Dynasty Draft Profile: Derrick Henry
March 4, 2016 | Chet
In terms of accolades, you’ll be hard pressed to find a running back entering the NFL with more of a prestigious career through the high school and college levels than Derrick Henry. He was the National High School player of the year entering the University of Alabama and is coming off of a 2015 season in which he broke the single season rushing record in the SEC while winning the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards and of course claiming the Heisman Trophy.
Henry’s 2015 is a unique season when stacked up against just about any campaign for a running back, but it’s also a significantly different season than any Nick Saban running back has had since he took over for LSU back in 2000. Henry amassed 62.4 percent of the team rushing attempts this past season, the highest total ever for a Saban back. For a coach like Saban and for a university like Alabama-which has become known now as Running Back U- Henry is the Dean of those prospects.
While at Alabama, the next up and coming back has always infused his way into the lineup, but none have taken over to the degree that Henry did this past season. Even in 2014, Henry wrangled a significant number of carries away from T.J. Yeldon, which we then highlighted as a potential issue for Yeldon’s prospects in the NFL. Not only was Henry more effective with his opportunity then, but it was over a back that went on to be the number 36 overall selection in last season’s draft.
Ironically, while Henry was just too good to keep off of the field even for a program that has consistently churned out high capital players the position, his volume is the thing people keep harping back to when beginning their knock on Henry. I personally look for backs who prove to be workhorse runners a the collegiate level over committee backs as highlighted in that Yeldon piece, but when it comes to seasons in which a running back had an enormous amount of touches before entering the NFL, there’s really no reason to see it as an issue. Here’s every 400 touch collegiate season for a back entering the league since 2000.
|Kevin Smith||2007||Central Florida||14||450||24||474||33.9|
|Javon Ringer||2008||Michigan State||13||390||28||418||32.2|
|Le'Veon Bell||2012||Michigan State||13||382||32||414||31.8|
|Bobby Rainey||2011||Western Kentucky||12||369||36||405||33.8|
Smith, Bell and Rice all went on to have multiple top-24 scoring PPR seasons and Ringer (pick 173) and Rainey (undrafted) were players never considered by the league to be impact players based on investment. The only real dud here is Calhoun, who was selected in the third round by the Lions, but even his invested capital has quite the background. In the end, there’s no real reason to be spooked by Henry’s 2015 workload and on per game level, it’s not nearly as massive as those seasons above.
We can however question whether that massive workload inflates his numbers in comparison to other backs entering the league this season with him. While Henry was stacking volume, he was also ripping off runs of five or more yards at a fewer rate than half of his high end peers this season. Per Football Study Hall, 41.3 percent of Henry’s runs went for five or more yards, fewer than Ezekiel Elliot, C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and Jordan Howard.
|Player||School||Att||RuYds||5+ Yd Att||5+ Att%|
|C.J. Prosise||Notre Dame||160||1048||77||48.1%|
|Ezekiel Elliott||Ohio State||289||1821||130||45.0%|
|Kenneth Dixon||LA Tech||197||1070||74||37.6%|
The other bugaboo with Henry is that he caught just 17 passes total in his college career. Part of that was system induced, but part was also that he struggled in pass protection and receiving the football. He handles the baseline level of receiving the football just fine, but nearly all of those receptions were predesigned screens. He also has small hands for a man of his overall frame. For a back already entering the league with his overall size, it could be very hard for him to get the affordable opportunity to shed the stigma of being more than a two down back at the next level.
We’re about to touch on his elite athleticism for his size next, but that’s not even enough to save him in that regard completely. We care about him being able to not only catch the football, but get those opportunities in the first place for fantasy. Over the past 10 seasons, 103 of the 120 (86 percent) top-12 scoring PPR running back seasons have come from backs that had at least 30 receptions during the season. Of the 17 that didn’t catch that many passes, the group averaged 11.7 rushing touchdowns per season with a low of eight scores on the ground. If he’s not going to catch passes at the next level, then you’re at the complete mercy of touchdown dependency (something he’s plenty capable of if awarded the opportunity).
Whenever you hear Henry brought up, it’s normally alongside Brandon Jacobs by default. It’s tough to come up with a great list of objective comps for Henry because there just aren’t running backs entering the league frequently with his type of overall size. We can’t say there’s never been anyone ever like him with his build, but we’re pretty close it. Since 2004, there have been just 22 backs to weigh in at 230 pounds and be at least 6’2” at the combine and here’s where Henry stacks up against them in terms of measurable athleticism.
|Karlos Williams||Florida State||2015||155||73||230||4.48||33.5||118||4.46||7.16|
|Le'Veon Bell||Michigan St.||2013||48||73||230||4.60||31.5||118||4.24||6.75|
|Daniel Thomas||Kansas St.||2011||62||72||230||4.63||34.7||117.5||4.29||7.06|
|Anthony Dixon||Mississippi State||2010||173||73||233||4.67||33||121||4.49||7.09|
|Chris Wells||Ohio State||2009||31||73||235||4.52||33.5||128||n/a||n/a|
|Kay-Jay Harris||West Virginia||2005||UFA||73||243||4.56||38||122||4.10||7.10|
|Maurice Clarett||Ohio State||2005||101||73||234||4.78||34||115||4.42||7.41|
|Brandon Jacobs||Southern Illinois||2005||110||76||267||4.56||37||118||4.46||7.53|
|Steven Jackson||Oregon St.||2004||24||74||231||4.55||37.5||118||4.09||7.03|
In labeled “explosion drills” such as the 40 and jumping drills, Henry is right near the top of this group. When we’re talking about a 247-pound back squaring up his shoulders and being able to accelerate past defenders and erase angles on the second level, well it just isn’t fair.
For most power backs, when the initial structure of a run play is dead in the water, so are they. Because Henry has such elite speed paired with a Hulk-like frame, he can turn negative runs not only into positive ones, but home runs. That’s what separates big time running backs from those who survive strictly on volume and Henry is capable of doing so. Sometimes you’re going to have to do it on your own.
Although he ranks highly in those explosion/burst areas, Henry is also near the bottom of that group in terms of measured agility, even when adjusted for weight. That’s where we start to see a little dimmer in his armor as a runner because as his profile suggests, he gets into trouble when he has to stop and change direction and then recalibrate, especially when he his shoulders are squared to the sideline and he needs to change direction upfield. In terms of forcing missed tackles, he’s using his size, strength and speed rather than any shiftiness and if you’re asking him to do those things, then you never really wanted to draft him in the first place.
Don’t mistake his lack of stop/start agility for lateral quickness though because Henry has excellent vision for reading blocks and spatial awareness. While his size suggests he’s best suited for a power gap scheme, he’s very good at pressing holes to manipulate second level defenders and picking his point of attack when given the freedom to do so.
This is probably my favorite run of Henry’s that illustrates that last point about his eyes making up for any lack of measured agility. He diagnoses the free defender immediately and without breaking down makes a lateral move before the defender can even come close to closing on where the point of attack was intended to be.
The bottom line on Henry is that if you’re assuming he’s just another run of the mill big back, you’re missing some special qualities he has. He’s young, explosive and durable. The unfortunate part about that is that his unknown receiving ability and therefore opportunity he may or may not in that area that makes it hard for me to propel him past a back like Ezekiel Elliot in rankings, who has already proven to have those abilities in spades. That is the lone blemish for Henry that keeps as the second best back in this draft and possibly a better standard scoring option for fantasy while being more dependent on touchdown ability to keep him afloat in reception based leagues. In terms of selections overall, I have Henry as a top-five option, with no qualms of him going as high as 1.02 overall.