Derrick Henry 2024 Outlook: Workhorse Volume or Managed Reps?

Derrick Henry

Getty Derrick Henry was a key offseason addition for the Ravens. How will they utilize him?

Few would argue that Derrick Henry is one of the greatest running backs of his generation. The Super Bowl-caliber Ravens recognize that he could be the key to a title run. They also must contend with the fact that without a healthy backfield, their chances could be doomed.

If Baltimore returns to the playoffs this next season, their star RB will be 31 years old and, presumably, #1 in career carries among active running backs. How will the Ravens deploy him, and what impact might this have on his 2024 production?

Is Derrick Henry Still at the Top of His Game?

There is ample evidence that running back careers are, on average, shorter than any other NFL positional careers. Henry hasn’t just defied the law of averages; in some ways he’s rewritten the book.

The all-world RB has led the league in carries in four of the past five seasons. The one exception was in 2021, when he led the NFL in carries before missing half the season with an injury. When was the last time an RB has achieved this? Jim Brown comes to mind. But yeah, it’s a very exclusive club.

There are some slight warning signs that Henry isn’t quite as dominant as he once was. His average yards after first contact have dropped dramatically since pre-2021, when it ranged between 2.8 and 3.2 per carry in a season. Since then, it’s been 2.3 or lower in each season, bottoming out at 2.1 last year.

One might argue that the Titans’ worsening quarterback play adversely impacted Henry’s otherwise stellar numbers. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. When Henry was at peak efficiency in 2020, Tennessee threw the 10th-fewest passing yards. The following three years, during Henry’s less efficient phase, they threw the 10th, 4th and 8th fewest.

Not a major difference, and it certainly doesn’t fully explain Henry’s drop in efficiency.

The Ravens Have Been Burned by RB Injuries

Aided by Lamar Jackson, Baltimore led the league in rushing yards and yards per carry in 2020. Entering 2021, they had a young and talented RB corps poised to break out. Then they lost most of their backfield to season-ending injuries prior to Week 1.

In the nearly three years since, this franchise still hasn’t fully recovered. Quite possibly no team has dealt with more impactful backfield injuries during this span. The Ravens understand the pain of entering the playoffs without a healthy lead back.

We cannot ignore the harsh reality they’ve endured since 2021. They’re now equipped with an RB who can take over games–and whose health might mean the difference between an early postseason exit and a Super Bowl title.

So it might be surprising, or even shocking, if Henry leads the league in carries for a fifth time in his last six campaigns. These Ravens don’t need 21.2 carries per game (which is what Henry’s averaged since 2019). Instead, we might expect 16-18, which while still pretty sizable in today’s NFL, would be designed to manage his usage ahead of January.

That would equate to a roughly 15%-24% production drop for Henry compared to recent seasons. If his efficiency significantly improves, that drop might be “only” about 8%-12%.

Still, Ravens fans and fantasy managers should take notice. In a realistic best-case scenario, Henry statistically will be a notch below what we’re accustomed to seeing. While that might not be great news for those rostering Henry in their leagues, it could be welcome news for a team that understands a healthy Henry in playoffs could help put them over the top.