While running the football comprises the majority of what RBs are asked to do, to stay on the field for all three downs an RB in the NFL needs to be able to contribute in the passing game, both as a blocker and as a receiver. Unfortunately for Henry, his receiving opportunities were severely limited in college, as he was only on the receiving end of a pass 16 times. He saw more work as a blocker, and displayed some positive skills but also some areas that need work.
As touched on above, Henry saw very limited action catching passes out of the backfield in his college career. In 2015, Alabama preferred to use Kenyan Drake in the passing game. When Henry was thrown the ball, it was either on a screen or as a checkdown option. Despite his limited usage, Henry was actually a pretty successful receiver out of the backfield. He followed blockers well on screens and showed good second level vision.
However, his role as a receiver in the NFL will probably be limited in a similar way to what he experienced in college. The plays below represent a quarter of Henry’s career receiving production:
The first play shows Henry on a quick slip screen to the interior, he shows soft hands catching the ball and then lets his running ability take over for a big gain. The second play is a concentration drop, as Henry is trying to turn upfield before catching the ball. One drop isn’t a big issue in the grand scheme of things, but if dropping passes was a trend for him in practice, it would explain his limited usage in the passing game.
On the third play, another screen, Henry shows balance to stay upright with a defender holding on to his feet. On the fourth play, Henry picks up a first down on third and long by using the blocking in front of him very well. On the final play, Henry displays some nice little moves to make defenders miss and pick up another first down.
Pass blocking is arguably more important than pass catching for RBs these days, and it is a real deciding factor on whether or not a player will see the field on third downs. As a blocker, Henry is a mixed bag. There are a number of instances where he is able to square up, lock on to and completely shut down a pass rusher.
On the other hand, there are also instances where Henry fails to understand his assignment, or takes a poor angle to the defender which allows the defender to defeat the block. He also struggles to execute cut blocks, which may be because of his size. At the next level, he will need to work on his recognition skills and also cut blocking. These issues, and successes, can be seen on the plays below:
The first play is an example of Henry’s indecision as a blocker. On this play, he absolutely should be attacking the edge player, but at the last second he pulls back from that and moves to the inside, where a player is jumping. Henry failing to block the edge player accelerated his QB’s decision making, and the QB threw it right at a defender. The play was an incompletion, but it could have been much worse. While if two defenders are at an equal level you should chose the inside player as a blocker, in this case the guy on the edge is so much closer to the QB that he is the correct choice.
The second play shows a failed cut block from Henry. He is too far from the defender when he dives, and therefore he ends up at the feet of the defender. When cut blocking, you want to aim for the defender’s opposite hip, not his feet.
The third play is a miscommunication between Henry and his TE. The TE lets the DE get around him on the edge, while Henry appeared to be trying to give help towards the inside. It’s not possible to be certain who is at fault without having inside knowledge of the call, but the fact that Henry looks at the TE after the play indicates that the two were not on the same page. Since RBs are normally tasked to help chip on the edge and not up the middle, I would hazard a guess that Henry is in the wrong here, but in any case the teamwork needs to improve.
The fourth play is actually an amazing block by Henry. He ends up slowing down two defenders on this play while getting virtually no help from the center. He doesn’t buy his QB a lot of time, but he buys just enough time to allow a pass, which ends up being completed for a huge gain. Unlike the first play, where he lacked decisiveness and block no players, here he thought quickly and impacted two defenders.
The fifth play is a phenomenal example of what Henry can do when he locks on to a defender. His size is a big advantage to him while blocking, and here he’s going up against a DE. He squares the player up, delivers a strong punch that affects the rush, and then locks on, driving the defender up field past the QB. This block is one of the best I’ve ever seen from an RB and displays the promise Henry shows as a blocker if he can consistently identify the correct player and lock on.
The sixth play shows and example of exactly what Henry shouldn’t do when engaging a defender. He delivers and initial punch, and instead of locking on reloads for a second attempt. This allows the rusher to get around him and sack the QB, and is something that needs to improve.
Because of his massive size, the obvious comparison for Derrick Henry is Brandon Jacobs. Like Jacobs, Henry is surprisingly light on his feet for his size, but is definitely a power runner above all else. Jacobs struggled with durability during his NFL career, but was a very productive back when healthy. If Henry gets put in a role that suits him and stays healthy, he certainly has what it takes to improve upon Jacobs’ career path.
NFL evaluators are going to differ wildly on how they view Henry. This is not because he’s a difficult prospect to evaluate, because in fact he’s a pretty straightforward evaluation. Instead, the issue is scheme fit, because there a number of NFL teams where Henry’s style simply won’t work. Many teams are moving to running primarily out of shotgun, which Henry struggles with because of his lack of flexibility.
Henry is an old school, downhill runner who succeeds when there is good blocking at the point of attack. The most notable team that would be a strong fit for Henry is the Dallas Cowboys, who have a need at RB. The problem is most teams that use gap running schemes are set at RB, and there’s a chance that the teams that would be able to utilize Henry properly (like the Cowboys and Raiders) will stick with what they have or look elsewhere. If that happens, Henry could slide in the draft because he’s not a good fit. If the Cowboys do want to take him, early second round would probably be appropriate value.
Derrick Henry is fast, decisive, and powerful. His size allows him to run over defenders, and his combination of power and speed give him the potential to be a frightening workhorse RB. However, he also lacks short area quickness, and that limits the schemes that he will be able to have success in. To have success, he will need to go to a team that will look to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. In the passing game, Henry doesn’t add value as a receiver, but can perform simple tasks. He needs to work on his pass protection, but has a foundation that could lead to him becoming a very good blocker.