Draft season kicked off back in August, but with the bowls complete and the early entrants declared, it is just halftime of the scouting process. Here, Chris Dougherty delivers Derrick Henry and Paul Perkins on two: a trait-based comparison of two highly touted running backs.
There are many methods to evaluate players for the upcoming NFL Draft. One method that is very beneficial to understanding the process is a trait-by-trait comparison. This can explain, despite conventional wisdom, why some players might be preferred by one team over another. For example, when evaluating running backs, some traits better lend themselves to a zone blocking scheme, while others might lend themselves to a power scheme. This might lead a zone blocking team to draft a player ahead of another running back that most people have rated higher.
When scouting any position, it becomes evident very early in the film review process that no two players are the same. This is especially poignant when scouting running backs, as their specific traits are brought into high relief by the offensive schemes they play in. In this head-to-head, trait-based analysis featuring both Derrick Henry and Paul Perkins, we are able to highlight some of what both players do extremely well, things they struggle with, and areas they both could improve.
Vision & Patience
Vision and patience are arguably the two most important traits any successful running back can have. One without the other allows for a dynamic talent out of the backfield. When the two instinctive traits are paired together, you find yourself discussing NFL greats like Walter Payton, Adrian Peterson, and Barry Sanders.
At the outset, it is important to understand how vital anticipation is to having good vision and patience. In essence, anticipation is a sub-trait of the two. A player with good anticipation utilizes both vision and patience together to overcome breakdowns in plays or the overall game. As shown with Derrick Henry, his anticipation for what is going to happen strengthens his vision
of what is currently happening.
Look at the vision and patience of both Henry and Perkins and, at times, you will find two players who exhibit both traits at a high level. As with most collegiate athletes, the lack of consistency within their games are noticeable as compared to a seasoned NFL veteran.
Film review of Henry’s vision reveals a player who manages many successes and failures. There are plays on his film that show the potential generational talent he is capable of being. But, there are also plays that make you wonder what anyone sees in him, despite him being referred to as one of this year’s top backs.
In the above play against Auburn, Henry heads right on a sweep play, and three holes open up nearly immediately. The RB shows great patience waiting for the final outside lane to form from the pulling lineman. Such patience can make or break a play for an offense and, in this case, it moved the chains for Alabama.
Missed blocking assignments are one of the most frustrating aspect in the running game, often resulting in a play breaking down at the line of scrimmage. Such missed assignments disable potential running lanes, and a lost battle at the line of scrimmage undermines any chance of moving the chains.
That is, unless the running back can anticipate a lane through the rubble in front of him. As you can see in the play above, Henry’s blocking breaks down right at the line but, because of his ability to anticipate what’s unfolding beyond what’s in front of him, he’s able to find a lane just as it’s closing. Henry was able to gain 17 yards on a play that was broken before the ball was even in his stomach.
Perkins, like Henry, utilizes his great vision to enable him to gain an edge against opposing defenses. Below are examples of precisely how Perkins is able to manufacture extra yards for his offense with this trait.
Perkins sees his right guard (#51) unable to seal his opponent inside to create a running lane, so he utilizes the space left from the blown assignment to cut back and gain 14 yards.
It’s rare you get to see execution with such finesse and power all in the same play. But that’s exactly what Perkins demonstrates in the above play, taking a broken play at the LOS – much as Henry did – and not once, not twice, but three times using his anticipation and vision to look beyond what’s in front of him and earn extra yardage.
What is impressive about this play is that Perkins has the option to go in any direction off the read option, and yet he opts to trust his lone lead blocker more than the five offensive blockers to his left. It’s that instinctive vision and anticipation that allows Perkins to see beyond what’s already created in front of him in favor of what he can see forming ahead.
While adding this play to the film review could be considered nitpicking, it was just too blatantly awful to not include in a study of Henry’s overall game. There’s a hole as wide as a Texas highway, and Henry cuts right – directly into his offensive linemen, who are locked up in a scrum with the Texas A&M defensive line. In reviewing Henry’s film there were a few consistent errors that indicated this type of poor decision making.
In true head-to-head fashion, Henry and Perkins both display fantastic vision and patience, along with great anticipation. Though both offer very different running styles, their trait similarities in these categories could easily make each running back extremely valuable to the teams that drafts them.
Outside of vision and patience, blocking is a trait where, on film, Perkins distinguishes himself as superior to Henry. While running backs are not often asked to take on the pass rush, it is desirable for a back to have the ability to chip or, in rarer instances, stay in to block when max protection is called.
One of Henry’s worst traits on film is his blocking ability. In the film below, it appears that Henry simply has zero interest in blocking – one of those “not my job” moments:
The above film shows another poor blocking job by Henry, who fails to get his legs under him and drive the defender away. It’s one thing to lose the leverage battle at the line of scrimmage. It’s another to lose the battle when you’re able to anticipate the defender coming at you standing ready with your legs under you.
On the other hand, this is a great blocking job by Perkins, who loses his initial leverage battle thanks to his poor leg burst. Perkins stays with his defender and manages to drive him inside, allowing Rosen to take the play outside the pocket.
Looking at the overall games of both Henry and Perkins, it is evident that both players will be coveted for many different reasons. Henry will be called upon to be the traditional between-the-tackles chain-mover that teams like the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, New York Jets, and Dallas Cowboys love. Perkins, on the other hand, offers more versatility to his game, both as a receiver and as a player who is capable of making defenders miss outside of the box. On film, Henry shows very stiff hips and his change of direction is underwhelming at first sight. Perkins is a shifty runner who reminds me of Tiki Barber.
If you’re looking for a player to help you win in the near term, Henry could be an immediate upgrade. He is a bruising running back who can step in and move the chains as necessary, but he is limited in his blocking ability. While Henry is NFL ready, he is also likely near his ceiling and you will get what you draft.
If a team is, looking to build a running game that might take a couple of years to develop but will produce long term and complement a passing attack, Perkins is the player teams are likely to covet. Henry has seen relative success against top-level competition in the SEC. Where Perkins has a limited résumé, and could be served best with some more football education under his belt. He is more scheme versatile than Henry and capable of doing more out of the backfield, but his inability to run between the tackles consistently means he is not ready to start from Day One.
Follow Chris on Twitter @DoughertyCFB.
Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking downmatchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.
All video and images courtesy Draft Breakdown.