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Derrick Henry capped off a regular season with his second monster game in a row. After rushing 46 times for 291 yards against Auburn last week, Henry had 44 carries for 189 yards against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Henry finished the year (at least, prior to the playoff) with 1,986 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. [Update: Henry added 56 carries and 233 yards with five touchdowns in two playoff games (and one reception for -6 yards.]

Alabama running backs have been dominant since Nick Saban arrived. Take a look at the table below, showing all rushing stats for players with at least 600 rushing yards in a season since 2009.

Rush             Rece            
Rk             Player Year  School  Att  Yds Avg TD  Rec Yds  Avg TD
1       Derrick  Henry 2015 Alabama  339 1986 5.9 23   10  97  9.7  0
2    Trent  Richardson 2011 Alabama  283 1679 5.9 21   29 338 11.7  3
3         Mark  Ingram 2009 Alabama  271 1658 6.1 17   32 334 10.4  3
4          Eddie  Lacy 2012 Alabama  204 1322 6.5 17   22 189  8.6  2
5         T.J.  Yeldon 2013 Alabama  207 1235 6.0 14   20 183  9.2  0
6         T.J.  Yeldon 2012 Alabama  175 1108 6.3 12   11 131 11.9  1
7       Derrick  Henry 2014 Alabama  172  990 5.8 11    5 133 26.6  2
8         T.J.  Yeldon 2014 Alabama  194  979 5.0 11   15 180 12.0  1
9         Mark  Ingram 2010 Alabama  158  875 5.5 13   21 282 13.4  1
10   Trent  Richardson 2009 Alabama  145  751 5.2  8   16 126  7.9  0
11   Trent  Richardson 2010 Alabama  112  700 6.3  6   23 266 11.6  4
12       Kenyan  Drake 2013 Alabama   92  694 7.5  8   12 135 11.3  1
13         Eddie  Lacy 2011 Alabama   95  674 7.1  7   11 131 11.9  0

Henry also stands out for being one of just seven running backs since 2009 with 1800+ rushing yards, 20+ rushing TDs, and less than 200 receiving yards.

                                             Rush             Rece
Rk               Player Year          School  Att  Yds Avg TD  Rec Yds  Avg TD
1         Derrick  Henry 2015         Alabama  339 1986 5.9 23   10  97  9.7  0
2       Donnel  Pumphrey 2014 San Diego State  276 1867 6.8 20   23 160  7.0  0
3         Melvin  Gordon 2014       Wisconsin  343 2587 7.5 29   19 153  8.1  3
4             Tre  Mason 2013          Auburn  317 1816 5.7 23   12 163 13.6  1
5           Montee  Ball 2012       Wisconsin  356 1830 5.1 22   10  72  7.2  0
6    Stefphon  Jefferson 2012          Nevada  375 1883 5.0 24   22 170  7.7  1
7          Toby  Gerhart 2009        Stanford  343 1871 5.5 28   11 157 14.3  0

Henry will be one of the more fascinating players to project as an NFL back. On one hand, he’s just the next line in the Alabama running back factory, which has yet to take the NFL by storm. On the other, he’s also been the most successful, and he’s one of the more uniquely one-dimensional in recent history. At 6’3, 245 pounds — if we could trust those measurements — he’d also be one of the most uniquely built running backs in NFL history.

What do you think of Henry?

  • stupac2

    He has the same YPC as Richardson, just way more carries. Why do we think he’d do anything more in the NFL?

    • That seems like really lazy analysis.

      • stupac2

        Sure, I suppose, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Alabama has a trend of producing RBs that don’t really do anything in the NFL, and so I think the prior here should be “unless one of them is outperforming the others, it’s probably just the OL and playing against weaker/slower college defenders.” His stat line is exactly Richardson’s with more carries, which just means more wear and tear on an RB.

        Seriously, what is the case here for him having a better career than Richardson post-college? Is Alabama’s line worse this year? (I’m unaware of any good line-adjusted rushing stats.) From what I’ve seen he’s a straight-line, bowl-you-over back, and those types don’t tend to do anything in the NFL, at least not in recent years.

        • Well, where do you think he will be drafted?

          • stupac2

            I don’t follow the draft much so I don’t know (it depends so heavily on teams’ needs and players available). I do know that if I were a GM who needed a running back and wanted to draft one early-ish (which I wouldn’t be, since it seems like a way better use of resources to get one late or as a UDFA), I’d be looking much more closely at Elliot and Cook. I think the combine will tell us a lot about the relative order of those 3 guys, since it seems like 40 time is pretty important for RBs in the NFL.

            • Yeah, I agree that Henry’s 40 time will be scrutinized. If he does well there, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a 2nd round back.

        • Richie

          “Alabama has a trend of producing RBs that don’t really do anything in the NFL”

          Is this actually true?

          Since joining the NFL in 2011, Mark Ingram has the 16th-most rushing yards. That’s not awesome, but puts him in the top half at least and he’s on pace for his first 1,000+ yard season this year.

          Eddie Lacy ranks 6th in rushing yards since joining the NFL in 2013.

          They each have a Pro Bowl as well.

          And this season TJ Yeldon is 15th in rushing yards.

          These guys aren’t dominating, but they are solid starters.

          • stupac2

            Counting stats are meaningless. Richardson is a famous bust, and this year Lacy and Yeldon are 30 and 31 in DVOA, though Ingram is top 10. Maybe I was a bit harsh, but given their production in college I think it’s safe to say that you’d want to see more out of them that what you’ve gotten, which seems to be solidly below-average between the whole lot.

            • Richie

              “Counting stats are meaningless.”

              I wouldn’t say they are meaningless. But I agree not the best way for in-depth analysis. But it is a quick way to see whether a coach has confidence in a player or not.

            • I don’t think counting stats are meaningless, and certainly not for running backs. Since Jones-Drew went down in 2012 the Jaguars have not really had much at RB (though Denard had a nice tiny stretch), but Yeldon at least looks like the RBotF there.

              Richardson has been a bust. Lacy has been really inconsistent, but he’s flashed top five ability. At his best, he can be a stud, but he can also be benched. It’s too early to say much about Yeldon, but he looks pretty good to me. He’s averaging close to 90 YFS per game.

  • Dan

    Henry only stands out from previous Alabama RBs in terms of his share of the workload and his size. The workload is good news about the coaches’ opinions of his talent relative to Kenyan Drake, and about his body’s ability to hold up to a large workload, but that still doesn’t make it all that informative about his NFL prospects.

    To take one example: Alabama’s rushing TDs are pretty much right in line with what they’ve done in previous years, but this year they’ve given Henry 69 red zone carries (most in college football) and only 10 to Drake. Henry’s conversion rate in the red zone, and in short yardage situations, aren’t anything special (relative to previous Alabama RBs, or other teams’ RBs).

    I’d put Henry behind Lacy & Richardson, as an NFL prospect, and ahead of Yeldon. Though that’s actually a pretty wide territory, since I loved Lacy and didn’t like Yeldon very much. Ingram came before I was paying much attention.

    Here are the combined rushing stats of Alabama’s top 2 RBs, for each of the past 7 years (with each season pro-rated down to 13 games).

    Year Att Yds Avg TD
    2015 411 2333 5.7 24
    2014 340 1828 5.4 20
    2013 299 1929 6.5 22
    2012 352 2256 6.4 27
    2011 378 2353 6.2 28
    2010 270 1575 5.8 19
    2009 386 2237 5.8 23

    2011-12 are a clear peak (the Eddie Lacy years), and if you’re a fan of efficiency over volume you can include 2013 in there.

    • Richie

      “I’d put Henry behind Lacy & Richardson, as an NFL prospect, and ahead of Yeldon.”

      Hasn’t Yeldon already showed he is a better pro than Richardson?

  • sacramento gold miners

    Just like the QB position, many highly touted college RBs can’t translate their success to the NFL. I haven’t had the chance to see much of Henry yet, but it’s strange to see the struggles of Alabama RBs in the NFL. Despite all of their historic success, often using a run based attack, you have to go all the way down to 32 to see a Crimson Tide back on the career rushing list. Very odd not to see Bama with a HOF RB, either.

  • After watching him the past few seasons, the thing that always jumps out at me is his height, he looks so tall out there. Has anyone done a deep dive on RB stats over history charting height vs. production? I know Marcus Allen was 6’2″ and Bo and Herschel were 6’1″, and they are a trio of all time greats (Bo’s NFL career cut short, so I am factoring in college as well). Charts below are a small sample size and I’d be curious to know how many 6’3″ and taller backs have had solid careers.


    • Glycoproteins

      Chase wrote about running backs and BMI back at the old PFR blog: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=489

      Here’s an article about the trend toward shorter: http://www.footballperspective.com/running-backs-getting-shorter-and-heavier/

    • sacramento gold miners

      It’s difficult for a tall back to succeed, because often these players run slightly more upright and take more punishment than others. It’s not a good combination, one guy who comes to mind was Rod Bernstine of the Chargers. Bernstine was very productive transitioning from the TE position, it was odd seeing him keep the #82 as a RB. But the hits took their toll, and a knee injury ended his career as a Bronco wearing #33.

    • LightsOut85

      Looking at the DYAR/DVOA era (’89+), from Football Outsiders, backs (listed as) taller than 5’11” & equal-to/smaller than 215** tend to be a lot more rare among the better RB seasons (year to year). (Best BMI of the whole sample, between 30.0 & 31.9, but with the aforementioned criteria, it’s about 29+). I’d imagine this is because mechanically taller people aren’t able to cut as well as a shorter person, and a bigger person normally isn’t as fast. The exceptionally tall/big guys who have notable success tend to be physical freaks who have the agility/speed of shorter/lighter backs.

      **For both DYAR & DVOA, 205&> and 206-215 stood out in terms of average DYAR/DVOA, even with Barry Sanders & Emmitt Smith removed (seeing as they had the most appearances in each group, possibly affecting the average).

      Of the 375 top years/seasons (I believe, top 15 from 89 to 2013) of DYAR, only 11 were 6’3″+. 3 by Brandon Jacobs, Rod Bernstine, & Eddie George, 1 by Dickerson & 1 by Brad Muster.

      For the 375 season of DVOA (efficiency, rather than total value), there were only 10. 4 by Bernstine, 3 by Jacobs, and 1 by Muster, George, and TEN RB (2007) Chris Brown.

      So if we’re talking solid career, it’s pretty much just Bernstine from 1989 onwards, maybe Jacobs but he was so spotty. (George too, if you’re okay with high-total value but low val/att).

      • Richie

        I didn’t realize Eddie George was so tall. I would definitely say George had a “solid” career. He ran for 1,000+ yards in 7 of his first 8 seasons. And the year he missed (his 6th), he ran for 939. He was never spectacular, and never had any huge TD or YPC seasons, but he was a reliable 300+ carry back. 4 Pro Bowls and an All Pro.

        George is the only player ever to have 300+ carries for 8 straight seasons. (Tomlinson had 7.)

        Only Walter Payton (10 seasons) had more total seasons with 300+ carries. Upon further inspection, maybe the only reason George had a longer streak than Payton was because of the 1982 strike. Although Payton wasn’t on pace for 300 carries in the strike year.

        • LightsOut85

          I don’t think George was bad, and that streak is nothing to sneeze at, but the YPC situation has always soured me. (7 of 9 years under 4ypc (with the 2 only being 4.1), and 4 years under 3.5). Off the top of my head there’s no one in his range on the all-time yard-or-carry lists that consistently perform that poorly with regards to efficiency. (And I don’t put much stock in PB/AP if there isn’t any other evidence. 403 carries is the only notable aspect of his AP season. 403 carries at 3.7 a pop. His YPG that season doesn’t even hit the top 100 (min 12 games). He only had 100+ yards in 6 of 16 games (7, if you spot him one with 98). Without checking every member of the top of the single-season most-carries list, I’d have to imagine (given his YPG) that’s number is a lot below average).

          Granted, I acknowledge that YPC more of a reflection of frequency & “intensity” (length) of big-plays. That, perhaps George had a (very) low frequency of low-intensity long-runs that created an unimpressive YPC – but maybe instead he brought value as a tackle breaking beast & consistently churning out short gains (& first downs). But even then (if we don’t feel breaking off big gains to some degree is the duty of a good RB), it’s not as if there are no other backs who are great at those things (who also have a better YPC/big-play ability). Other than having great durability, I don’t hold him in any special light. To me he fits in with other players whose names have “stuck around” pretty much because they were compilers. He’s significantly outclassed (in terms of efficiency) by those around his ranks on the all-time attempt & yard lists.

          • Richie

            Don’t worry, I’m not putting him in the HOF. Just saying his career was “solid”.

            There are two members of the “1500+ rushing yards at less than 3.8 ypc” club: 2000 Eddie George and 1984 James Wilder. Their seasons were pretty similar, with Wilder being more productive in the passing game:

            • LightsOut85

              I’ll tone it down a bit 🙂

              Ooo, that’s a stat-feather I’ll have to put in my cap. Interesting, in a way, that these only 2 are both 6’3″ & 225+

  • Matt

    He’s not going to be a great NFL RB. He has better vision than Richardson but he doesn’t have high top end speed and he won’t be bigger than the LBs tackling him in the NFL.

  • Duff Soviet Union

    Without ever having seen him play, I wouldn’t spend a first or second rounder on him. My default opinion on any “unstoppable” college back is “I bet his offensive line is awesome”. The reason why there’s much less correlation between draft status and pro success for running backs than at any other position (ignoring kicker and punter) is that, much like in the pro’s, the “best running backs” are really just the guys running behind the best offensive lines.

    The workload also scares me. Any time a back is described as a “bell cow” or a “bruiser” it just means “slow guy who can’t catch”. Don’t want.