Derrick Henry has looked like a man among boys during the NFL postseason. Everyone knows he’s getting the rock and he still continues to flatten opponents.
As a former NFL running back myself, watching Henry’s dominance has been one of my favorite parts of this year’s playoffs. He wears down defenses more than any other running back and really makes his money in the second half of games, thanks to his 6-foot-3, 247-pound frame, speed and brute force. If you look at Henry’s last two performances, he’s been dominant throughout but especially late in the games, when the Tennessee Titans have had the lead. He plays the role of “closer,” if you will.
In the Titans‘ wild-card game against the New England Patriots, Henry punished Bill Belichick’s unit in the fourth quarter, when the Titans held a 14-13 lead. He ran the ball 11 times for 50 yards (4.55 yards per carry) in the final stanza with a long of 15 yards and a pair of first-down runs. Then in Saturday evening’s stunning Divisional Round win over Baltimore, the former Heisman Trophy winner helped chew several minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter as Tennessee held its lead and secured a spot in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
To further illustrate Henry’s impact late in games, this regular season when the Titans held a lead in the fourth quarter, Henry averaged a whopping 4.73 yards per carry and rushed for three TDs. Henry is the ultimate closer and has proven as much time and time again.
He’s not the only reliable closer at the running back position, though. After scanning the league, here are the four next-best closers at RB from the 2019 season:
2) Aaron Jones, Packers: Being a closer doesn’t mean a running back just runs through defenders late in games, although the ability to do so certainly does help. While his style is different from Henry’s, Jones has still been highly effective down the stretch. In 10 games this season when the Packers led by eight points or fewer in the fourth quarter, he racked up 182 yards on 32 carries (5.7 yards per tote) with one TD. Jones has gotten the job done by not taking big hits and finding a way to get skinny between the tackles. He’s consistently falling forward for positive gains and making guys miss tackles with his elusive style.
3) Nick Chubb, Browns: Similar to Henry, Chubb can run through his opponents. He was received a 90.3 grade from Pro Football Focus — tops among running backs — for his breakout 2019 campaign. Chubb forced 68 missed tackles (second in the NFL) this season and was able to do so because he never stops driving his legs at the point of contact. From a closer standpoint, Chubb’s fourth-quarter numbers were notable when the Browns held a lead, rushing for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries (6.09 yards per carry). Furthermore, in the four games in which Cleveland held a one-score lead or less in the fourth quarter, Chubb averaged 9.0 yards per carry on 13 attempts. So, Cleveland didn’t hold a late lead very often, but Chubb came through when it did.
4) Raheem Mostert, 49ers: As I alluded to in last week’s article, the 49ers were the only team to have three running backs with 100 rush attempts in the regular season, with Mostert and Tevin Coleman each having 137 carries and Matt Breida registering 123. Each one of these running backs can do everything in Kyle Shanahan’s system, but Mostert’s production was the most impressive down the stretch. In situations when the 49ers held a fourth-quarter lead, Mostert had 37 totes for 222 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and three rush TDs, compared to Coleman’s 29 carries for 85 yards (2.93 yards per carry) and no TDs. Mostert has a special-teams mentality, which is that gritty, I’m-not-going-down-easily approach, and it shows every play when he’s in the backfield.
5) Josh Jacobs, Raiders: There were several running backs that I considered for this spot, including Ravens veteran Mark Ingram, but Jacobs rounds out this list as a player who was instrumental in changing the Raiders‘ offensive approach in 2019. He gave them a reliable rushing attack that ranked in the top half of the league for the first time since 2016. Jacobs made a solid push to become the Offensive Rookie of the Year because he was able to produce inside and outside the tackles. In 10 games this season when the Raiders led by eight points or fewer in the fourth quarter, the rookie rushed for 157 yards on 36 carries (4.4 yards per carry) with one touchdown. He’ll be a reliable closer for Jon Gruden and Co. for years to come.
Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter @MJD.