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In A Class Without A Consensus RB1, Why Not Darrell Henderson?

As we inch closer to the NFL Draft, it’s time for a quick review of former Memphis Tigers’ running back Darrell Henderson.1

THE EARLY YEARS

As a three-star prospect per 247 Sports, Henderson had zero offers from Power Five programs, eventually committing to Memphis in February of 2016. As a freshman he was part of a three-way committee finishing with a 87-484-5 rushing line. He also finished with 237 yards and three touchdowns on 20 receptions giving us a small glimpse of the prolific seasons to come.

2017 AND BEYOND

As a sophomore in 2017, Henderson averaged an incredible 8.9 yards per carry (YPC) on 130 attempts, splitting carries with Patrick Taylor Jr. He remained a factor in the Tigers’ passing game finishing fourth in receptions putting up a solid 24-226-2 line.

In 2018, Henderson again displayed an elite level of efficiency finishing with a massive 214-1,909-23 rushing line, again averaging 8.9 yards per carry. He’s one of just 10 players this century to average at least 8.5 YPC on 130 or more carries in a season and the only one to do it twice. As the only RB since 2000 averaging over 8 YPC with 400 or more carries, there’s no doubt about Henderson’s explosiveness and efficiency as a runner.

AGE AND PRODUCTION

Henderson’s absurd YPC metrics are certainly impressive but YPC tends to be descriptive rather than predictive. A measure that has been shown to be predictive of future success, however, is breakout age. Anthony Amico found that RB prospects that finish a season averaging at least 130 adjusted all-purpose yards per game have historically been much better bets to finish as a top-24 PPR RB at least once in their first three NFL seasons:

Breakout AgeTotalHitsPercent HitAvg Best PPR
<=21622743.5%187.1
>21541222.2%130.2
None911112.1%93.7

Henderson crossed this threshold as a 20-year-old in 2017, placing him in a cohort with a 44 percent hit rate based on Amico’s research. And if Henderson lands in the top-four of Draft Scout’s positional rankings, his career adjusted all-purpose yards per game (126) and career YPC (8.2) would place him in a cohort with an incredible 86 percent success rate:
48B45BC3-772E-44B5-8123-C4457D95311A
Despite his early breakout season, Henderson’s rookie-year age is a bit of a concern. RB prospects that play their rookie season at age-22 have historically produced fewer fantasy points on average compared to their younger counterparts according to Blair Andrews’ research:
1E8D5679-9329-4919-A74A-0A4CFD22A12A

ATHLETICISM

The RotoViz Combine Explorer provides us with a quick and easy way to visualize how each prospect compares to a baseline result in each of the combine drills. Henderson’s results don’t necessarily match what some2 had hoped for pre-combine but it’s not all doom and gloom.
darrellhenderson1
Without agility drill results it’s impossible to know the entire story, but an above-average speed score and explosion metric put Henderson in a cohort with Ray Rice, Giovani Bernard, Duke Johnson, and DeAngelo Williams as realistic comps. While he may lack elite speed, it seems that Henderson has the requisite overall athletic profile to find success at the next level, all else being equal.

OUTLOOK

I truly believe the RB1 spot in the 2019 class is still wide open. So why wouldn’t Henderson garner strong consideration? He broke out at a relatively young age which is a strong indicator of future success. He’s been a strong pass-catcher throughout his college career and has exhibited historical efficiency as a runner. And while his combine failed to live up to my expectations, Henderson’s showing shouldn’t raise too many red flags.

The last piece of the puzzle is draft position. Draft Scout currently projects him as a second or third round pick, an acceptable amount of draft capital all things considered. As the current 1.09 in rookie drafts according to Dynasty League Football average draft position data, Henderson is one of my favorite options based on profile, potential, and value.

  1. The original, pre-combine version of this article was published on January 14, 2019.  (back)
  2. myself included  (back)
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