Derrick Henry is the most divisive prospect of the 2016 draft class. Standing tall at just over 6’2″, 240 pounds, Henry has much better movement skills than would be assumed. Though, due to his hulking frame, many still fail to see or acknowledge his athleticism. A back that size is expected to be purely a downhill, brutalizing battering ram of a runner, but Henry isn’t that. Henry is a ‘home run’ back in a bruiser’s body, yet he still possesses some of the traits a typical bruiser would have. He is a truly unique running back and that has confused the masses, but there is no reason to overthink him. Henry is a damn good running back and should be treated as such.
1. Between the tackles
Henry is so often knocked for how linear of a runner he is. While he is no LeSean McCoy, Henry has plenty of flexibility to change lanes between the tackles. Henry is often setting this up well, too. On this particular play, Henry presses the front side of the formation as long as possible, only to cut back and run through the defender in the gap. This is a great display of Henry’s ability to set up his blocks, as well as his ability to execute the cut back he set himself up for. After blowing past #58’s arm tackle with ease, Henry gets down hill and barrels through a handful of defenders, falling forward for a few extra yards. Henry was able to set up a block, use his flexibility and assert his power all in one play. It may not look like a special play, but Henry made this 6-8 yard gain look much easier than it was.
2. Attacking the perimeter
Running between the tackles will be where Henry does a bulk of his work, but he is a threat on the perimeter. Again due to his size, it has been presumed that Henry can’t stretch the field horizontally and then turn up field. He certainly can. Georgia’s defense closes off Henry’s off-tackle run, so he improvises and bounces outside. normally, this would be ill-advised for a runner his size, but Henry has the burst and smooth feet that most runners his size do not possess. Henry outruns two Georgia defenders on his way to the boundary, then bends and turns up the field. Henry flies through the lane provided by his receiver and tight end, breaking another tackle before finally being taken down (falling forward, of course). For Henry to have accelerated to the boundary like he did and then sharply change direction up field without losing any of his speed is rare.
3. Lumberjack effect
The only way to chop down a tree is near the roots. Henry is the human manifestation of a tree. He is a large, stout entity that can only safely be taken down by chopping through the base. Trying to tackle Henry head up is often a mistake or a decision players tend not to follow through with anyway. Instead, defenders have to get Henry feet to stop moving. For a runner as heavy as Henry, stopping his feet so abruptly almost forces his momentum to throw him forward into the ground. If the defender tries to square up with Henry here, he probably gets a hand or shoulder to the face and finds himself on his back. With a back like Henry, defenders have to attack his lower half and pray he comes toppling down.
@JoeGoodberry he’s an AT-AT u gotta shoot the legs
— #1 rams fan (@BeauxJaxson) January 12, 2016
4. Start up time
Henry is an explosive runner, but he does take a few steps to get his engine running. He is a momentum-based runner, so a clog at the line of scrimmage directly over the lane he was intended to run through can be problematic. Above, in play No.2, Henry had the room to bounce outside, but he does not have that luxury here. Rather, his two options are to move inside and hope something more is open or run into the teeth of the defense. Henry freezes up trying to decide, forcing him to awkwardly shuffle as far up the field as he can. Henry is going to experience these failed runs a few times a game at the pro level as well, but all the good he does is worth dealing with these plays.
5. Fighting through traffic
If Henry is confident in where he is running- and he usually is- he is tough to take down. Alabama guards fail to create the lane that they were supposed to and a Wisconsin defender is able to get a piece of Henry inside the tight rushing lane. Unfortunately for the defender, Henry was already moving down hill and had built up the power to fight right through the tackle. Once he broke the tackle, he was gone. Henry picked up his speed again with a few long strides and torched the remaining defenders on the Wisconsin defense. Henry was able to be both a bulldozer and a home run threat on the same play. He is truly a rare species of running back.
Few running backs in the modern era have been built like and operate like Derrick Henry. He is a rare specimen. To have his blend of power, speed and flexibility is special. Granted, he will be stumped a few times behind or at the line of scrimmage in each game, but he will also tear through a defense to get twice as many yards as he should have on a handful of plays, not to mention he is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. His variance may turn teams away, but for a player who is bound to get the ball, the great plays are bound to come. Once the stylistic assumptions due to his size are put aside, it is easy to see how talented Henry is and how impactful he can be in the NFL.