Lumping Derrick Henry in with former Alabama running backs Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy would be a mistake, says NFL draft expert Todd McShay.
The ESPN analyst spoke at length about Henry’s draft prospects on Thursday, and his message was clear: Henry didn’t have nearly as much help as those other names did.
“The offensive line is good, but we’re not talking about the same offensive line talent that they have had there in years past,” McShay said. “I look at what he’s done, and it makes it even more impressive, considering he’s not running behind one of the elite, freakish groups that Alabama’s had.”
McShay currently has Henry ranked No. 2 among running backs, behind Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.
The Heisman Trophy winner has a second-round tag, but that has more to do with his position than his talent.
“I’m not a huge fan of drafting running backs in the first round to begin with,” McShay said. “If you start everyone else at a 100 grade possibility, you start at a 95 with the running backs. To me, he’s maximized what he can do. Listen, I’m not saying he won’t be a first-round pick. He very well could be, but I think you’ve gotta be exceptionally complete, you’ve gotta be exceptional in the passing game, and all those things.”
McShay calls pass catching “the biggest area” Henry needs to improve before the draft. But there’s still plenty to like if the Crimson Tide star is not able to do that.
“It’s hard to look at what he’s done this year and think there’s anything more that he can do,” McShay said. “The guy’s been an absolute workhorse. Love his competitiveness. Just carrying that football team when it needed to be carried. Everyone in the gym knew he was getting the ball, and he still was able to churn up yards.”
Here were some of McShay’s other thoughts on…
…what Henry improved this season: “Vision and patience was an area that I had some frustration with in the preseason. Watching his tape from a year ago. But I thought he improved this year, just setting up blocks and not trying to bounce things outside. I thought a lot of times he was running like a 190-pound scatback a year ago. With that mentality, if you will. Just trying to always bounce things outside. This year, he was a lot better at just hitting it up there, getting what’s available, and trying to break tackles and make guys miss.”
…what makes Henry so effective: “He does a really good job of tempo-ing his runs. By that, I mean just changing the speed of how he’s running. That’s really an important part, as you study really good running backs, of being able to know when he’s gotta hit it hard. When he can kinda get to average speed. And then show that second burst in order to get to get the pursuit angles of defenders and throw them off.”
…those former Crimson Tide stars: “I think when you go back and look, I think there was a lot more around Trent Richardson and some of the other backs that maybe have not had the success that teams expected compared to where they were drafted.”
…what Henry had to overcome: “I don’t think it was there this year on the offensive side for Alabama. Alabama’s solid and good on the offensive side, and they’ve gotten better, I think, in certain areas. But it’s not like he’s got four first-, second-, third-round picks blocking for him and a mid-to-late rounder. Which was pretty much the case in previous years.
“And it’s not like there’s that Amari Cooper elite receiver on the outside that’s taking the safety out of the box. He was doing it against eight-man fronts where you’ve got everyone knowing they were going to run the ball pretty much two out of every three times they snapped the football.”