Derrick Henry: A Draft Evaluation In Context

Scouting ain’t easy. It takes time, an open mind, and training – and even then, a good process can produce bad results. Dan Hatman breaks down the Heisman winner, Derrick Henry, and shares his scouting report.

In a recent interview with Ryan O’Halloran for Jacksonville.com, I was asked about Derrick Henry and how NFL teams may view him. Henry has been a fantastic college player, capturing the Heisman trophy last Saturday. The Alabama running back will be hotly debated leading up to the draft ‒ if he declares.

The valuation of running backs has changed significantly in recent years. Teams spend less draft value and less salary cap dollars on ball carriers, both historically and compared to other offensive positions. This is heavily correlated with an overall philosophy of team building and especially how you would want to build an offense. It is a passing league, and there is evidence teams can find effective running backs in the later rounds of the draft, or even in the undrafted free agent market. Examples like Priest Holmes and Thomas Rawls litter the landscape over the last twenty years.

To answer the question about Henry’s future in the NFL, I turned to my training and fired up the film at DraftBreakdown.com. I am thankful for the work they do as I don’t have access to the All-22 coaches’ film that NFL scouts and a few in the draft media are given. For scouts, this can be an issue as the end zone angle that All-22 provides offers clarity and context, especially on run plays.

First, I went to the 2014 game against Florida in order to establish a baseline for comparison: Did he improve? Does he look bigger? Does he look more comfortable in the scheme?

Next, I watched Henry against Wisconsin and Ole Miss from early in the 2015 season, and then the Iron Bowl against Auburn, both for some late season exposure and to see Henry in a “pressure” situation. Four games is not a thorough cross section, but it does provide a decent baseline.

Looking for essential running back traits like athletic ability, mental processing, and play strength, the goal was to answer these questions:

  1. What sticks out about his running style, toughness, etc.?
  2. Scouts compare Henry to Brandon Jacobs. Yea or nay? And if not, who is the right comparison?
  3. Henry has 546 carries for his Crimson Tide career, but a whopping 339 this year with two games remaining (potentially). Does that kind of workload create any red flags for NFL teams?
  4. If he declares for the draft, where would you take him? Where do you think he’ll go?

Here is my scouting report on Derrick Henry:

My answer to the second part of question four created a bit of controversy on twitter. Player evaluation is impossible in 140 characters and it is too easy for quality work to be boiled down to a “hot take.” Many factors go into my belief that Henry is likely to be selected between 100-150 overall in the draft (if he declares). Weighing heaviest in that assessment is the declining valuation of all running backs by NFL teams in recent years. A team selecting Henry in the 4th round would get the maximum “bang for their buck” – and get a player who could be a big piece of their offensive puzzle.

When the story was picked up by NFL.com and the headline changed to ‘Ex-Scout Calls Henry A Fourth Rounder’, it sparked a backlash. Scrutiny is part of this business and I will share my thoughts / process with anyone who asks. However, the perception that I was bashing Henry does not sit well with me.

A 4th round grade is not “bashing” a prospect, nor is it an indication that Henry is not a talented player with lots to like in his game. While I may not think he has LeSean McCoy-like change of direction or Danny Woodhead-like lateral agility, there are plenty of traits where Henry grades out as well or better. He is a good fit schematically with the right team ‒ like Dallas or Carolina ‒  and could provide many teams with a competent rotation option.

Derrick Henry had a great college season and shows many traits on film that should get him on an NFL roster. But the tape also shows a player who needs the right scheme, lacks elite traits that would make him a first round pick, and needs the right situation to excel. In this way, he is like most mid-round draft prospects, searching for the right fit, as opposed to being a plug-and-play superstar.

Follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Hatman

Dan Hatman is the Director of The Scouting Academy and writes for Inside The Pylon when not teaching future football scouts and coaches how to do their job.

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