Darrell Henderson Has Intriguing Fantasy Football Upside on the Rams
That's how many yards new Los Angeles Rams rookie Darrell Henderson averaged per carry in each of his last two seasons with the Memphis Tigers. Each time he carried the rock, Henderson averaged 89 percent of the yards needed to convert a typical first down.
Even considering that yards per carry is an overrated statistic to use when evaluating running backs -- at numberFire, we prefer to look at Rushing Success Rate and Rushing Net Expected Points -- it's hard to ignore that level of efficiency, especially when he maintained it for two consecutive seasons.
Chunk Gains Are His Thing
So how did he accomplish that? With top-level speed for a running back. Henderson's 4.49-second 40-yard dash time ranked him in the 81st-percentile among running backs, per PlayerProfiler.com. That speed was evident on his 2019 class-leading 27 runs of 20 or more yards this past campaign. If Henderson made it into the second level in 2019, there was a good chance he was taking that run to the house.
He's no Ronald Jones, either. While Henderson is "undersized," according to some, at 5'8" and 208 pounds, his 31.6 Body Mass Index (BMI) measures in the 80th percentile, per PlayerProfiler. In other words, he is on the shorter side, but he's not small.
Looking at body composition alone, he looks almost identical to Devonta Freeman (5'8" and 206 pounds when he was drafted). Henderson has the body mass composition to hold up at the NFL level, unlike some of the smaller, speedster-type running backs we've seen in some recent classes -- for example, Jones had a BMI in the 17th-percentile at his combine, Tevin Coleman ranked in the 19th-percentile, and Philadelphia Eagles 2017 fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey ranked in the 2nd-percentile.
Also, Henderson was about as dependable as possible in his time at Memphis, missing just one game in his three seasons there -- his team's 2017 season bowl game against Iowa State. He left two games early during that time, but he never suffered any of the kind of lingering injuries that might worry NFL teams.
Henderson also has sneaky upside as a receiver. Memphis didn't utilize him often as a pass-catcher because they had the electric Tony Pollard filling their satellite back role, but Henderson still caught 63 passes in his collegiate career, averaging 12.0 yards per reception. On his 19 junior-season catches, he averaged a strong 15.5 yards per reception, 2.34 more yards per grab than what passes to the rest of his teammates averaged. The volume wasn't there for him through the air, but his efficiency is indicative of the upside he brings as a pass-catcher.
Henderson's ridiculous per-carry numbers helped him compile the most rushing yards in 2018 among draft-eligible running backs -- a whopping 1,909 yards. The 295 yards he added in the receiving game pushed him up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his final season with the Tigers. Those top-notch yardage totals culminated in a class-leading 22 rushing touchdowns, with another 3 as a receiver.
The Fit With the Rams
But Henderson's top-notch college profile doesn't guarantee him an easy passage to becoming a fantasy stud. In fact, he has possibly the biggest hurdle in the league to jump before that can happen: Todd Gurley.
We all remember the end to Gurley's 2018 season. He missed the final two games of the regular season, and then not only did he split carries with C.J. Anderson in the playoffs, Gurley produced worse than his fresh-off-the-street replacement during that stretch. It wasn't until the offseason that a report surfaced stating that Gurley suffered from arthritis in his knee, further complicating matters.
The Rams did not re-sign Anderson this offseason but did re-sign Malcolm Brown, so it's hard to read those tea leaves to determine their confidence in Gurley's health. However, the fact that the team was willing to trade up for Henderson near the top of the third round indicates that regardless of Gurley's health, they preferred Henderson to any alternatives already on the roster. If Gurley aggravates his injury or is limited going forward, Henderson should have first dibs on those touches, and the fact that LA felt the need to trade up for any running back certainly isn't a ringing endorsement of Gurley's health.
It's too soon to truly speculate about Gurley's health going into the 2019 season, but his knee injury will be the judge that determines Henderson's fantasy fate. If Gurley is healthy again and serves in a workhorse role, Henderson will likely be relegated to handcuff status. If Gurley isn't fully healthy, Henderson's profile as an explosive running back with passing-game upside could be a deadly combination in the running back-friendly system the Rams run.
If Henderson does find his way into significant touches, he could become a top-notch back for fantasy football.
Just imagine: what could C.J. Anderson have done last year with Henderson's 4.49 wheels? I think you get the picture.