In the NFL, a team's playoff window can close over the course of an offseason. With a couple of key losses and a star player coming off a serious injury, the Tennessee Titans will disappoint anyone with high expectations for them in 2022.
Multiple AFC teams added Pro Bowl or All-Pro talent. The Los Angeles Chargers acquired edge-rusher Khalil Mack and signed cornerback J.C. Jackson. The Denver Broncos acquired quarterback Russell Wilson. The Miami Dolphins inked a deal with left tackle Terron Armstead and traded for wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The Cleveland Browns made a move to bring in quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Indianapolis Colts acquired quarterback Matt Ryan.
All five of those AFC teams could make a push for the postseason after failing to clinch a playoff berth in 2021.
What about the Titans?
Most importantly, their star player has to stay healthy. Last season, running back Derrick Henry missed nine games because he fractured his fifth metatarsal and had to undergo surgery. Though the bruising ball-carrier returned for a divisional-round matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, he recorded 20 rushing attempts for just 62 yards and a touchdown.
While it's premature for anyone to say Henry will continue to battle injuries, one has to wonder if he's headed down the same path as Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who had a tremendous workload for consecutive campaigns before his body started to break down in 2020.
Between 2018 and 2019, McCaffrey recorded 729 touches for 4,357 yards and 32 touchdowns from scrimmage. For comparison, Henry logged 681 rushing attempts for 3,567 yards and 33 touchdowns between 2019 and 2020.
Though McCaffrey handled slightly more touches in a two-year span as a dual-threat playmaker on the ground and in the passing game, Henry takes a lot of physical punishment as one of the league's few workhorse running backs. The latter led the NFL in carries in 2019 and 2020.
Henry has a workload that isn't sustainable at an optimal level. Through eight appearances in 2021, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which is a notable drop-off from his 2019 (5.1) and 2020 averages (5.4).
Tennessee selected Hassan Haskins in the fourth round of the 2022 draft, but he doesn't compare to a 6'3", 247-pound two-time rushing champion. If the rookie cuts into Henry's touches, the Titans' run-heavy offense could take another step back.
In a glass-half-full outlook, Henry could bounce back from an injury-riddled campaign, and Haskins may help keep him fresh through a 17-game slate. With that said, both running backs could struggle to find holes between the tackles and on the perimeter of the Titans' zone run-blocking scheme.