football securely and still maintain speed while he’s doing that is something that is really, really cool for us.”

BRINGING ENERGY TO THE SIDELINE

Henry is someone who very rarely praises himself. He’s a selfless player who is much more concerned with passing praise along to his teammates.

That changed for just a split second after the Titans’ win over the Jaguars when, in response to a question on whether he believed his big plays provided an energy boost to his teammates, Henry offered a rhetorical question.

“Did you see the sideline when I scored?”

Henry was referring to his 74-yard TD run in the third quarter, during which members of the Titans defense were bouncing up and down on the sideline, clearly ecstatic about the big play.

“It’s fun watching Derrick Henry run up and down the field,” safety Kevin Byard said. “When he’s running the ball, he’s controlling the clock and getting those tough yards. We know he’s going to wear down a defense and break a few big runs.”

The Titans are, in many ways, a boring team. Even when they’re winning and playing at a high level, it’s not a particularly exciting brand of football.

Henry totally changes that for not only fans and other viewing audiences, but for his teammates as well.

He’s infectious. He’s contagious.

HELPING OUT THE QB

Tannehill, the Titans’ starting QB since Week Seven, plays arguably the toughest position in professional sports.

But when he’s able to simply reach behind him, give the ball to Henry, sit back and watch the show, the job becomes pretty easy.

“After handing it off, everyone’s high-fiving me on the sideline,” Tannehill said. “All I did was hand it off. It’s fun.”

The Titans offense, as a whole, has lacked big play ability over the past few seasons. As a result, they’ve had to rely far too often on dinking and dunking to get down the field.

That puts a lot of strain on the QB to be perfect, as any slip-up could kill a drive.

Henry’s explosiveness removes a lot of that strain.

And, when his contract expires at the end of this season, he’ll be too valuable to allow another team to get their hands on him.

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today

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