Shortly before Alabama’s demolition of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, I wrote a draft profile for Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry, arguing that Henry has the strong potential to be pick 1.01 in most rookie drafts. Read the original article for fuller analysis. This piece is merely an update. Bottom line: Almost nothing has changed. Henry is still a strong candidate to be 1.01.
Update 1: Henry Will Declare for the NFL Draft
In “news” that is surprising to no one, Henry has announced that he will enter the 2016 NFL Draft. The sun also rose today. Henry is an Alabama running back. To plagiarize myself: Those guys enter Tuscaloosa with one foot already in the NFL’s front door. Previous Alabama lead backs Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon all entered the NFL with collegiate eligibility remaining. Henry’s declaring for the draft was a formality — and now that formality is officially a reality.
Update 2: Henry Given a Second-Round Grade
Unsurprisingly, Henry reportedly received a second-round draft grade from the NFL’s advisory committee. While it might seem like sacrilege to tell the most decorated college player of the 2015 season that every NFL team will likely pass on him at least once in the 2016 draft, this should’ve been expected. For one, just as 40 is the new 30, a second-round running back is the new first-round running back. So few running backs are selected in the first round anymore, and plenty of stud running backs enter the NFL as second-round selections. This wasn’t really a slight. This was simply a true statement about what is highly likely.
Additionally, from an expectation standpoint, the committee would’ve been crazy to tell any running back that he has received a first-round grade. Even if the committee thought that he was worth a first-round pick, telling him that would create the expectation that he would be selected in the first round, which (again) is unlikely given the current (de)valuation of running backs in the NFL. The committee might like Henry a lot — that’s what a second-round grade likely signifies — but it has little incentive to give Henry a premium grade in an environment in which teams are disinclined to commit premium draft capital to the running back position.
Finally, it’s not a surprise that Henry, as an Alabama running back, received a second-round grade. That’s pretty much the average draft position of what we’ve seen for the last five Saban/Alabama lead backs to enter the league: Coffee (third round), Ingram (first round), Richardson (first round), Lacy (second round), and Yeldon (second round). All of these guys were top-75 draft picks. Without even formally evaluating him, the committee could’ve just stamped “Second Round” onto his file. That’s where NFL teams select big-bodied productive Alabama running backs in the post-Richardson era.
To sum up this section: Henry has been given a second-round draft grade, and that’s totally fine.
Update 3: Henry Says He’ll be a First-Round Selection Anyway
Despite his draft grade, Henry says that there’s no doubt in his mind that he will be a first-round pick, primarily because he expects to test well at the combine. Frankly, I’m not impacted either way by Henry’s self-confidence — but the fact is that Henry has a rocked-up, incredibly muscular body that is listed at six feet three inches and 242 pounds. That’s impressive.
Additionally, Henry entered college as a five-star recruit who was listed as the nation’s No. 1 athlete by several scouting services. If Henry displays strong athleticism at the combine, his combination of athleticism and size could easily propel him into the first round.
Henry hasn’t proven himself to be a steady receiver — he wasn’t used much as a pass catcher in college — and that could be something that ultimately keeps him from the first round. At the same time, just because we haven’t seen him catch the ball on a regular basis doesn’t mean he can’t: LaDainian Tomlinson had only 10 receptions for 40 yards and no touchdowns in his final college season. And even if Henry actually isn’t a good receiver, that might not matter if Henry proves himself to be a big-bodied stud athlete in his pre-draft workouts.
Update 4: Henry Dominated the Playoffs
When I wrote my last piece on Henry, he had played thirteen games on the season and was entering the college football playoffs leading the entire Football Bowl Subdivision with 339 carries and 1,986 yards rushing. He also had 23 rushing touchdowns.
Now, with the season over, Henry leads the FBS in all major rushing categories with 395 carries, 2219 yards, and 28 touchdowns in 15 games. In fact, his 406 touches and 28 touchdowns from scrimmage lead all FBS players. I know that some people were disappointed that all-around playmaker Christian McCaffrey of Stanford didn’t win the Heisman, but it’s pretty hard to look at Henry’s numbers and say that he wasn’t the most dominant player in college football this season.
What might be most impressive is that in his two playoff games against top-four teams, Henry was the engine of his team’s offense, rushing 56 times for 233 yards and five touchdowns. Specifically, in the national championship game, which was a close contest, Henry accounted for 36 of Alabama’s 37 non-quarterback rushes and 158 of the 159 non-quarterback rushing yards on his way to scoring all three of his team’s touchdowns rushing.
To say that Henry was a workhorse when his team most needed him is to belittle his performance. He was a machine: A Terminator.
The Bottom Line: Still Pick 1.01 — I Think
Right now, Henry is a top-three prospect in the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index, and that’s a fair ranking. 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 on the exact ordering of those three players until after the combine, but like many big-bodied SEC running backs before him, Henry could be pick 1.01 in most rookie drafts without disappointing. Given his combination of production, size, and likely NFL draft position, Henry is as close to a lock as there is for multiple seasons of top-10 running back production (barring a career-debilitating injury), especially if he tests well in his pre-draft workouts.
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 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.
Also, I’m calling my shot. Next year, Henry will be the Week 1 starting running back — for the Dallas Cowboys. It probably doesn’t hurt that Henry has already said that he wants to play for the team.
Get it, Jerrah!
Matthew Freedman is a writer for Fantasy Labs and a contributor to RotoViz and Pro Football Focus. He is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. You can follow him on Twitter @MattFtheOracle — but I don’t know why you would.