NASHVILLE — When the Tennessee Titans (9-4) host the Detroit Lions (5-8) on Sunday, the emphasis will be on star running back Derrick Henry. The player in the opposing backfield, Adrian Peterson, most closely resembles No. 22’s career trajectory.
God forbid we make comparisons.
Henry leads the NFL in rushing this season after claiming the league’s title in 2019. The two running backs will not be competing against each other Sunday in a literal sense. Peterson’s career achievements and ability, though, draw the closest thing to precedent for Henry’s dominance in the modern age.
If you were a college football or NFL fan in the last two decades, you were an Adrian Peterson fan.
A miracle of modern genetics, Peterson, age 35, has accumulated 14,724 yards on the ground (5th All Time) and 117 touchdowns (4th) in his career. The future Hall-of-Famer has six 200-yard rushing performances, tied for the most in NFL history. No running back in the last 20 years has shown a more consistent ability to dominate a game.
Until recently, that is.
“Every kid is a fan of Adrian Peterson,” Henry said Thursday. “I know I was coming up out of high school, middle school, even in college. Adrian (Peterson) and Marshawn (Lynch) were top two for a while but big AP (Adrian Peterson) fan. The longevity of his career is amazing. For him to keep being able to have that production, what he’s doing, future Hall of Famer. Everyone’s a big fan of AP (Adrian Peterson).”
Henry’s career is still in its infancy so any HOF talk remains premature. Tennessee’s lead back boasts statistics that refuse to be ignored, though.
Postseason accolades and championships matter most, but the numbers are Peterson-esque.
The Titans rolled up 454 yards of offense in their 31-10 road win agains the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) last Sunday.
Henry totaled 222 yards from scrimmage and 12 of those 31 points alone in that game.
The game in Jacksonville was Henry’s 75th career regular season and his fourth career 200-yard rushing effort. The former second round pick became the NFL’s first player with four career games in which he rushed for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns. Per Tennessee’s PR staff, Henry’s statistics over his first 75 games put him in company with Peterson and Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown and Jim Taylor.
Henry, Peterson, Brown and Taylor are the only players since 1948 to reach 5,000 rushing
yards, 50 rushing touchdowns and a rushing average of at least 4.75 yards per attempt in their first 75 career games.
Three more carries for the Titans on Sunday will get Henry to 300 attempts for the second time in his career. Peterson has accomplished that feat four times, himself (363, 314, 348, 327).
Herculean efforts for the two backs abound.
“I don’t think there’s nobody like Adrian Peterson,” said Henry. “I think when you say ‘generational talent,’ I think that he’s the perfect running back or player to use that term with. There’s plenty of highlights, plenty of games that you can pick from with AP (Adrian Peterson), but ‘All Day’ is game. You can go to any game of his career where he’s had a big impact or took games over when he plays. I think the biggest one is when he came back after tearing his ACL and went for 2,000, MVP. There’s not many people that can do that. That mindset of him coming back and wanting to tear the league up speaks volumes of the type of player he is and how he approaches the game.”
Humility is among Tennessee’s star player’s best traits. But, he sells himself short.
Henry’s 1,532 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2020 again lead the league in both categories. With a rushing touchdown this week, he will join Larry Johnson (2005-06), Shaun
Alexander (2004-05) and Terrell Davis (1997-98) as the only NFL players to rush for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, per Titans PR. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone gave voice this week to just how impossible Henry can be to defend.
If Adrian Peterson defines a generation of running backs, Derrick Henry serves as the positions NextGen.
Featured Image: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports.