A month ago, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry wouldn’t have been a credible Pro Bowl option. But after an NFL-best 625 rushing yards in December, he became a viable alternate for the AFC roster.
And the AFC might need to dip into its alternates at running back for the NFL’s annual all-star game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Conner, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Melvin Gordon and the Denver Broncos’ Phillip Lindsay earned selection as the AFC running backs.
Lindsay missed the Broncos’ final game with a wrist injury, and reports indicate he’s facing a lengthy recovery. Conner made it back on the field for the Steelers’ finale after missing three straight games with a leg injury. Gordon’s availability will be week to week with the Chargers in the playoffs.
Henry’s December charge allowed him to finish second in the AFC with 1,059 rushing yards. Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon led the conference in the 2018 season with 1,168.
“If I get the opportunity, I definitely would like to go,” Henry said. “What happens happens. I didn’t really catch fire until late. A lot of guys’ve been playing at a high level all year who deserves it.”
The Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 27 in Orlando, Florida. The football that Henry most wanted to play in January starts on Saturday — the NFL playoffs.
The Titans rode Henry to four December victories, but needed one more on Sunday night to reach the postseason. Playing without injured starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, Tennessee lost 33-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. The victory put the Colts into the AFC’s final wild-card spot.
“It’s tough,” Henry said on Monday in the Titans’ locker room. “I love this game. I love competing. I love playing with my teammates. Just going out here, working hard every day, preparing for a game — there’s nothing like it. So now it’s the offseason. I still say ‘Dang it’ here and there knowing it’s over.
“I’m glad we went on the run we went on. We just came up short, but got a lot of stuff to build on.”
Henry ran for 93 yards on 16 carries and failed to reach the end zone for the first time in December. The Titans lost for the first time in 15 games (including the playoffs) in Henry’s career in which the former Alabama All-American has had at least 13 rushing attempts.
Tennessee entered December with a 5-6 record. At that point, Henry had rushed for 434 yards and four touchdowns on 118 carries. Dion Lewis had 11 more rushing attempts for the Titans than Henry 11 games into the season, but had 6 fewer yards because he had averaged only 3.32 yards per rushing attempt. Henry wasn’t much better at 3.68.
But in December, the Titans turned to Henry. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner averaged 6.44 yards on 97 rushing attempts and scored eight touchdowns in five games. His performance included the second 99-yard run from scrimmage in NFL history. Lewis had 26 rushing attempts in the final month of the season.
“I pride myself on being a playmaker, helping this team win games,” Henry said, “and early on, I wasn’t doing that. I definitely wanted to focus in the second half on playing good football and helping this team anyway I can to make the playoffs and go on this run. We put ourselves as a team in great position to do that. …
“I’m my biggest critic. I wasn’t playing good at all. Everybody could tell, the whole world could see that. Like I said, I just wanted to focus on me playing better than I was before after that bye week. If anything, I can credit the whole team for us clicking, executing the plays that we had. For me to have success, I just had to go out there and do my job and be efficient and be consistent in my playing just so I could help this team.”
By becoming the fifth Alabama alumnus to run for 1,000 yards in an NFL season, Henry moved to No. 7 on the Crimson Tide’s list for NFL rushing yards with 2,293. The players ahead of him are Shaun Alexander, Mark Ingram, Wilbur Jackson, Eddie Lacey, Tony Nathan and Bobby Humphrey.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.