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NFL Draft

Lamar Jackson Or Derrick Henry: Who’s Tougher To Defend?

  • The Draft Network
  • January 7, 2021
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It’s a case of “pick your poison.” 

Defend the reigning NFL MVP who can beat you equally in the pass and run in Lamar Jackson, or face a towering, menacing, 6-foot-3 monster-of-a-man in Derrick Henry that has the ability to not only run through you, but around and past you. 

The fact is, stopping either seems like an impossible task. 

In the grand scheme of things, comparing a quarterback to a running back isn’t fair from a skill set standpoint. 

Or is it? 

Ask anyone and they’ll say it’s harder to defend a quarterback simply due to his position and usage within an offense. I say to hand them the film of arguably the most dominant back the NFL has seen in the past decade and see if their viewpoint sways. 

So, what makes Henry so hard to stop?

Derrick Henry

Henry does things a man of his size simply has no business doing. It’s outlandish what he can do on a football field. Sitting at a shade below 240 pounds, Henry is built in the mold of a  Clydesdale that sprints like a thoroughbred. He possesses a sneaky first step and agility through gaps that often catches opposing linebackers off guard—and by the time he reaches the second level at full speed, it’s too late. Henry has become far and away the toughest man to bring down in the league and has drastically improved since his rookie campaign where he amassed just 490 yards on the ground. 

For the second straight year, the so aptly nicknamed “King Henry” took home the NFL’s rushing crown. He totaled 2,027 yards on the ground, the most in a single season in Oilers/Titans franchise history. Additionally, he became just the eighth back since the AFL/NFL merger to hit the 2,000-yard mark. Here’s the full list of backs to achieve the milestone sorted by yardage total:

  • Eric Dickerson (1984) - 2,105
  • Adrian Peterson (2012) - 2,097
  • Jamal Lewis (2003) - 2,066
  • Barry Sanders (1997) - 2,053
  • Derrick Henry (2020) - 2,027*
  • Terrell Davis (1998) - 2,008
  • Chris Johnson (2009) - 2,006
  • O.J. Simpson (1973) - 2,003

Looking deeper into Henry’s skill set, NextGen Stats highlights what makes the former Alabama product just so hard to stop.

In 2020, Henry led all running backs in "yards over expected" with a +412 total. In Week 17 alone, Henry compiled 98 yards over expected against the Houston Texans, more than all but 11 running backs compiled all season

Lamar Jackson

On the other side of the docket lies Jackson, arguably the most electric athlete to play the quarterback position in league history. 

Following Sunday’s blowout of the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson became the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, a milestone never achieved by former scramblers in Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, Steve McNair, or Steve Young. 

Jackson is simply in a class of his own. 

“When you look at Lamar Jackson and what he can do... it’s a nightmare for any defensive coordinator,” ESPN’s Ryan Clark said. 

The unique aspect of Jackson’s game, and what makes it so hard to defend, is the way offensive coordinator Greg Roman has tailored the Ravens’ offense toward Jackson’s one-of-a-kind skill set. Look back to the Ravens’ loss to Tennessee in the 2019 playoffs, and Jackson’s effectiveness ultimately was limited simply due to scheme. Roman often played heavy in 13 personnel (three tight ends), which in turn, clogged lanes for Jackson on designed runs. Linebackers and safeties for Tennessee were able to press the box and fill each gap before Jackson got up to speed. 

Fast forward a year and the Ravens’ offense is almost completely unrecognizable from that 2019 defeat. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Baltimore has used 11 personnel (1 RB/1 TE) on 48% of their plays, running the ball a league-high 43% of the time. And why wouldn’t you? Jackson has the ability to take it the distance on any snap via his legs, and having him drop back to target a speedy Marquise Brown when safeties begin to creep up or when the sure-handed Mark Andrews is mismatched on a corner aren’t bad options, either. It’s a win-win for Baltimore and an impossible task for the defense. 

For Tennessee, it starts with Henry. For Baltimore, it starts with Jackson. Who do you think is tougher to defend?

On Sunday, take the time to enjoy each time these co-superstars are on the field; playmakers like these don’t come around often.

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