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Week 6 Fantasy Football Booms and Busts: Derrick Henry, unstoppable

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For all of his accomplishments, Derrick Henry has been in a constant battle for respect.

Despite his Heisman Trophy win in 2015, he wasn’t selected until the 45th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Despite his obvious skills, the Titans evenly split touches between Henry and Dion Lewis back in 2018. And even after a monstrous 2019 season, when Henry won a rushing title and finished as the No. 2 back in fantasy football, he was mildly disrespected in 2020 draft rooms.

Consider the NFFC Draft board for the final week before the year, when we had the most crystallized version of ADP. Henry checked in at the eighth overall pick, about even with unproven rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. It wasn’t unheard of to see Henry slide into the second round, either.

The national discount was fun while it lasted. (And kudos to Yahoo managers, who kept Henry’s ADP four picks ahead of CEH.)

Henry emphatically put his stamp on the early window of Week 6, trucking for 264 total yards, two touchdowns, and sparking the Titans to an exhilarating 40-34 overtime win over Houston. Henry’s 94-yard touchdown explosion in the fourth quarter was the game’s signature play, and Henry’s five-yard scoring run in overtime ended the affair.

For a power back, Henry scores plenty of touchdowns from distance. He’s up to 47 regular season touchdowns for his career, and 10 of them have been from 53 yards or more. Heck, today’s distance call wasn’t even the longest of his career; recall the 99-yard rumble against Jacksonville two years ago. He had 74- and 75-yard touchdown runs last year. (The list of backs who have two 90-plus touchdown runs for their career is an awfully short one. Bo Knows. So does Lamar Miller.)

It’s no wonder they call Henry “Tractorcito.” John Deere has nothing on this guy between the tackles. In a league of vanishing bell cows, Henry still punches the clock every week. The Titans also offer a quality offensive line (though one key piece, LT Taylor Lewan, might be lost for the year).

To be fair, Henry wasn’t in top form through the opening five weeks. His yards per carry sat at 3.7, a career-low — and a full yard behind his norm. He was doing his usual nothing in the passing game, just six catches for 32 yards. If you ranked all the backs in per-game PPR scoring, Henry was an ordinary ninth before Sunday’s slate.

Of course, the most important ability is availability. While any football player is an injury concern simply by stepping on the field — and that’s enhanced for any running back — we marvel at Henry’s ability to take punishment and stay in action. He’s only missed two games since turning pro, stepping in the arena 67 of a possible 69 times. Sometimes you watch Henry clips and wonder if the defenders are punished more than he is, after all those crunching inside runs.

To be fair, Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith is making this entire offense sing. Ryan Tannehill — talk about a candidate for any all-underrated team — chucked for 364 yards and four touchdowns Sunday, keeping the chains moving despite the loss of tight end Jonnu Smith (ankle). Secondary TE Anthony Firkser (8-113-1) becomes an interesting option if Smith misses time, while the uncoverable A.J. Brown scored on two of his five catches. Adam Humphries (6-64-1) secured all of his targets and is handy as we navigate the teeth of bye season.

Tennessee will get nothing easy against Pittsburgh next week; the Steeler defense dominated the Browns for three hours Sunday. But Henry & Co. have a chance to produce against anyone — and don’t forget Tennessee already had its forced bye week. The Titans will be in our plans for the foreseeable future.

Before we close the ledger on Tennessee’s win, a nod to Houston’s explosive offense. David Johnson’s running game remains a road to nowhere (19-57, one short touchdown), but Deshaun Watson threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns, pushing the Texans into the shootout. A narrow target tree kept the receivers in relevance; Will Fuller (6-123-1) was constantly open and made good use of 11 targets, and Brandin Cooks caught all of his underneath stuff (9-68-1). Darren Fells took advantage of the Jordan Akins injury, popping for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Watson goes toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers next week.

Steelers remind Browns who the bully is

The scary thing about Pittsburgh’s 38-7 rout of Cleveland is how many primary Steelers had little or no role in the romp. Diontae Johnson (back) didn’t play. JuJu Smith-Schuster (two catches, six yards) remains an afterthought. Eric Ebron finished with nine yards.

But the Pittsburgh offense still showed plenty of octane, with James Conner (20-101-1) fueling the running game. Benny Snell added a short touchdown run, and the emerging Chase Claypool (81 total yards, touchdown run) was heard from again. How much fun is that guy?

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 18: Chase Claypool #11 of the Pittsburgh Steelers stiff arms Mack Wilson #51 of the Cleveland Browns during their NFL game at Heinz Field on October 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Steelers rookie receiver Chase Claypool found the end zone again in Week 6. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

James Washington (4-68-1) was handy, but he’ll be difficult to trust whenever Johnson comes back. The gift and the curse of too many good players. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger sat back and threw just 22 passes Sunday (162 yards, one score). For all the talent on his offense this year, Roethlisberger might not be a great fantasy player. The Steelers are menacing on the ground, and sometimes the defense wins the game on its own.

I want to give Cleveland a pass for this stink bomb, but we have to have a discussion about Baker Mayfield (10-for-18, 119 yards, one touchdown, two picks, four sacks, 54.9 rating). It’s clear Mayfield (ribs) wasn’t comfortable Sunday, but the Steelers did plenty to hit and confuse him. Mayfield was eventually pulled in the second half, likely for his own well-being. It reminded you of the Jimmy Garoppolo benching last week, a mercy pull.

What is Mayfield at his best? Is he a league-average quarterback? He’s not a statue in the pocket, but he’s certainly not a dynamic runner, either. So long as he’s the man in Cleveland, Odell Beckham probably has a capped range. OBJ finished with two catches Sunday, on four targets; unfortunately we don’t get credit for his DPI flag drawn, or his nifty one-hand catches in pre-game warmups.

Cincinnati’s defense is mildly improved, but it’s still below average. The Bengals loom as a get-well spot for Cleveland in Week 7, but Mayfield probably will be touch-and-go all practice week.

D’Andre Swift ready to take over?

I don’t think it’s wrong for Adrian Peterson to have a role on a football team, even the Lions. But it’s time Detroit let Peterson settle into a secondary spot, a complimentary gig. Peterson had one more carry than D’Andre Swift at Jacksonville — Peterson went for 40 yards and a short score on his 15 totes, while Swift rang up 116 yards and two scores. Maybe the Lions are ready to finally pass the baton.

You can knock Matt Patricia as much as you want, and I’ll nod right along. But I still think OC Darrell Bevell has lots of good ideas; recall how well Matt Stafford was playing before last year’s midseason injury. I want to see Swift take over this backfield (for one thing, you threaten more of the field and playbook when he’s in the game). And I want to see T.J. Hockenson get more looks, though he did have a short touchdown catch Sunday.

Speed Round

• I still don’t trust Ronald Jones in the passing game — and maybe the Buccaneers don’t either — but he’s been a powerful, decisive runner. When Leonard Fournette finally returns, he shouldn’t be much more than a garnish.

• It was fun to see Lamar Jackson do Jackson things on the ground again, but he’s blocking the value of the rest of the backfield. And this is a passing game that refuses to offer heavy volume or a dynamic target share to its primary options. For a name-brand team with the sitting MVP, the Ravens are a fairly boring fantasy group right now.

• Calvin Ridley is a terrific player and Atlanta’s secondary receivers are respectable, but Julio Jones is still the lead singer in this offense. When he’s on the field, we have critical buoyancy. Without him, everyone is asked to step forward one slot; maybe Ridley can handle that, but most of these other guys can’t. I still don’t have any long-term faith in Todd Gurley.

• Justin Jefferson, wow. I don’t care that a bunch of it happened in garbage time. How was he not starting on opening day? With Adam Thielen still relevant and Irv Smith flashing two straight weeks, I’m excited about this offense for 2021 — if the Vikings can mercifully move away from Kirk Cousins.

• Alexander Mattison, what can you say? Sometimes the chalk is delicious, sometimes it tastes like chalk. Ten carries should have been enough to do something, but the entire offense was a flat tire for almost two hours. Process good, result bad. The Falcons get paid, too.

• Loved the Miami shutout. The Mike Gesicki shutout, not so much. Myles Gaskin has become a set-and-forget back in most leagues, pliable in all game situations and holding some touchdown equity.

• D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault finally had the heavy volume we’ve been pushing for, but the results were underwhelming. I’ll still go to bat for Chark as soon as I know his ankle is healthy. Shenault looks like the type of player who could easily be a post-Halloween boom, when he understands the league a little better and the Jaguars have a better idea how to utilize him.

• James Robinson had an awful game, for him, and still collected 53 total yards and a touchdown, a playable score in most formats. Not many backs have the same sturdy floor built into their weekly projection.

• Keeping Joe Burrow upright (just two sacks against 39 attempts) was half the battle for the Bengals. And somehow Cincinnati coaxed a meaningful line (8-96-0) out of 11 A.J. Green targets. At least the Green game didn’t come at the expense of Tee Higgins (6-125-0), the most explosive downfield option. I’d still move Green for any shiny toy I could.

• Cam Newton returned for New England but the fun didn’t return to the Patriots offense. Newton was the only runner to get volume, there wasn’t enough verticality to the passing game, and the Patriots struggled to score points against a defense that’s no longer elite. Drew Lock fashioned a 34.9 rating and threw critical picks late, but the Broncos escaped, anyway.

• I don’t know how married the Broncos are to Melvin Gordon, but Phillip Lindsay is probably their best back. And Tim Patrick (4-101-0) might be in the WR3 conversation forward, no matter what this team’s QB situation is like.

• Devonta Freeman has all the volume he can handle, but the Giants run blocking nullifies any ceiling. You’re looking at about 50-60 yards a week, with a tiny bit of touchdown equity. If you fancy yourself a fantasy championship contender, you need better. These are mostly empty calories.

• David Montgomery? The rich man’s Freeman; a tier higher, but you’re not winning anything substantial with him.

• I can’t say Kyle Allen is good, but he’s earned the right to play over Dwayne Haskins. Washington at least gives you an honest effort every week; it competes like a Ron Rivera team. Antonio Gibson remains in a time-share with J.D. McKissic, holding back the every-week graduation papers.

• It wasn’t perfect for Travis Fulgham (6-75-1), but he commanded 10 targets and he did it against a respected defense. I don’t care about when the name players return; Fulgham needs to stay on the field, and stay relevant. I trust Carson Wentz to keep this story afloat. Miles Sanders (knee) and Zach Ertz (ankle) are headed for MRIs, rotten timing with a Thursday game coming.

• D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson flip-flopped their usage and returns from the previous week (though no one scored a touchdown). So call them a 1 and 1A here, and arrange them any way you like. Even with Curtis Samuel out, the Panthers couldn’t find another downfield option to step forward.

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