Running back stock watch: Derrick Henry up, Todd Gurley down


Before the offseason gets into full swing, I want to look back at the 2019 season one more time and identify some running backs who exceeded or fell short of expectations. Below are three running backs whose stock rose after strong seasons and three others whose stock fell after disappointing campaigns.


Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans: Shocker, I know. Henry was on my "stock up" list at this time last year after averaging 146.3 rushing yards per game in the final quarter of the 2018 season. I thought he should've received a new deal last offseason, before he entered the final year of his rookie contract, but here we are. Without a new contract heading into the 2019 season, Henry came out on a mission and ended the year as the league rushing champion with 1,540 yards (averaging 102.7 rushing yards per game for the year) and carried the Tennessee Titans on his back through the playoffs to the AFC Championship Game. I know teams are skeptical of paying running backs big money, but Henry is the exception. Tennessee would've been nowhere near the conference title game without him.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm amazed that Mixon registered more than 1,100 rushing yards this season behind a porous Bengals offensive line. He was one of the few bright spots in Zac Taylor's first year as head coach, and Mixon's constant improvement (on and off the field) gives Cincy real hope going forward -- especially considering the Bengals hold the first overall pick in April's draft and have been connected to Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow for quite some time. Even with a big talent potentially coming aboard at quarterback, Mixon has proven that this is his offense now, and it would behoove the Bengals to lock up the former second-round pick this offseason, before he embarks on the final year of his rookie deal.

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers: Jones went on a tear in 2019 after two pedestrian seasons, and I think part of his recent success should be attributed to Packers coach Matt LaFleur, whose offense ran through Jones in his first year on the job. The third-year back out of UTEP had 16 rushing touchdowns (tied for first in the NFL with Henry) and 19 total this season to propel the Packers to their first winning season and postseason appearance since 2016. A former fifth-round pick who's certainly outperformed his draft standing, Jones deserves to get paid after what he did in 2019.


Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams: Gurley is coming off a poor 2019 performance in which he had a career-low 857 rushing yards and his first sub-4.0 yard-per-carry season since 2016. This follows a 2018 campaign that saw Gurley rack up nearly 2,000 scrimmage yards and lead the team to Super Bowl LIII. Talk about a Super Bowl hangover. The Rams ranked 26th in rushing this season, and running backs coach Skip Peete was sent packing as a result. Gurley's ability is out of this world, but he hasn't been the same since he suffered an injury late in the 2018 season. I firmly believe he still has it in him to be the best in the league, but something has to change. Per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Gurley and the Rams will meet before the team decides how to proceed with Gurley, with Rapoport adding that "all options are on the table."

Sony Michel, New England Patriots: Michel is another running back who held a spot in this article a year ago, but he was trending up after spearheading the Patriots' run to their sixth Lombardi Trophy. A year later, Michel had the opportunity to lead an offense that featured 42-year-old Tom Brady and a thin receiving corps. Instead, Michel saw a dip in his production in 2019, with his yards-per-touch mark falling from 4.5 to 3.9, and the Patriots' offense suffered at least in part as a result of his downturn. With Brady potentially set to hit the open market, this offense could very well depend on Michel going forward, and he'll need to channel the player he was in the run to Super Bowl LIII if he aims to be the new face of coordinator Josh McDaniels' group.

David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: Johnson has gone through multiple injury-riddled seasons since his 2016 breakout, and now he's apparently been phased out of Kliff Kingsbury's offense after the team traded for Kenyan Drake in October. Drake balled out after leaving Miami and took the starting job from Johnson, who had just 17 totes for 45 yards over the final two months of the season. Johnson's current deal goes through 2021, and, per Over the Cap, it would cost the Cardinals more against the cap ($16.2 million in dead money) to cut him than it would to keep him for 2020 ($14.25 million). That said, whether they do release Johnson (as some have speculated) or trade him, it wouldn't be shocking if he's playing elsewhere soon. The one thing I do know is he almost certainly won't be the team's RB1 come fall.

Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter @MJD.



The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop