If you watched the Madden football game on ESPN Monday night between the Rams and Chiefs it is quite obvious that in order to compete in the NFL you need speed. In fact you need multiple players who can take it to the house on any play, from anywhere on the field.
We have a treat in store for your after Thanksgiving football appetite, Friday at noon on ABC is the Memphis Tigers against the Houston Cougars, with the winner going to the AAC championship game against the #11 ranked UCF Knights. The Knights have the longest winning streak in the NCAA at 23 games after crushing #24 Cincinnati 38-13.
Houston is led by defensive tackle Ed Oliver who is a top five talent with strength and quickness who would look very nice on a revamped Jet interior defensive line.
Memphis has a high scoring offense led by junior running back Darrell Henderson who is small in stature but has big play ability. Henderson is currently undervalued as a draft prospect and could offer a high ceiling at a bargain price. Let’s check him out.
Darrell Henderson is a true junior running back who is listed at 5’ 9”, 200 lbs.
In three years at Memphis he has 391 carries/ 3157 yards/ 8.1 avg/ 31 TDs along with 59 receptions/ 746 yards/ 12.6 avg/ 8 TDs.
He is a stout player with a low center of gravity which gives him great balance, making him difficult to knock off his feet. He has blazing speed in the 4.40 to 4.45 range and looks faster on film. In all the games I have watched, no one has caught him from behind. Here he just runs away from the defense with minor effort. He does a great job of feigning an edge run, then quickly cutting back inside.
Henderson is the most elusive back (among draft eligible RBs) in the NCAA according to Pro Football Focus with a rating of 143.7. The next closest is David Montgomery of ISU with a rating of 127.2; Damian Harris of Alabama is 3rd at 125.2. Here he makes a man miss in the backfield, then a jump cut does the same at the line of scrimmage. He then avoids another tackle with a nice cut inside and is off to the races.
He is currently second in rushing yards (1521) in the NCAA but is the only back in the top nine with less than 200 rushes (174). He trails Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin by 348 yards but has 87 less carries than Taylor. He is also 2nd in the NCAA in yards per carry by a mere 0.02 behind Reggie Corbin of Illinois but Corbin has only 115 total rushes.
Here he is against UCF in last year’s championship game. He only had 15 carries for 107 yards but he gave his team a 10 point lead here with a 25 yard TD. His cuts are subtle, changing direction with ease at top speed. That nice fluid change of direction is so difficult for a defender to read. Once he realizes which way Henderson is going, it is too late to react.
Henderson is not used in the passing game as much as he should be (although he does have 59 career receptions). He has the speed to blow by any defender on a wheel route and he shows good hands when thrown to. Here he is in the slot and toasts his man quickly. Henderson is behind him in an instant. The quarterback just has to lead him to the inside but instead throws the ball way outside over the wrong shoulder. Henderson makes a nice adjustment on the ball, showing soft hands, then finishing the play for a 43 yard TD.
Henderson looks similar to Dalvin Cook but is shorter and faster than Cook. He is also a little bit sturdier, being about the same weight but 3 inches shorter. This makes Henderson a little more difficult to tackle. He has less mass to hit and less to grab onto. He can get lost behind a big offensive line, then appear quickly at full speed racing by defenders before they can react.
Here he runs into a pile but no one can wrap him up. He bounces outside, getting to full speed in an instant, leaving surprised defenders in his wake. Even the small child is impressed. You could see this happening more in the NFL with the behemoths along both the offensive and defensive lines losing sight of Henderson. Once he reappears it is too late to make a play on him.
Henderson has just been named one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s best running back. He is second in the NCAA in rushing TDs (17) and total TDs (20), which is quite an accomplishment for a player who only gets about 17 touches a game.
On this last clip you can see why. This is a basic stretch play to the right where the backside tackle pulls and Henderson’s job is to find a cut back lane somewhere among the trees. He finds a crease and one jump cut later he is gone.
Henderson is one of those specialist type players that a team will try and scheme 12-16 touches a game for. His body type is such that I think he could handle a workload of 15-20 touches without difficulty. The more players with true game changing ability you can put on the field the better. Defenses can’t safely double cover more than two and the others are left with single coverage.
One oddity about Henderson is that he only carries the ball with his left arm. No matter what the situation he never changes hands but he doesn’t have a fumbling problem so it is a moot point. I guess a NFL RB coach can try and change his habit but I don’t know what kind of concern it is at a professional level.
Henderson was one of my sleeper players whom I was targeting in the late rounds. The NFL hierarchy always devalued smaller players because they usually don’t have the durability to be workhorse type backs. That may be changing because of all the running back by committee situations in the NFL and players like Tyreek Hill who can make weekly game changing plays. At the very least they make defensive coordinators change their schemes to limit the destructive nature of these diminutive warriors.
I can see Henderson as a change of pace back and also a slot receiver who can be moved all over the formation. I know the Jets have Trenton Cannon and Elijah McGuire, but explosive weapons are hard to find. We have no idea what the wide receiver situation is going to be going forward so having a dangerous weapon in the slot should give the receivers more room. Earlier in the season I was hoping to get Henderson in the late fifth or early sixth rounds, but I think the recent notoriety has squashed that plan. You probably will need a third round pick to get him this year.
In any case you can see him live and in person on Friday, Nov 23rd at 12:00 noon on ABC. Both teams should pull out all the stops in this title elimination game.