Woah nelly! That blue blur on ESPN's primetime programming on Friday night? That was Memphis running back Darrell Henderson, who tore a hapless Georgia State defense to shreds for his second consecutive 200+ yard rushing performance of the season.
Henderson, a junior, is thriving on Coach Norvell's offensive system. Going back to the 2017 season, Henderson has logged 1,134 rushing yards in his last eight games. Oh, yeah. And he's done it on just 95 carries, an average of 11.94 yards per carry.
The eye-popping numbers have come largely at the expense of the American Athletic Conference, although this stretch of contests did include last year's AAC Championship Game against #6 UCF. But what gives? Is this simply a spread offense creating space for a back and letting him break off chunk gains? Is there a dominant offensive line responsible? Is the level competition lacking all around?
You could make an argument that each one is a factor. But the base root of this production lies in one very simple fact: Darrell Henderson is good.
Against Georgia State, Henderson ripped off a long touchdown run that showed several desirable traits.
Ignore the fact that there's a massive lane at the line of scrimmage. There are plenty of examples of Henderson showing anticipation pressing into the line of scrimmage and this is secondary to what Henderson is able to show here.
- Leverage/contact balance
- Vision on the second level
- Secondary acceleration
One of the more underrated things about being 5-foot-9 is being able to consistently stand in the front row of group photographs. Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yes.
Ahem. One of the more underrated things about being 5-foot-9 is having leverage over would be tacklers on a consistent basis. As Henderson sticks his face into the pile on this long run, it's clear his pads are under those of his would be tackler before he spins off to sustain up field push.
To carry this much pace into the second level before being stonewalled initially and sustain balance is no small feat. To then recover, activate the feet and spin to daylight? That's a wonderful play.
It wasn't the only time Henderson showed an aggressive mentality on the second level on Friday night, either.
"SIT DOWN, SIR!"
These words shot out of my mouth in the direction of the television the moment I saw Henderson lay the truck stick. A low to the ground back like Henderson can make you look silly if you come in on him high.
Henderson made several Panthers pay for this on Friday night.
Vision On The Second Level
The ability to identify defensive posture and understand there's space to bounce away? That's a natural gift. Those who have observed Henderson's film with any frequency know it's not a fluke, either. Take this long run against UCLA in 2017, for example:
Henderson turns the corner to find three defenders scraping in pursuit. The most interior defender is perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, flying into the boundary about 5 yards to Henderson's left.
As Henderson addresses the most immediate defender and free-arms himself off the tackle attempt, he processes the over-pursuit by the weak side linebacker and busts out the back door for a long gain.
Henderson is no slouch on size. At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds (listed measurements), there's a lot of muscle on his frame. Yet breaking off chunk gains is a routine part of his game!
Henderson broke two angles in the secondary in the above example from UCLA while also having no challengers on his big run from Friday night.
But try this one on for size:
This initial effort to break contain against a free rusher? That's terrific. But the acceleration afterwards, once he hits the sidelines?
If you look closely, you'll see Henderson is able to break a pursuit angle from one Shaquem Griffin, who ran a blazing 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the 2018 NFL Combine.
No one is going to suggest Henderson runs 4.38. But his secondary acceleration out of his cuts has enough explosiveness to consistently break pursuit angles from second and third level defenders. That's where chunk plays are born.
Overall, Henderson's budding resume is impossible to ignore. And with the injury to Oklahoma's Rodney Anderson, the 2019 running back class is pretty open.
Henderson isn't necessarily going to be a player who challenges to be a top name in consideration, but he warrants your attention at this point.
With a strong finish to the 2018 college season and should he ultimately declare to enter the NFL Draft a year early, he has the look and feel of a mid-round selection who can be a majority shareholder in an NFL backfield.