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What Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry has to do to break the career rushing record

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In an era where running backs typically don’t dominate, Tennessee Titans workhorse Derrick Henry is doing just that.

Henry’s run of success dates back to the 2018 season — Week 14 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. His defining moment came in that game when he broke off an NFL record-tying 99-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett did it for the Dallas Cowboys in 1982.

Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans tackled Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to force a turnover on downs. Henry lined up in the Titans’ end zone on the next play and scanned the line before taking the snap.

He found a crease to his left and bounced the run to the outside. A punishing stiff arm sent cornerback A.J. Bouye to the ground.

The crowd at Nissan Stadium sensed something big happening and roared.

Henry accelerated up the sideline, and when linebacker Leon Jacobs approached, he sent him to the ground with another stiff-arm. Linebacker Myles Jack was the last line of defense, at the 20-yard line, but all it took was another stiff-arm to clear the way to the end zone.

The run displayed all of the traits that make Henry a dominant force. The vision, the stiff arm and the speed. That’s what makes Henry such a dangerous threat with the ball in his hands. It’s what makes fans stand up and chant his name whenever he gets the ball.

Henry finished the game with 238 yards. That day served as the true launching pad for an epic 40-game stretch leading into Monday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills (8:20 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henry’s 6-foot-3 and 247-pound frame gives the appearance of a big, bruising running back. Although he is more than capable of lowering his shoulder and delivering a hard hit, Henry is at his best when he gets to the second level of the defense where he can showcase his breakaway speed.

The blend of size, speed and acceleration that Henry employs on the field is rare.

“Derrick’s body is like a gift from heaven,” former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander said.

Henry’s 640 rushing yards after five games this season has him on pace to surpass Eric Dickerson’s NFL record (2,105) for rushing yards in a season and become the first player with two consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons. Henry’s start to the season has already surpassed the 588 yards he had over the first five games last season, when he finished with 2,027 yards.

Consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons should all but cement Henry’s place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But what would it take for Henry to break Emmitt Smith’s NFL career rushing record of 18,355 yards?

The record

Taking Henry’s rushing yards dating back to 2018, ESPN Stats & Info simulated a model on how long it would take for him to break the record. The projection used Henry’s rushing average over the last 40 games in one model and his average per game since the start of the 2018 season as the other.

Based on Henry’s 101.3 rushing yards per game average since the start of 2018 when he became a consistent starter, Henry will need 118 games to pass Emmitt Smith for the career record. If he can maintain that pace, and the NFL maintains a 17-game season, the 27-year-old would break the record in the fourth game of the 2028 season at the age of 34.

If Henry can keep up the 119.8 rushing yards per game pace over his last 40 games, it would take 99 games to break the record, and he would do that in the second game of the 2027 season at the age of 33, the same age Smith was when he set the record.

Over the last 40 games, Henry has faced a loaded box on 30 of his 910 rushes (3.3%) and is averaging 5.1 yards per rush on those carries (compared to 5.3 yards otherwise). On those runs, he’s averaged 1.9 yards before contact and 3.2 after.

Henry will look to rush for over 100 yards for the fifth straight game when the Titans (3-2) host the Bills (4-1), who came into Week 6 with the third ranked run defense — which is allowing a stingy 78.4 yards per game.

‘Getting Derrick Henry the ball gives us a better chance’

Every week Henry finds himself being mentioned among the greats. Henry’s last feat came after rushing for 129 yards and three touchdowns against the Jaguars in Week 5 where he found himself in the same sentence as all-time great Jim Brown.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Henry is the second player in NFL history to record multiple games with 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns within his team’s first five games. The only other player to do so was Brown in 1958.

The dominant play doesn’t come without a cost, though.

Through five games, Henry has 142 carries which has him on pace for 483. The current NFL record for carries in a season is 416 by Larry Johnson for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.

Former Titans running back Eddie George carried 403 times in 2000, making him one of five players to top the 400-carry plateau in a season. George suggested the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to racking up carries.

“Don’t worry about the volume that you’re getting, how many carries and this and that,” George said. “You’ll slow down when you’re supposed to slow down. I’m not one to do a pitch count on running backs because you’ll take them out of their flow.”

Over the last 40 games, Henry has 4,792 rushing yards which are more than any player in NFL history over a 40-game span. The Titans have relied heavily on Henry’s ability to wear down opposing defenses.

“Ultimately, I think he gets better, builds more confidence, sees where the cuts should be (as the game progresses,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “I saw some runs that were better in the fourth quarter than there were in the first quarter just by him seeing the same look, or the same defense, or block the same way and then making the right cut.”

Tennessee has shown no signs of pulling away from giving the ball to Henry. They aren’t concerned about approaching an excessive workload.

“The balance is wins and losses,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “That’s the scale that I’m trying to keep balanced. Getting Derrick Henry the ball gives us a better chance to win.”

That’s not to say they don’t manage Henry’s workload during the week leading up to games. Henry typically gets Wednesdays or Thursdays off to help keep him fresh.

While with the Seahawks, Alexander piled up 300 or more carries per season from 2003-05. To withstand the wear and tear, he relied on utilizing technology and science to recover before it became a more common approach. Alexander suggested recovery methods to Henry.

“He has to take care of his body and make sure that it’s always restoring itself as fast as possible,” Alexander said. “With technology and science, you see the cold tubs, hot tubs, frost machines, infrared saunas — all of these things bring people’s bodies back faster. It has to be a part of your life. Health and science is getting wiser, and they can recover faster.”

Taking care of his body

As the carries continue to pile up, Henry works to maintain his body to endure the wear and tear because he wants to help his team in any way possible. Henry’s long-term goal is to leave on his own terms and function in his everyday life.

“He certainly has the ability [to become the all-time rushing leader,” ESPN insider Mike Tannenbaum said. “The question is longevity, and while I see him as a Hall of Famer, I don’t think he breaks the record.”

But longevity and recovery is what Henry works hard to achieve.

The training that Henry does in the offseason is well documented on social media. However, he attacks the recovery process just as hard during the season. Henry has made recovery a huge part of his routine.

“Cold tub, hot tub, massage, ART [Active Release Technique], needling, cryo – that whole nine,” Henry said of his recovery process. “Anything I can do to get my body ready, I am going to try it. I just make sure that I feel good enough to be able to pick my daughter up in the morning when she gets up. That is my main thing. You are sore all over, especially in our position because you take so many hits, but it is just about the recovery process and getting your body back under you to come out here and do it again.”

Henry has gone to Arete in Nashville since 2018 for recovery treatment. Arete founder Adam Bobo commended Henry for his approach to recovery.

“Where Derrick is different from everyone else is he takes recovery very seriously,” Bobo said. “He doesn’t cut corners, does all of the right things, the little stuff. Eats right, doesn’t drink, gets the right amount of sleep. He’s really dedicated to his craft.”

Bobo said Henry comes to Arete to do things such as cryotherapy, hyperbaric chamber treatment, light therapy and infrared sauna sessions. They have conversations about how Henry feels after games and whether or not something is off. Bobo adjusts Henry’s treatments accordingly.

Arete offers these treatments to a variety of NFL players across the league, but since it is based in Nashville, it’s easy for Henry to meet Bobo and the staff even if it’s on a Sunday night after a game for extra treatment.

What makes Henry’s accomplishments even more remarkable is how opposing defenses focus on stopping him but fail to do so.

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