Darrell Henderson: A Must Own in Dynasty and Redraft
The most polarizing player to come out of the 2019 NFL Draft—not named Hakeem Butler—could easily be the newest addition to the Los Angeles Rams’ running back room. That man would be 5’8”, 208-pound yards-per-carry freak Darrell Henderson. Henderson currently sports one of the highest standard deviations between rankings in Fantasy Pros’ consensus rankings, though he ranks as the RB48 for redraft purposes according to our own John Paulson’s rankings, a full +22 over consensus. The opinions on the 2019 third round running back vary from immediate high-level contributor to nothing more than a change-of-pace back that is solidified as the third running back on the depth chart regardless of Todd Gurley’s health (which is something we’ll be hitting on later).
Before we get too wrapped up in the details about whether Henderson will or will not see the field this season, let us first look back and see exactly how we got to this point.
Darrell Henderson had incredibly high college production during his three years in Memphis; buoyed often by a bevy of breakaway runs that certainly helped his absurd 8.9 yards per carry over the 2017-2018 seasons. Though his straightaway speed is decent (4.49 40-yard dash at the combine), this is not the only thing he relied on to find himself in open space and off to the races; he kept his balance and consistently fought for extra yards after contact. Outside of simply watching the tape—like this 2018 game against no. 8 UCF—we have the numbers to back it up.
Pro Football Focus’ numbers, for one, loved him:
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 12, 2019
And lest you think he’s a smaller running back making all of his hay on sweeps and outside runs, he was just as effective gaining yards after initial contact no matter the gap he went through:
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 18, 2019
If you’ve seen any of Henderson’s college tape before, or if you’ve just come across it from this article, it’s easy to glean that his offensive line was damn good. According to Yards Created guru Graham Barfield, the Memphis O-Line created 2.54 yards per carry every time Henderson carried the ball—the most Graham has ever charted by over half a yard. I don’t see why we should punish him for having good blocking, but I do understand that his numbers would be more eye-popping if he were doing this behind five scrubs against Power Five competition.
Nonetheless, in 2018 Darrell Henderson took what was given to him and turned 27 of his runs into 20+ yard gains (first in the nation), 25 of his touches into scores (second in the nation), and averaged 15.5 yards per reception (fifth in the nation among RBs with 10+ catches). His 4,300+ career scrimmage yards were clearly earned.
The NFL Draft and Offseason Chatter
At No. 70 overall, the sixth pick of the third round, the Rams traded up to select the subject of our article, despite matching the Detroit Lions’ offer sheet on restricted free agent Malcolm Brown earlier in the offseason.
I suppose I’ll get my take on this situation out of the way and we can move on. I’m not concerned about undrafted free agent Malcolm Brown’s potential to take away meaningful snaps from Todd Gurley or Darrell Henderson. The Rams were simply matching a (relatively) cheap two-year, $3.25 million contract before the draft in case they were not able to snag a running back of their liking. I don’t believe Brown risks being cut. They invested at least something in him and likely appreciate that he knows the offense and scheme, but I don’t believe he will get much more than emergency touches. They would not have been riding C.J. Anderson through the fantasy playoffs if they had confidence in Malcolm Brown.
As for the third running back selected in the 2019 draft, I believe Henderson is very much a threat to Todd Gurley’s workload beginning in Week 1 of the regular season, regardless of health. But let us acknowledge the elephant in the room before we go on ignoring it. Todd Gurley’s knee is a huge question mark, and yes, we should be worried.
Since entering the league in 2015, Gurley has more touches than any other skill position player. By a lot.
(Picture courtesy of https://www.pro-football-reference.com/)
The questions about his knee may not even be entirely based on his workload, either. "Pro Football Doc" David Chao presumes in this article that Gurley’s knee arthritis could be the result of an ACL tear all the way back in 2014:
“It is not uncommon for arthritis to begin with an ACL tear. If the articular cartilage is like tread on your tires, arthritis can be considered any wear or tear to the tread of the tire. Most tires have wear and tear. The problem arises if there is too much.
If the arthritis is full thickness, this will be a bigger issue.”
While he goes on to say that he by no means believes it will end Gurley’s career, he’s certain that the 250-carry/300-touch seasons are a thing of the past. We could of course sit and pontificate on the seriousness of Todd Gurley’s injury until the cows come home but let’s get off the guy’s back. Besides, according to Sean McVay, the drafting of Henderson had nothing to do with what they already had on the roster.
Les Snead and Sean McVay emphasize that they have wanted a change of pace back and that is why they selected Darrell Henderson. McVay called him a unique playmaker, and when asked, said this pick was about Henderson’s skills and not Todd Gurley’s knee.
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) April 27, 2019
Whether we should believe that entire statement or not, we should dig into exactly what sort of system fit Darrell Henderson will be for McVay’s offense. It seems from the Rams’ point of view that Darrell Henderson will be a change-of-pace guy in the ilk of Alvin Kamara. Now, Alvin Kamara caught 81 balls en route to 200+ touches his rookie season. I wouldn’t be expecting that much volume but it’s an uplifting thought.
In a recent interview with the Orange County Register, University of Memphis Head Coach Mike Norvell was ecstatic about the selection of his former running back to Los Angeles. “I don’t know if there’s a better fit in the NFL for him than the Rams” he said. The article goes on to reference the similarities in schemes;
“Norvell had already digested hours of the Rams offense over the past year, gleaning what he could. He noted how similarly he and McVay used running backs, deploying them all over the field. Memphis handed off to its backs out of shotgun formation more frequently. But like the Rams, the Memphis offense subsisted on a heavy dose of outside zone runs, which asked backs to run off tackle while patiently reading the defense before cutting upfield.”
We don’t have to go off the coach’s words, alone. We have hard facts to back it up.
Rams ran outside zone 217 times during 2018 regular season - 52 more than any other team
Darrell Henderson on outside zone last two years:
10.7 YPC (led nation)
7.0 YAC/Attempt (led nation)
23 First downs
16 broken tackles
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) May 8, 2019
2019 Outlook and Beyond
I’m a big fan of buying Darrell Henderson in dynasty leagues. According to Dynasty League Football ADP, he is still going at the 17th overall pick, which I find to be ridiculous. My Fantasy League ADP has him a little higher at 14th overall, but I still think that’s an easy pick to make. In what is thought to be a “down year” for draft classes, I say you pick the highest upside players that you can. Though it is an admittedly lofty and unlikely ceiling, a Kamara-like outcome is at least somewhat feasible. That possibility alone should keep Henderson in the back half of the first round of rookie drafts.
Early projections for this upcoming season are a little bit modest in my eyes but at the moment Mike Clay of ESPN has him in line for ~ 125 touches and ~ 600 total yards, ranking him as the 53rd overall RB in PPR leagues, while 4for4’s John Paulson has him with ~ 170 touches and ~ 700 yards, finishing at RB48.
With his yards after contact and a system marriage that even Darrell Henderson himself is excited about, I see a perfect addition to my best-ball squad. According to ADP over the last three weeks, he is being selected as the overall 101.1 pick at Draft. That’s in the ninth round after guys like Ronald Jones and Austin Hooper. Start buying in now before his price becomes too expensive.
I’ll leave you with some hype threads to get you excited.
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) March 11, 2019
‘Why Darrell Henderson’
Over a two year span ⬇️
3,584 yards from scrimmage||8.9 ypc||36 touchdowns
Henderson is a game-changing, breath-stealing, heart-stopping athlete who will keep you on the edge of your seat with every touch.
Rams fans, get excited!
Enjoy the thread! pic.twitter.com/JoCKnCDbJS
— AngeloFF (@angelo_fantasy) May 7, 2019
Welp, let’s start a thread...