Derrick Henry looked poised to be the next stud young running back ready to make his mark for the Titans. The keys to the kingdom were handed to Henry after former Titan running back, DeMarco Murray was cut. Enter Dion Lewis.
Lewis signed, the perception that this would become a running back by committee talk started. Henry and Lewis both are clearly very talented running backs in their own right. Fantasy and football analysts alike all pondered the question, which back has the best chance to contribute? In offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur’s zone blocking scheme, Lewis has a real chance to shine.
Zone blocking schemes focus on lateral movements as a unit, which naturally creates creases and holes to run through. In order to thrive in a zone blocking scheme vision and cutting are essential. So let’s look at how both backs fare in those categories.
Last season, Henry averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry on 176 carries in a more smash mouth running scheme. Henry certainly has the power and burst to thrive in a zone-blocking scheme. Henry ran a 4.54 40 at his combine, given his 6’3″247-pound frame, that’s tantalizing. The major question mark for Henry is his vision. Henry’s average time behind the line of scrimmage, according to NFL Next Gen. Stats, is 3.01 seconds. This ranks near the bottom among qualified running backs in 2017.
As a power back like Henry, with great speed, running north to south is also a major asset. Henry also ranks near the bottom in efficiency with a score of 4.3. It’s reasonable to think that Henry can improve his vision with more practice and in-game reps. If he figures it out, the league WILL be put on notice.
As for Lewis, last season he averaged a staggering 5.0 yards per carry on 180 carries in New England’s upbeat attack. It’s also no secret that Lewis is a much better receiving back than Henry. Zone scheme blocking also allows screen pass catchers to thrive. Does Lewis have the chops to be the lead back in this new scheme?
Dion Lewis’ strength is his cutting and his vision. Lewis’ average time behind the line of scrimmage is 2.7 seconds. That’s good for a ranking in the upper third percentile among qualified backs. Pair that with a north-south efficiency score of 3.3 and Lewis seems like a no-brainer for the lead back role right? Well, not so fast. Lewis ran a 4.57 40 yard dash and also boasts a speed score in the 19th percentile at his combine. Both of which are lower than Henry’s. Add in Lewis’ long history of nagging injuries and it appears he is best suited for a committee with Henry getting most of the carries. Overall, there is no clear right or wrong choice.