Darrell Henderson And The Chase For RB1

Photo: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson went down with a torn ACL early in the year, the quest has been on to find who would be crowned the top running back in the 2019 NFL Draft Class. On the outside, this class didn't look like it could hold a candle to last year's class. There was no Saquon Barkley or Derrius Guice. There wasn't the duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel or the speed of Ronald Jones. There were guys here and there to like, but it didn't look very top heavy, at least that's what we thought in the summer.

As the year went on, it looked like the non-draft eligible guys were the best options; Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin, Travis Etienne from Clemson, A.J. Dillon from Boston College. But none of those guys helped us answer the question of who was going to be the top running back in the 2019 NFL Draft.

As the year has gone one, one back has rise to the top of the national stat sheet. It isn't David Montgomery or Myles Gaskin or Bryce Love. It's Memphis' Darrell Henderson.

Henderson had a nice 2017 last year with over 1,000 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on a 8.9 yards-per-carry average. This season, with a bowl game to go, Henderson is just 91 yards shy of the 2,000-yard mark on the year, and has 22 touchdown in 2018 with that same 8.9 yards-per-carry average again.

Henderson is second in the country, trailing only Wisconsin's Taylor for the most rushing yards in the nation. However, his yards-per-carry average is by far the highest in college football when it comes to bell-cow backs, and that was made evident by his performance in his conference championship game this past weekend.

At 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, Henderson can really get north-to-south in a hurry. He's a homer run hitter of a back, but he does it with power as much as he does straight line speed. I wouldn't say this guy is track and field fast, as he has shorter strides and it does seem like he's putting everything he has into sustaining top speed. But the power he has to bounce of tackles also exists in the power he uses to churn his legs as fast as he can, often too fast for defenders to catch up.

On Henderson's second touchdown of the game, his vision was suspect and his lateral movement was less than ideal, but it didn't matter because of his power, his balance and his determination to get into the end zone.

It's a touchy comparison due to recent discoveries, but Henderson dominates his competition like Kareem Hunt did when he was at Toledo. Hunt was able to translate that kind of production to the NFL, and Henderson is setting himself up to prove that to be the case as well.

Henderson is a really interesting evaluation to me because no back in the country has been more productive than him. Averaging just over 146 yards per game on just 16 touches per game is crazy good.

But I'm still somewhat hesitant on Henderson because when I watch clips like the one above, I always think he's going to get caught from behind, but in the American Conference he never does. I wonder what he would be like at say an SEC level, or more importantly an NFL level.

As stated at the beginning of this article, it is a down running back class. There are going to be many more specialization selections than say coveted pick that can be every-down backs. I think Henderson does a lot of things well with straight running and a determined style with power and balance. But is he the athlete he would need to be to be a first round pick? For that I'm eager to see how he'll test at the Scouting Combine. If he can put up the speed and even the quickness numbers that are adequate for the NFL, then maybe he really can be RB1 in this class.

He certainly has the highlight reel to raise more than a few eyebrows.

Written By:

Trevor Sikkema

Chief Digital Officer

CDO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast.