Former Chargers All-Pro Shawne Merriman Is Enamored With Derrick Henry’s Monstrous Numbers and Skills: ‘That’s a Damn Linebacker’

Article Highlights:

  • Former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman is a massive fan of Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry
  • Merriman says the NFL has never seen a running back like Henry, who is 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds.
  • The 2020 Offensive Player of the Year is on pace to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry has made it a habit to barrel through opposing defenses and send would-be-tacklers to the ground, which is excellent news for Shawne Merriman.

The All-Pro linebacker retired long before Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, entered the NFL. As someone who’s never been on the receiving end of the running back’s bruising skillset, Merriman is able to fully enjoy everything the Titans star brings to the table.

Shawne Merriman says he’s never seen a running back like Derrick Henry

Former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman (L) in 2019 and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in 2021.
Former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman (L) is a huge fan of Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Cedars Sinai Sports Spectacular; David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds, Merriman held his own in the trenches and in open space. But for all of the great running backs he faced, whether it was LaDainian Tomlinson in practice or a young Adrian Peterson, the Maryland product has never seen someone like Henry.

In an interview with Gambling.com, Merriman explained what makes Henry, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, so much different from the rest of his peers. 

“I think the closest thing anybody’s ever seen in the NFL like that is maybe Eddie George. But Eddie was only like 225 pounds or so; Henry is 247. That’s a damn linebacker, close to a defensive end that’s running the football down the field and with an acceleration to 21 miles per hour. That’s video game stuff.”

Shawne Merriman

Speaking of video games, EA Sports clearly agrees with Merriman. Henry’s overall rating in Madden NFL 22 recently went up to 98, which puts him above oft-injured Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey — who still boasts a 97 overall — for the best score among running backs.

It’s hard to argue with Merriman given Henry’s play of late

It’s often easy to dismiss someone saying an athlete is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Trust us when we say that Henry, who is somehow only in his sixth season, more than lives up to the argument.

Henry ran for over 100 yards every game from Sept. 19 through Oct. 18. That included a 182-yard, three-touchdown performance in an overtime victory over Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2. He rushed for 10 touchdowns in that time, giving him four straight seasons with double-digit scores.

With 783 rushing yards through his first six games, Henry is easily apace to clear 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth straight season. In theory, he’s still got nothing on Emmitt Smith, who had 11 such seasons from 1991 through 2001. 

Here is where things get extremely interesting. At his current pace, Henry would finish the 2021 season with an NFL-record 2,219 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. That’d give him 6,845 yards and 73 touchdowns since the start of the 2018 season. 

Smith’s best four-year streak occurred from 1992-95, a time when he rushed for 6,456 yards and 73 touchdowns in the regular season. Although Henry will benefit this year from a 17th outing, he only missed a single game between the 2018-20 campaigns.

Statistics are one thing, so how about speed? Smith, who played most of his career at 5-foot-9 and 221 pounds, ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at his pro day in 1990. Henry did 4.54 at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds.

We’re inclined to agree with Merriman. The NFL has never seen anyone like Henry.

Henry is rushing towards the Pro Football Hall of Fame

If we still lived in the 16-game era, Henry would be on pace for 2,080 rushing yards this year. Consider that no running back has ever reached the 2,000-yard plateau twice. The 17-game season is only going to boost his numbers, barring a significant injury in the coming weeks.

Speaking of staying healthy, Henry — who had 6,643 rushing yards to his name as of Oct. 22, 2021 — is on track to hit 10,000 rushing yards either late in 2022 or early in the 2023 season. As of publication, 16 of the 31 running backs with over 10,000 rushing yards are in the Hall of Fame, and Adrian Peterson (14,820) and Frank Gore (16,000) are on pace to join them when eligible.

Henry also had 65 rushing touchdowns as of publication. If he ends the season with 25 touchdowns, that will push him up to 80 for his career. Thirteen of the 20 running backs with 80 rushing touchdowns have earned their bronze bust, and Gore and Peterson should get in without any trouble.

For all of our sakes, let’s hope Henry can avoid a significant injury. With what he’s doing now, it’ll be fascinating to see where he ranks on the all-time leaderboards when he finally retires.

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