The 2015 college football bowl season is underway. On Thursday, December 31, we will see the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, the second of this year’s college football playoff semifinals, featuring Michigan State (12-1) and Alabama (12-1). For a matchup between top-three teams, the game doesn’t have nearly as many notable draft-eligible prospects as one might hope, but it does have perhaps the most important fantasy prospect of the 2016 class, Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry.
Henry is the No. 2 prospect in the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index, and that’s a fair ranking right now. The first three players selected in dynasty rookie drafts are likely to be (in some order) Henry, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot, and Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. I won’t get too hung up right now on the exact ordering of those three players, but like many big-bodied SEC running backs before him Henry has the potential to be pick 1.01 in most rookie drafts.
Henry is an absolute production monster. He holds the national high school football record for most career rushing yards. And this year he broke Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season record for most rushing yards — in almost 40 fewer carries. This year, he also made a clean sweep of all the individual honors for which he was eligible, winning the Doak Walker, Maxwell, and Walter Camp Awards as well the Heisman Trophy — none of which are awarded to players who aren’t incredibly productive.
Here are the numbers for Henry’s three collegiate seasons:
As a true freshman, Henry did relatively little as a backup behind T.J. Yeldon and “perpetual groomsman” Kenyan Drake, but as a sophomore he forced his way into an almost even timeshare with Yeldon and actually led the team in yards rushing and all running backs in all-purpose touchdowns. Henry’s sophomore emergence — with Yeldon still on the team! — might not seem significant, but it really is.
For one, Yeldon had been the clear workhorse the previous season and eventually entered the NFL as a strong second-round selection. That anyone could steal carries from such a good and entrenched runner is impressive. Secondly and maybe more importantly, in Head Coach Nick Saban’s nine years at Alabama, he has often had a clear lead back supplemented and supported by a capable but subordinate backup. The degree to which Henry tilted the scales as first a supplemental back and then a lead back is notable:
|Year||Lead RB||Lead RB Touches||Backup RB||Backup RB Touches||Difference|
|2015||Derrick Henry||349||Kenyan Drake||96||253|
|2014||T.J. Yeldon||209||Derrick Henry||177||32|
|2013||T.J. Yeldon||227||Kenyan Drake||104||123|
|2012||Eddie Lacy||226||T.J. Yeldon||186||40|
|2011||Trent Richardson||312||Eddie Lacy||106||206|
|2010||Mark Ingram||179||Trent Richardson||135||44|
|2009||Mark Ingram||303||Trent Richardson||161||142|
|2008||Glen Coffee||249||Mark Ingram||150||99|
|2007||Terry Grant||206||Glen Coffee||147||59|
First of all, note that the backup running back has always gone on to become the lead back in a future season — except for Drake, who was surpassed by Henry. That alone gives an insight into how talented Henry is. Secondly, note that the 2014 touch differential between Yeldon and Henry is the smallest between lead and supplemental backs in Saban’s Alabama tenure. Not only did Henry surpass Drake as a sophomore, but he also stole touches from the lead back more than — get this! — Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon when they were supplemental backs — and all of those guys were top-75 draft picks.
Finally, this season as the lead back Henry has dominated carries more than any of Saban’s lead backs ever have, out-touching his supplemental back by more than 250 touches. In fact, Henry has dominated more than just his offense. He leads the entire Football Bowl Subdivision with 339 carries and 1,986 yards rushing, and his 23 touchdowns rushing this year are a single-season SEC record.
The one drawback to Henry as a producer is that he hasn’t done much in his three years as a receiver. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Henry can’t be a competent receiver. With his limited receptions, he has actually been very efficient. Additionally, when a guy is capable of getting 40 carries per game and your quarterbacks are terrible, why even throw the ball to your workhorse when you can just hand the ball to him?
Even with his potential shortcomings as a receiver, Henry is one of the most impressive running back prospects of the last five years.
The Physical Profile
OMGOMGOMG!!! During Saban’s Alabama tenure, the team’s running backs have all been big-bodied physical specimens — but Henry is a man among boys even in this cohort. Just as the humanoid machines in the Terminator film franchise always advance, with new and improved models coming out seemingly every five years, the earlier models of the Alabama running backs have evolved into what we see in Henry — a rocked-up, incredibly muscular body that is listed at six feet three inches and 242 pounds.
Additionally, Henry entered college as a five-star recruit who was listed as the nation’s No. 1 athlete by several scouting services. In other words, Henry might be more than a mere big body. He might be a big-bodied player with elite athletic abilities.
If you could combine LeGarrette Blount’s underrated football ability with Brandon Jacobs’ early-career athleticism, you might have yourself a significantly lesser version of the real-life Henry. Phrased differently: Henry might actually be the player everyone wants Latavius Murray to be.
But even if Henry doesn’t exhibit strong athleticism in his pre-draft workouts, it doesn’t really matter. Given his collegiate production, his size, and his likely draft position, Henry is as close to a lock as there is for multiple seasons of top-10 running back production in the NFL (barring a career-debilitating injury).
If you’re the type of dynasty general manager who likes to draft wide receivers early in rookie drafts, that’s fine. Wide receivers usually take longer to produce, although they usually do produce for longer. If, though, you like to draft running backs because you want to roster players who can make an immediate difference on your team, then Henry is a guy to consider if you have the No. 1 overall pick in a 2016 rookie draft.
Henry hasn’t stated yet that he intends to declare for the 2016 NFL draft, but c’mon. He’s an Alabama running back. Those guys enter Tuscaloosa with one foot already in the NFL’s front door. Coffee, Ingram, Richardson, Lacy, and Yeldon all entered the NFL with collegiate eligibility remaining. If Henry doesn’t declare for the draft, he will be making a massive professional mistake.
Also, I’m calling my shot. Next year, Derrick Henry will be the Week 1 starting running back — for the Dallas Cowboys.
Get it, Jerrah!
Matthew Freedman is a football writer for RotoViz, Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Fantasy Insiders, and DraftKings Playbook. He is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. He hosts the various RotoViz podcasts and PFF Radio’s College Daily Slant. He is the creator of the Workhorse Metric. You can follow him on Twitter @MattFtheOracle — but I don’t know why you would.