The scariest part of Derrick Henry's Week 2 performance against the Seattle Seahawks wasn't his 182 rush yards and three rush TDs. It was his six catches (a career high) for 55 yards on six targets that really caught my eye.
As incredible as the back-to-back rushing champion is as a downhill runner, his pass-catching ability has been almost completely untapped in the NFL (career average of 15.2 catches per season entering 2021). Henry showed us at Alabama that he could be a reliable receiving option despite not being utilized much in that area. He finished with 17 receptions for 285 yards and three touchdowns in his three-year career at Bama. I remember watching Henry at his pro day when he lined up for receiver drills. He was exceptional and didn't drop a pass. However, if coaches don't see a player perform consistently in one aspect of the game on his college film, they often assume the player can't get the job done in that area. I can't help but think that's a main reason Henry hasn't been used much as a pass-catcher in the pros. But he's clearly up to the task.
I love the idea of Henry being more involved in the Titans' passing attack, but I do understand that he carries a very heavy load as a rusher and you can't give the guy the ball on every play. After all, he averaged more than 100 rush yards per game and logged 33 rush TDs over the last two seasons. The Titans know the luxury of having the big-bodied back on their side, as they are 19-0 when Henry touches the ball 24 times or more (including playoffs). And of those 19 wins, 11 ended up as one-score games, so it's not like Henry was racking up garbage-time yards in blowout victories.
First-year Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing is making life even tougher on the opposition by using Henry more in the pass game. Defenses can't simply load the box to try to keep him bottled up. They also must figure out how to cover him in space, which will be a big problem. He's faster than most linebackers. He's bigger than any corners who'll try to stop him. He's certainly bigger (and usually faster) than safeties. I could see a scenario in which the Titans start to use Henry on the perimeter because defenses will struggle to stop him.
Henry is already the Titans' scariest offensive player on a team with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. He's also been one of the most productive offensive players in the NFL despite being used almost exclusively as a runner out of the backfield. How much scarier and how much more productive can this guy be? Sunday's matchup against the Colts' middle-of-the-road defense will be a great time to find out.
Top 15 running backs
With the 2021 NFL season underway, former All-Pro running back and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew examines all RBs and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the Ground Index rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2021 season.
2) Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.
Rankings will be based solely on this season's efforts following Week 4. Now, let's get to it. Entering Week 3, here is MJD's pecking order:
2021 stats: 2 games | 52 att | 240 rush yds | 4.62 ypc | 3 rush TD | 9 rec | 74 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
I wrote last week that Henry would bounce back after a rough Week 1 outing. I think it's safe to say that happened, as he scampered for 182 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against the Seahawks, and leads the league in rushing yards heading into Week 3.
2021 stats: 2 games | 45 att | 170 rush yds | 3.78 ypc | 1 rush TD | 14 rec | 154 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
A week after the Saints stonewalled the Packers, McCaffrey racked up 137 scrimmage yards and a touchdown against New Orleans to help the Panthers improve to 2-0. He should continue to roll against a Texans defense that ranked last in the league in 2020, giving up 160.3 rush yards per game. Houston allowed 156 rush yards to Cleveland in Week 2.
2021 stats: 2 games | 42 att | 192 rush yds | 4.57 ypc | 1 rush TD | 8 rec | 60 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble
Mike Zimmer was right on the money when he said his team was "two plays away from being 2-0." Cook, who had a critical fumble in Week 1's overtime loss, bounced back with 131 rushing yards against Arizona, a game the Vikings lost on a field goal. He comes into a meeting with the Seahawks with something to prove, as he's averaged just 49.7 rush yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry in three games vs. Seattle.
2021 stats: 2 games | 26 att | 178 rush yds | 6.85 ypc | 3 rush TD | 3 rec | 21 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble
While Chubb has at least one scrimmage touchdown in eight straight games dating back to Week 12 of 2020 -- the longest active streak in the NFL -- he and his counterpart Kareem Hunt will have their hands full against a Bears team that ranks third in run defense.
2021 stats: 2 games | 22 att | 76 rush yds | 3.45 ypc | 1 rush TD | 8 rec | 61 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 0 fumbles
Jones made everyone quickly forget the Packers' Week 1 thumping with four scrimmage touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing) against the Lions. He's truly a do-it-all weapon for Matt LaFleur and chances are we'll see more big plays from him against the 49ers' 27th-ranked run defense on Sunday night.
2021 stats: 2 games | 27 att | 104 rush yds | 3.85 ypc | 1 rush TD | 4 rec | 32 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
While Tony Pollard adds some much-needed juice to the Cowboys' rushing attack, Zeke provides consistency. He's finding his groove as the Cowboys find their stride, which is very promising as they begin division play on Monday night vs. the Eagles.
2021 stats: 2 games | 28 att | 88 rush yds | 3.14 ypc | 0 rush TD | 7 rec | 33 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles
What the heck happened with the Saints last week? Kamara was held to five(!) rush yards on eight carries. My goodness, that was ugly! You know what, though? Everyone is allowed one poor performance; this is Kamara's.
2021 stats: 2 games | 49 att | 196 rush yds | 4.00 ypc | 3 rush TD | 9 rec | 74 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
Mixon's 49 carries and 196 rush yards through two weeks (both second in the NFL) are his most through two games in a season in his career. The Bengals have real potential with this talented offense IF they keep leaning on Mixon and the run game.
2021 stats: 2 games | 24 att | 111 rush yds | 4.63 ypc | 1 rush TD | 9 rec | 61 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
The Chargers got Ekeler involved in the pass game last week with nine catches on nine targets for 61 yards, and they'd be wise to do the same in Week 3 against the Chiefs, who were just torched by the Ravens in every way. The Chargers' RB1 has 1,457 receiving yards (most among RBs) and 155 receptions (second among RBs behind Alvin Kamara's 171) since 2019. Ekeler should stay ahead of the pack if he can stay healthy.
2021 stats: 2 games | 29 att | 122 rush yds | 4.21 ypc | 2 rush TD | 3 rec | 26 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble
Carson didn't go toe-to-toe with Henry's 182-yard effort last week, but he capitalized in the red zone with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns. He must continue to be a key piece in the offense with the 'Hawks hitting the road for games against Minnesota and San Francisco up next.
2021 stats: 2 games | 36 att | 169 rush yds | 4.69 ypc | 1 rush TD | 4 rec | 28 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
Juggling quarterbacks hasn't allowed the Bears to find any sort of offensive consistency; however, Montgomery's strong start to the season has the unit ranked eighth in rushing heading into Week 3. With Justin Fields slated to start at QB against the Browns, Montgomery should again be a highlight.
2021 stats: 2 games | 32 att | 107 rush yds | 3.34 ypc | 0 rush TD | 7 rec | 62 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
Like last year, Taylor is off to a slow start with 107 rush yards through two games. With uncertainty at the quarterback position, Taylor must step up and channel his 2020 second-half form to help turn the Colts' season around after an 0-2 start.
2021 stats: 2 games | 39 att | 162 rush yds | 4.15 ypc | 1 rush TD | 3 rec | 19 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble
Harris' confidence is up after a solid showing against the Jets. He knows what's on his plate with a rookie quarterback directing the offense. His performance could be the deciding factor against the Saints and for many Pats games going forward.
2021 stats: 2 games | 40 att | 126 rush yds | 3.15 ypc | 1 rush TD | 1 rec | -1 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
The Texans are a feisty team and the injury to Tyrod Taylor is unfortunate. They'll need to really lean on their veteran running back committee if they intend to stay in games with rookie Davis Mills under center. Ingram will be a key player going forward.
2021 stats: 1 game | 10 att | 34 rush yds | 3.4 ypc | 2 rush TD | 1 rec | 6 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Jacobs missed Week 2 due to toe/ankle injuries and he's "very questionable" to go against the Dolphins. Remember, I'm taking performances from previous seasons into account in these rankings right now, but that will soon change.