There isn’t a Saquon Barkley or Leonard Fournette in the 2019 NFL Draft. Barkley and Fournette were no-brainer high first-round picks the way the NFL is now (but, yes, if you swear a team should never draft a running back that high, I hear you).
The 2019 class has a bunch of guys with value, but no huge standout. There are two Alabama backs, Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris. There are longtime college producers like Benny Snell and Devin Singletary, and some stars coming off injuries, like Rodney Anderson and Bryce Love. But there’s also Memphis star Darrell Henderson, who does a lot of this:
The Rams drafted Henderson 70th overall. That’s a brief preview of what he’ll bring to LA.
He’s got impressive explosion through the hole, accelerates well after contact, and will absolutely make you look silly if you take an even slightly bad angle toward him. He’s got upper-body power to shed anyone who tries to go high on him.
But tackling “high” is a relative term on Henderson because, well, he’s pretty small. He measured 5’8 and 3/8 at the NFL Combine, weighing 208 pounds. He’ll be one of the 30 or so smallest players in the league, though he’d have an inch or two on guys like Tarik Cohen, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Darren Sproles.
He’s small, but he doesn’t exactly have a C.J. Anderson, bowling-ball physique. He’s not built to churn out just a few yards at a time.
You don’t draft Henderson for his power. You draft him for his explosiveness.
He had that in absolute spades in college.
By conventional stats, Henderson led this draft class in nearly every category: touchdowns (22), yards (1,909), yards per carry (8.9), and yards per game (146.85). He personally had 19 scrimmage plays go for more than 30 yards, a higher total than even Barkley (a human highlight reel) had his last year at Penn State.
Advanced stats tell a similar story. In 2018, Henderson averaged 12.1 Highlight Yards per carry — a stat developed by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly that measures how many yards a player gains after reaching the five-yard threshold his offensive line is generally responsible for. That was the most in the class by four yards.
But just saying Henderson’s explosive doesn’t totally do him justice.
While Henderson also led the RB class in Connelly’s Marginal Explosiveness, which measures how successful plays are based on the down and distance, he graded out well in other areas, too. He was fourth in Marginal Efficiency, which similarly measures how well a player keeps his team on schedule.
There’s also all of this:
One of the best running backs in the nation this year, can Darrell Henderson make it count in the NFL? pic.twitter.com/W1KkPDdkwz— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 12, 2019
For what it’s worth, Henderson doesn’t have too much tread on his tires either. The days of the bell cow back have been fading for years, and since becoming the lead back in production for the Tigers, he’s shared much of the load with fellow backs Patrick Taylor Jr. and Tony Pollard. Henderson only carried 344 times his last two years in Memphis.
Henderson ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He didn’t run agility drills there, but judge his agility for yourself:
The question around Henderson: How does that explosiveness — still the most exciting part of his game — translate?
Henderson’s efficiency is going to go down as he moves from the AAC to the NFL. He’s not going to run for nine yards per carry in the NFL over any significant number of reps.
With a tiny few exceptions, a player’s college stat line is basically his pro ceiling. Henderson has an elite ceiling. But what’s the floor? It might be low, because running backs have historically had a brutal time translating their college explosiveness to the league:
It’s almost as if, the more explosive you are in college, the longer it takes you to figure out how to be explosive in the pros. Combine measures like broad jump (correlation with pro marginal explosiveness: 0.18), bench press reps (-0.20, meaning the more you bench, the less explosive you’re likely to be), and vertical jump (0.13) are more closely tied to big-play potential than how many big plays you broke at the college level. And they’re still pretty loose correlations.
(By the way, the correlation between 40 time and marginal explosiveness in the pros? 0.02. No correlation whatsoever.)
If you’re betting on Henderson to replicate his college explosiveness, you’re making a risky bet. But, importantly, that’s not all you can bet on.
You can still bet on his skills — good speed, good agility, and good vision — and work on ways to align them with your offense.
You can look at his strong efficiency numbers — the nine yards per carry, the 51.4 percent rushing Success Rate that placed him third in the RB class — and see upside there, too.
You can look at his receiving numbers — 19 catches (on par with other backs in the class) for 295 yards, with an 82.6 percent catch rate — and find different ways to use him.
The team gets Henderson could be nabbing a day-breaker in the draft’s late stages.