There is a best-case scenario for Derrick Henry in the NFL.
He can be a bigger, faster version of DeMarco Murray. When Henry is at his best he is a track runner, working in gap schemes or the counter-trap scheme following pulling linemen, allowing his build-up speed to work at the second level. If, like Murray at his best, Henry is behind a strong offensive line in a scheme that suits him, he can have success. If teams believe the 247-pound Henry can wear down defenses, he has to be a foundation of their offense so he can carry 25-30 times a game.
Henry transitions as a pure I-back, a downhill runner who can have success with specific runs that cater to his strengths.
Scheme fit will be important to Henry. I have questions about his overall skills as an NFL runner.
One thing that strikes me is he’s not the kind of runner who broke a lot of tackles, despite his size. He’s a straight-line runner who often went down easily when hit below the waist. He consistently went down on the first hit.
Against Ole Miss, on Alabama’s first drive, there was a sequence in which Henry went down on first contact on three straight runs (you can see it on this video, starting at 3:50).
Henry can be punishing at times due to his size and running style, which features a lot of forward lean. He is a finisher when he can stride and had space, but he’s not as much of a finisher in confined space.
One reason scheme fit is so important is that he must run north and south. He did not show the quick feet and lateral agility of a high-level NFL back. He’s not a change-of-direction runner and will not beat quick penetration with lateral agility and explosive short area quickness, like Marshawn Lynch did so well in his career (the third play in the Ole Miss example above, he got taken down on first contact by quick penetration).
Here’s a run against Michigan State in which he doesn’t show a lot of agility, then gets brought down on first contact on a low tackle.
Henry can also get “stuck” in his cut. He does not possess the lateral skill set that’s so critical in the NFL, in my opinion. Here’s a run against Michigan State in which he got stuck in his cut and got tackled for a loss.
Can Henry get through small cracks at the point of attack? Can he create laterally in confined space? These questions must be answered. So must the concern that with his long frame and tall build, along with his lack of lateral agility, he’ll take a lot of big hits in the NFL.
There is a path to success for Henry, who to me is a base offense, normal down-and-distance back who won’t play in three-receiver sets in passing situations. He’ll need to be in the right scheme, with a staff that has him play to his strengths.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.