A big part of Ravens defensive lineman Willie Henry’s story so far in the NFL has been about injuries.
In 2018, he was only active for three games due to hernia surgery that caused him to miss the beginning of the season. Then, after he came back to play once he was healed up, he suffered a herniated disc and that ended his season. Mind you, he wasn’t active for a single game as a rookie and went on injured reserve halfway through the season. In what was his healthiest season so far, his second year in 2017, Henry was still inactive for two games.
In fact, Henry has only been active for a total of 17 games in his first three seasons in the league. It can be hard to know what you have from a guy who has missed so many games.
However, whenever Henry has been on the field, the guy has made plays and flashed a lot of potential.
In his “healthy” 2017 season, he ended up with 3.5 sacks, and that was not a fluke.
Even though he was only active for three games last season, Henry still ended up with three tackles and a sack. That might not seem like much to you, but his one sack in three games tied for most sacks for a primarily interior pass rusher on the team last season. For reference, and not to throw shade, Brent Urban started all 16 games and only managed 0.5 sack last year; Michael Pierce, who was active for 14 games with two starts, didn’t have any sacks at all.
The Ravens obviously already know that Henry can get after the quarterback when he’s healthy. They were subbing him in on passing downs last season in the handful of games that he did play in.
When he was on the field, he looked like the best interior pass rusher on the team in those limited opportunities. Probably because he was, and likely still is, when healthy. He just wasn’t on the field a whole lot.
Even though he hasn’t played much, Henry looks like a seasoned veteran when I watch him rushing the passer.
Henry can be explosive at times getting off the football. He uses his hands well to keep blockers off of him, and he just has a knack for being able to escape off of blocks and get to the quarterback. He has a good feel for running pass-rush games, and he is cat-quick when he runs line stunts, which puts him in good position to be able to make blocks when it ends up being a passing play.
I get the feeling watching him that if he could just play a full season, there is no telling how many sacks he could rack up because the guy just finds a way to get back there. Even when he doesn’t beat the blocker cleanly, Henry keeps working until somehow, some way it’s like he just appears in the quarterback’s face.
Henry isn’t just an interior pass rusher, however. If you go back and watch his rookie film, you will see him manhandling offensive linemen on a regular basis. And I mean, he does have some good size on him at 6’3 and almost 290 pounds. Hell, I even saw him easily toss one of the best guards in the game, Kelechi Osemele, out of the way to make a tackle back in 2017. It remains to be seen if he will have that same kind of power after his injuries last season, but if he is anywhere near being as strong as he was, there won’t be any easy answers to how you are supposed to block this kid.
I don’t know how much the Ravens plan on playing Henry on early downs considering his injury history, though. If I were them, I would definitely consider saving him mostly for passing situations until he shows he can hold up inside health-wise.
After all, the Ravens are about to experience life without Terrell Suggs, one their best and most consistent pass rushers, for the first time in 16(!) seasons. They are likely going to have to have an all-hands-on-deck approach to rushing the passer this season to make up for the juice they will miss from Suggs’ departure.
A healthy Henry getting penetration up the middle would go a long way in taking up some of that slack. If Henry goes down to injury again, I’m not sure who else on their roster will be able to generate a pass rush consistently from the interior of the defensive line other than maybe Pernell McPhee, but he rushes better on the outside in my opinion.
If you haven’t gotten my drift yet, let me reiterate that I believe a lot is riding on Henry making it through this season, both for him personally and for the team. He was out there with the first unit in the first preseason game so that was encouraging, but he has to keep that momentum going. I don’t know what specifically Henry can do to help avoid getting hurt because his injuries have all seemed to have been issues that had nothing to do with preparation or being out of shape. I truly believe sometimes it’s just purely bad luck when guys get hurt, anyway.
But for Henry, he has to hope and pray that his fortunes are changing for the better this season. He has the opportunity to make a huge name for himself if he balls out this year. He just has to stay on the field to do so.
Confidence level: Moderate