The running back position has been one that has been devalued over time. Instead of many teams picking running backs in the first round, teams are starting to get running backs in the second, third and fourth rounds and even getting good ones as undrafted free agents (Thomas Rawls from Seattle comes to mind there). But every year, there is a top running back that garners enough attention that a first round pick is mentioned next to their name. One of those running backs this year is Alabama running back Derrick Henry. The 6’3”, 242 pound Florida native was the engine behind Alabama’s offense and helped lead them to the National Title this season. And along the way, he scooped up the prestigious Heisman Trophy award in New York City. The size, speed and power of Henry is something that some think will translate well to the NFL. There is no denying that there will be some teams that will see him as being a feature back for them. But unfortunately, his success at the college level may not translate to the NFL. Despite the great measureables and numbers he put up at Alabama this season and over his career, the NFL game is not a place where we will see him succeed.
Plenty speak of Henry and his power when he runs along with his speed. But have many even really watched him play. There is no doubt that he can run, but Henry is a long-strider when he runs. He often is like a runaway train once he gets it going. But the problem at the next level will be getting his speed generated quicker. Many times, Henry will not have the type of time he had when running behind that line at the University of Alabama. And that means he will have to get through the holes quicker and faster. With his long strides, that may be an issues. And because of that, those long runs that we saw him have in college could be few and far between. The difference between him and a guy like Rams rookie sensation Todd Gurley is that Gurley has explosion as soon as he gets the ball. He does not need that much room or that many steps to get his speed going. Henry does need that and he will definitely need a solid like that can afford him that time.
Another issue will be Henry in the passing game. Derrick Henry can catch the ball and that is no issue. Many did not see him get to catch the ball much, but remember this play he made in the 2014 Sugar Bowl versus Oklahoma:
Notice he had time to catch the ball, square his shoulders and generate some speed. In the NFL, it is highly doubtful that a man of his size will standing as wide open as he was in this play. And if he does, then that defense deserves whatever comes their way. But the thing about Henry is he will probably not be a back that can be used on all three downs. His quickness to run the option routes out of the backfield is something that will not scare many teams. Running those options routes requires a shifty back with sudden movements. Henry is not that type of back quite honestly. Screen passes will be something that he will be helpful in doing for the team that drafts him. But he will not be the guy you can look at to make that explosive play outside of a screen pass at all.
Drafting Henry would not be that bad at all if he was drafted in the second or even third round. But because of where he will probably be taken, he may not be able to live up to where he is picked. Henry was excellent in college. But the thing he lacks that backs like Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon from Alabama had was that explosion through the hole along with the quick and shifty feet. And unfortunately, that is something that you cannot develop as much at this stage in the game. Quite honestly, Henry could end up being like another big back that came out of the SEC almost a decade ago. His name was Brandon Jacobs. It would be great to see Henry do well and I wish him nothing but the best. But looking at film of him, he will have some struggles at the next level. And with him being a first round pick more than likely, that could mean he won’t live up to the hype.