I have never been a scout or an NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
When we examine the draft each year, we are looking for players who fit in a given template. The idea is that if a guy fits the profile of a certain position, he gives himself a chance to be that player at the next level. If he doesn't fit the template, then we spend draft season picking him apart. It happens and I am as guilty of it as anyone when we look at players that either fit our ideas of what a player on Sundays should look like or not.
Well, when you consider the case of Derrick Henry, there are going to be some issues to overcome. He is a huge running back. As in, he is too tall at 6-foot-3 and too big at 247 pounds for most of our ideas of the ideal back. Tall backs have too big a target, especially if they run too upright and that is one good reason why many of the best RBs in the history of football might not even be 6-foot. And for weight? Well, let's just say that when you think of guys over 230, you spend a lot of time with the horror stories of Ron Dayne, TJ Duckett, and even present day Eddie Lacy. They either were too big to ever be elusive or they were quickly got bigger as age started to affect metabolism.
Then, you have the issues regarding Alabama running backs. Nick Saban uses them without regard for preserving the tread on the tires, so Henry had 405 touches in 2015 alone. Luckily, that was his only high-use season, but 400 touches in the NFL seems pretty excessive. In college, it represents the second-most touches of any college player in the past decade. But, if you look at his career, understand that his 619 touches does not come close to the miles that DeMarco Murray (916), Darren McFadden (831), or even Lance Dunbar (879) endured at the college level (Cedric Benson had an astounding 1,181). Henry's work load at Alabama is not a big issue.
He is a huge human with 4.54 speed and tested off the charts in a number of categories. He is also chiseled out of stone and has very little in common with any other Alabama back aside from their luxury of playing behind a massive offensive line and winning a lot. I used the Clemson, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and Florida games from 2015 to study the big man.
What I liked:He is just so powerful and is great at running through contact while possessing breakaway speed that repeated long touchdown runs time and time again all season long. He is a punishing back and a breakaway back in the same body. I certainly don't wish to use the name Earl Campbell as a comp, but there aren't many runners who could offer both types of highlights since Earl where he can run through you and past you on consecutive plays.
He can pass protect reasonably well (I don't wish to get carried away on this because it can improve) and he can also catch better than people would assume when they see he only has 17 catches (as he tried to prove on his pro day). But, what makes him special is he plants his foot and goes. He also can fit through small holes for a big man and also can drop that pad level and give defenders pause as they try to square him up. As the game goes on, this battering ram can wear a defense out. But, he is so much more than that as his jump cuts make him flat-out elusive. As long as he keeps top-end speed for a RB, he will be a massive problem for defenses where they will be tempted to stack the box, freeing up opportunities for a passing game.
What I did not like:He is just a RB. We talked about Ezekiel Elliott impacting every aspect of your offense, but Henry is more traditional in that he is a simply a RB. His receiving skills may be usable, but they have never been used. And his lead blocking is pedestrian to be sure. Also, his wiggle is limited and if you get into the backfield before he gets up a head of steam, he can be brought down. I think his acceleration issues have been overplayed, but he clearly can't match Elliott's one-step turbo (few can). Aside from Jerome Bettis and Christian Okoye, there aren't very many RBs in the 240-to-250-pound range who had a shelf life over five years, so Henry is on the very high side of the modern day RB without many comps at all. Brandon Jacobs had a nice few years but fell off by 26 or 27 years old when he stopped running as violently. We wonder what Henry will run like in five years. We also wonder just how good his vision is downfield. On some plays it looks great and on others you would like it to be better.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: The Cowboys actually have one of the better chances to replicate the Alabama situation with a big offensive line that can give a RB a chance to get up to speed with opportunities. Once Henry steps into the secondary, it is over. Defenders do not want to get in front of him and you can imagine Dallas would be very interested in this at the top of Round 2 if he falls to them.
He is not Elliott. But, he is the second-best runner in this draft according to most and the price drop from Elliott to Henry suggests that while Zeke might be too pricey, Henry might appeal to them quite a bit. He is so talented and while there is a risk to his body type, there is also a massive and immediate reward possible. I would not be shocked to see the Cowboys address a skill position spot at No. 34 with either a wide receiver or this guy. And we all know how Jason Garrett enjoys visiting with Nick Saban. Saban cannot stop raving about the way Henry competes. This might be an eventual fit this spring. Power running could return with a real vengeance this fall.