Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry entered week 17 needing 165 yards to eclipse Cleveland’s Nick Chubb as the 2019 rushing champion. Needing eight yards on the team’s final possession, Henry exploded for a 53 yard touchdown.
Pandemonium ensued on the sidelines.
Henry amassed 1,540 yards at a whopping 5.1 yards per attempt. But more impressive than the eye-popping numbers is the fact that he did so in just 15 games.
Winning the rushing title and earning his first Pro Bowl nod put Henry in the national spotlight, but Titans fans have become used to stellar play from their work horse backs, dating back to the “Love Ya Blue” era of the Houston Oilers.
In fact, one could argue that the Oilers/ Titans franchise has long been the NFL’s version of Running Back University.
Earl Campbell (Oilers)Embed from Getty Images
If Derrick Henry is affectionately known as the king, then Earl Campbell has to be the godfather of Running Back U.
The Hall of Fame inductee wreaked havoc on the NFL as a Houston Oiler from 1978 – 1984. His unique blend of speed and bruit power was something the league had not seen, and would not see again until decades later.
The Heisman Trophy winner, Offensive Rookie of the Year (1978), and NFL MVP (1979) led the league in rushing three years in a row while also leading the league in touchdowns in 1979 and 1980.
Campbell earned five Pro Bowl bids while being named First Team All Pro from 1978 – 1980. He finished his career as the Oilers’ all time leading rusher with 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns….a number that stands today.
Campbell was added to the Titans/Oilers Ring of Honor, and his number 34 has been retired by the franchise.
Eddie George (Titans)Embed from Getty Images
At the time that he entered the league, Eddie George was the closest thing to compare with Campbell. A big physical punishing back with speed and agility.
And like Campbell, George was also a Heisman Trophy winner and Offensive Rookie of the Year (1996).
In his eight years as a Titan, George carried the team to unprecedented success prior to the rise of quarterback Steve McNair. He earned First Team All Pro honors in 2000 and was voted to four Pro Bowls.
George was the first back in the history of the franchise to amass over 10,000 rushing yards and is still the Oilers/Titans all time leading rusher.
Just as important as his on-field exploits was the way that George embraced the city of Nashville when the team arrived in 1998. He is still revered as a local legend and still resides in Nashville today.
George was also added to the Oilers/Titans Ring of Honor, and his number 27 jersey was retied on September 15th of this year.
Chris Johnson (Titans)Embed from Getty Images
Chris (CJ2K) Johnson is the most electrifying player in the history of the franchise, and was the most electrifying player in the NFL during his days as a Titan from 2008 – 2013.
Johnson became just the sixth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2000 yards when he scampered for 2,006 in 2009. He also set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage with 2,509….a record that stands today.
CJ2K led the league in rushing in 2009 and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He was voted First Team All Pro that season and was also voted to three Pro Bowls.
Johnson finished his career with 9,651 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns. He totaled 11,906 yards from scrimmage with 64 total tds.
He should also join his predecessors in the Ring of Honor in the near future.
DeMarco Murray (Titans)Embed from Getty Images
While DeMarco Murray was not drafted by the Titans, his acquisition and subsequent production laid the foundation for Tennessee’s turnaround from cellar-dweller to playoff contender.
Murray was an accomplished back with the Dallas Cowboys prior to his arrival in Nashville. He led the league in rushing in 2014 and was named the NFL Offensive player of the Year.
The Titans were 5-27 in 2014 and 2015, and Murray’s acquisition in 2016 changed that.
He led the AFC in rushing in 2016 and helped spearhead the team out of the doldrums. The Titans have not had a losing record since, and has also qualified for the playoffs twice since then.
That in itself deserves honorable mention.
Somehow, some way, the Tennessee Titans continue to hit the jackpot with their running backs. Derrick Henry is just the latest example.
Who is the best alum from Running Back University? Let the debate begin.