“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” — Mark Twain
Well, at times, they are. At other times, statistics reveal truisms we can’t get away from. For example, if I were state clearly for the record that Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans is the NFL’s best running back in terms of speed, power, and the ability to create yardage after contact, you might come back with a few other names: Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns, Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings, or Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example. And you’d have solid cases for each back.
Per Pro Football Focus, and including the postseason, Chubb gained 883 of his 1,212 rushing yards after contact in 2020. Cook gained 1,039 of his 1,515 rushing yards that way, and Jones (a highly underrated power runner) gained 802 of his 1,117 yards after the first defender tried to stop him.
But Derrick Henry lives in an entirely different galaxy after contact. How do we know? Here’s how we know: Over the last two seasons, Henry doesn’t just lead the NFL in rushing yards with 3,567 in the regular season and 4,052 if you include the postseason, but he also has more yards after contact — 3,130 — than any other NFL back has in total rushing yards. Cook ranks second with 2692, Chubb ranks third with 2561, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys ranks fourth with 2,336. Imagine gaining 438 more yards after contact in a two-year period than any other running back gains in rushing yards no matter the situation.
It’s highly unusual, at best. In 2018, Elliott led the league in yards after contact with 1,083, and there were eight backs who exceeded that total in pure rushing yards. In 2017, Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs led the league with 861 yards after contact, and there were 21 backs who exceeded that in total rushing yards. In 2016, it was Elliott once again with 1,018 yards after contact, and 12 backs exceeded that total in total rushing yards. And so on.
So, although Henry was best-known in 2020 for becoming the eighth back in NFL history to exceed 2,000 rushing yards in a regular season (2,027), his most remarkable statistic came after he was first contacted by those unfortunate defenders who tried — and failed — to bring him down.