The Most Exciting 2019 Running Back you may have never heard of.
Darrell Henderson is a 5’9, 200 pound back who played for a smaller school in the Memphis Tigers. Despite losing top wideout Anthony Miller to the NFL, Henderson placed second in the nation in yards-per-carry and rushing yards. Amazingly, Henderson was able to become a Doak Walker award finalist despite seeing only 35 percent of his teams carries.
Henderson, like some of the names I will compare him to below, has dominant college tape that you have to see to believe. Fortuitously for dynasty owners, Henderson is just as exciting as a receiver as he is as a runner. This is thanks to his elite open field ability. This is a skill that should help propel him to become one of the NFL’s must-see players in space.
The most exciting back you may have never heard of.
Darrell Henderson was one of the top two running backs in all of college football in terms of rushing yards. The talented back put up an amazing 1,902 yards for an average of 146.85 per game. His yards per game is a number that is all the more impressive when one considers Henderson accomplished the feat on an average of just 16.46 carries. His outstanding 8.9 yards-per-carry placed him second in the nation but first among backs with more than 82 carries.
Playing in a non-power five conference, a high yards-per-carry average is almost a prerequisite for a running back to be considered a top prospect. Henderson went two steps further as he is now the all-time leader in ypc at the college level based primarily on the strength of back to back 8.9 yards-per-carry seasons (a number that places him in the top-15 all-time in terms of highest ever season averages).
As per PFF Darrell Henderson still looked like a top talent against power five schools over his college career as he averaged 6.6 ypc. This is a number that extrapolated over a season would place him third among backs with at least 180 attempts. While the ypc figure is based on limited sample size, Henderson shared the backfield with Patrick Taylor Jr. Taylor saw more carries over the course of their college careers. 214 to 208 for Henderson in 2018 but Taylor saw more the previous two campaigns.
Darrell Henderson has great vision and instincts, traits that have helped lead him to the aforementioned elite open field game. Henderson regularly showed off his great cutting and elite tackle breaking abilities this past season en route to forcing 53 missed tackles and creating 1,321 yards after contact or 6.2 yards after contact per attempt. Henderson’s rate of 0.26 missed tackles per attempt places him in the top tier of college running backs, but not in the truly elite company of tackle-breaking machines like David Montgomery and Devin Singletary. In an NFL where yards after contact is becoming one of measuring sticks for elite backs, Henderson looks like he has the tools to join the conversation early on in his rookie season.
A big play threat every time the ball is in his hands, Darrell Henderson wowed this past season with 55 rushes over ten yards while leading the nation with 27 attempts over twenty yards, 16 over 30 yards, 12 rushes over 40 yards, 10 rushes over 50 yards and six rushes over sixty yards. This explosion is due in part to Henderson’s top-level patience and innate feel of how to develop his blocks. Henderson also boasts a getaway second gear that is readily evident when watching his game tape. Having this type of explosive ability ensures that he will likely see the field early in his NFL career. It also suggests that he will become an instant threat to wrestle the starting job from whatever veterans he finds himself competing with
Strength as receiver
Darrell Henderson displays more than just great running skills as he racked up 63 receptions over his three-year college career and finished this past season with a dynamic 15.5 yards per reception. This signals that he is a big play threat in this facet of the game as well. On tape, Henderson flashes as a receiver that is capable, not only as an outlet and check-down receiver but as a downfield receiver (primarily) on a wheel or go route.
On the season, Henderson averaged a sparkling 1.67 yards per route run which is a number that is more indicative of his big-play ability and strength as a receiver. Henderson saw limited opportunities as he was the lesser half of a committee back during his stint as Memphis Tiger. For reference purposes, this past season in the NFL Saquon Barkley managed 1.54 yards per route run. Aaron Jones, Tevin Coleman, and Kareem Hunt checked in at 1.02, 0.98 and 1.49 respectively.
This will prove to be an important aspect to his game early on. Henderson’s explosiveness as a receiver and willingness as a blocker should help get him on the NFL field immediately on third downs, regardless of where he lands.
Finding a pro comparison based on Henderson’s college stats is a little bit tough. This is due to his insane ypc, yards after contact and yards after contact per attempt. His exciting tools put us in uncharted territory as we are dealing with a back who set records en route being named the Memphis Tigers’ first-ever unanimous All-American.
There are however two backs, one former and one current, who make more sense than simply copping out and calling Henderson something like ‘Alvin Kamara lite’. This is especially true since they played in much different conferences. While Darrell Henderson was a much better rusher in college, Kamara was still the far superior receiver (74 receptions in just two years of play).
DeAngelo Williams is the natural starting point for a pro comparison, as both played for the Memphis Tigers. This year Henderson became only the second Tiger ever to run for back to back 200-yard games. Henderson would later go on to break Williams’ single-season touchdown record.
Williams was similar to Henderson in stature at 5’9, 207 (he bulked up to 214 for the combine) and is the only Memphis running back to rush for more single-season yards than Henderson. DeAngelo ran for back to back 1,900-yard seasons on his way to becoming a first-round pick. Williams dazzled by putting up a scintillating 1,948 and 1,964 yards at 6.2 and 6.3 ypc.
Williams and Henderson are similar stylistically. Both displayed great cutting ability and patience which they paired with elusiveness and power. Williams ran for just over 50 more yards than Henderson. But, he did so as a workhorse (310 and 313 carries) and at a substantially lower ypc.
Both backs were cited for lacking top end speed and size. But, they dazzled with agility, explosion and a tremendous open field game. If Henderson can come close to Williams’ elite agility score and posts a 40 time in the high 4.5’s, he can secure his draft stock as at least a day two pick.
When watching Darrell Henderson’s college tape it immediately jumped out as the most confounding, outstanding, standout tape since Aaron Jones. Jones, like Henderson and Williams before him was dominant in college due to a schedule of mostly non-power five foes. Jones put up 1773 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final college season. Henderson and Jones look very similar on tape, with Henderson projecting as a more dominant receiver and space back.
Like Henderson, Aaron Jones was a 5’9, 200 lbs. running back who had to bulk up fpr the combine. Like Jones, Henderson will look to make some noise at the combine to secure his draft stock. Jones posted a 4.56 40 time at his pro day after a 4.49 at the combine. Verifying a lack of elite speed Jones knocked himself out of the day two conversation. He managed to secure his day three stock with upper echelon burst and agility scores of 127.3 and 11.02 respectively.
Henderson is arguably better looking as a college prospect than both of these running backs. He just needs a strong combine performance to potentially land a starting opportunity in the draft. A dark horse candidate to be the first RB selected, Henderson could enjoy success similar to Williams and Jones.
Projecting Henderson at this part of the pre-draft process is a little more difficult. Combine and pro day numbers will likely have a correlative effect on where Henderson is drafted. His draft position could potentially influence the role he is drafted to fill.
Like recent high profile small school standouts drafted (Penny/Jones), Henderson could face an adjustment period. He may find himself stuck behind players the coaching staff feels more comfortable with. Conversely, the earlier Henderson gets drafted increases the likelihood that he will follow the Kareem Hunt (on-field football) path. Meaning he will be drafted for a starting role and join the RB1 conversation in year one.
Landing spot will also be key for Henderson. Chances are he will likely be able to hit the ground running in a shotgun-heavy offense. The acclimation process may take a little longer in a under center heavier scheme.
Darrell Henderson is one of the most exciting runners in the NFL draft. He is someone dynasty owners should get familiar with.