O.J. Simpson Has Become the Biggest Beneficiary of Derrick Henry’s Monstrous Start and the 17-Game Season

Article Highlights:

  • Derrick Henry is on pace to rush for over 2,000 yards for the second straight season
  • O.J. Simpson created the 2,000-yard rushing club in 1973…when the NFL played a 14-game season
  • Nick Chubb and some of the NFL’s top running backs could join Simpson and Henry in that club soon

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is up to his usual tricks, which is terrible news for the rest of the NFL.

After a slow first few quarters to open the 2021 NFL season, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year is barreling through defenses and scoring at will. Henry’s monstrous start has him rushing towards a record that will help him and O.J. Simpson both.

Derrick Henry is on pace to rush for over 2,000 yards for the second straight year

We won’t waste your time by telling you that Henry is good. But did you know that Henry is very good? 

The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner ran for 640 yards and seven touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry in the Titans’ first five games this year. Across a 16-game season, that puts him on pace for 2,048 yards, which would be the fifth-highest total in NFL history. Henry rushed for 2,027 yards in 16 games last year. 

We must remember, though, that we live in the age of the 17-game season. As a result, his current numbers put him on pace for an NFL-record 2,176 rushing yards.

Only one running back, Eric Dickerson, is in the 2,100-yard club. The five-time first-team All-Pro selection ran for an NFL-record 2,105 yards in 1984.

Henry’s pace only amplifies O.J. Simpson’s football legacy

Even if Henry falls short of breaking Dickerson’s record, he’s still on pace to become the first player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards twice, and, obviously, he’d be the first to do so in a 17-game season. Only seven players, including the Titans’ star Pro Bowler, have joined the club that Simpson established during the 1973 season.

Simpson, though, established the record in a 14-game season when he rushed for 2,003 yards for the Bills 48 years ago. His 143.1 yards per game average would have resulted in 2,290 rushing yards in a 16-game season. That’s nearly 200 more yards than Dickerson totaled in 1984.

As for a 17-game season? Imagine a running back putting up 2,432 yards in a single year. That’s what you’d see if Simpson had those averages in 2021.

While fully acknowledging Simpson’s off-field history, it’s not wrong to say that Henry’s start is only amplifying the Bills legend’s legacy. Simpson ran for over 2,000 yards in a 14-game season, and every player between 1984 and 2020 did it in seasons featuring two extra games. Now, running backs who join the club will have done it in the 17-game era.

There’s a reason why voters named Simpson to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary Team in 2019. Few running backs have been able to do what he did when he had the ball in his hands. Henry is creating his own legacy and furthering what the Hall of Famer did 50 years ago.

Don’t be surprised to see more running backs join the 2,000-rushing yard club

The 17-game season means running backs will have more opportunities to hit 2,000 yards, quarterbacks can potentially throw for 6,000 yards, and the New York Jets will still finish the year with a losing record.

On the topic of running backs, Henry should have no problems hitting 2,000 yards if he stays healthy. Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb entered Week 6 with 523 rushing yards, the league’s second-highest total behind Henry. In a 16-game season, that would put him on pace for 1,673 yards, which is still an incredible number.

The 17-game campaign, however, puts him on pace for 1,778 yards. If he can squeeze a 120-yard performance in here and there, that’d sneak him into the 2,000-yard club. Even with the extra game, we’re still saying he’d need to do this and that to make NFL history.

And then, there’s O.J. Simpson, who did it in 14 games on a team that didn’t even make the postseason. Although every other running back in the 2,000-yard club finished a season with more yards than him, it’s his record that should stand the test of time.

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