Has Jonathan Taylor done enough to dethrone Derrick Henry in running back rankings?

Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts (left) and Derrick Henry of the Tennessee TitansColtstitansrb
Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts (left) and Derrick Henry of the Tennessee TitansColtstitansrb /

The Indianapolis Colts may have the league’s best running back in Jonathan Taylor but some feel that title still belongs to Derrick Henry.

Entering last season, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry was coming off a 2000-yard season and was widely considered the best running back in the NFL. Jonathan Taylor, on the other hand, was just a promising young running back entering his second season with the Indianapolis Colts.

Now, a season later, there’s a serious debate about who’s the best running back between Henry and Taylor. In 2021, Henry was sidelined for nine games with a foot injury and only rushed for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns. Still very impressive production for only half a season.

However, Jonathan Taylor ascended to another level. He led the league with 1,811 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also added 360 receiving yards and two additional touchdowns. Similar to Henry and the Titans, the Colts’ team success relied a lot on Taylor’s production.

So since both backs have established themselves as special talents, who will be considered the best running back entering next season? There will never be a consensus answer but there is some insight into what some people in the league think.

In ESPN’s recent survey of over 50 coaches, execs, scouts, and players, Henry was still voted as the top running back and Taylor finished second. However, it was noted that both running backs finished with the same amount of first-place votes but Henry edged it out in composite scoring.

Jonathan Taylor ranked second-best running back behind Derrick Henry

Much like all other debates about the two running backs, there’s support for both cases to be the best. Most of the anonymous quotes were complimentary of both running backs, but, there were a couple of quotes that may explain why Henry ultimately finished higher than Taylor.

On Henry, one NFC executive was quoted saying “I go Henry because everyone knows he is running the ball and their offensive line has been injured and it largely doesn’t matter.” But for Taylor, an NFC exec was quoted saying, “I like him (Taylor) a lot, I just think he’s set up for success more than most.”

It’s unclear if this was the same NFC executive that made both of these quotes, but the overarching theme is that Henry is dominant regardless of circumstances and Taylor may be aided by his situation, and that could be the difference in the situation.

This point is only partially fair. Taylor does have the privilege of running behind guys like Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly, but he’s also proven that he’s a special runner regardless. Taylor had more yards after contact than any running back had total rushing yards last season.

He’s one of the fastest players in the league but also plays with great physicality and balance. Additionally, he catches the ball really well out of the backfield and is great in space.

While Indy’s offensive line was good, the passing game wasn’t elite, so it wasn’t like Taylor had the benefit of defenses not knowing what to expect. He was facing stacked boxes that were focused on stopping him just like Henry was.

That’s all to say that the conversation for the best running back in the league will be a closely contested one, but if one chooses Henry, it’s not because Jonathan Taylor is an inferior talent that’s benefiting from his circumstances.