Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Derrick Henry is the best running back in the NFL entering the 2021 season, and is in the prime of his career. No player in the NFL has more rushing attempts (896), rushing yards (4,626), and rushing touchdowns (45) since 2018 than Henry — who also leads the league with 98.4 rushing yards per game during that span.
Henry is just the eighth player to reach 2,000 yards in a season in NFL history and already has a tough task heading into 2021 as history has not been kind to running backs in the year following a 2,000-yard campaign. Regardless, Henry is looking to join an exclusive club of running backs if he can win the NFL rushing title for the third consecutive year.
If Henry repeats as rushing champion, he will become just the fifth player in NFL history to win the rushing title for three straight seasons. Steve Van Buren, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, and Emmitt Smith are the only running backs to accomplish the feat — and all are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brown actually led the league in rushing for three consecutive seasons twice, including five consecutive seasons from 1957 through 1961. Brown reached the milestone again from 1963 through 1965.
Smith was the last player to win the NFL rushing title for three consecutive seasons (1991-1993). Barry Sanders (1996-1997), Edgerrin James (1999-2000), and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006-2007) are the only running backs to win back-to-back rushing titles before Henry reached the milestone over the last two seasons.
How hard will it be for Henry to win the rushing title this year (especially in a 17-game season)? Here’s a look at all the running backs that had back-to-back rushing titles since Smith and where they finished in year three:
Rushing yards in year trying to three-peat
Barry Sanders (1998)
Edgerrin James (2001)
662 (played six games due to injury)
LaDainian Tomlinson (2008)
Winning three consecutive rushing titles is a daunting task, especially coming off a 2,000-yard season (no player the year after 2,000-yard campaign has rushed for more than 1,491 yards). If Henry can accomplish the feat, he’s practically a lock for the Hall of Fame.