Alabama running back Derrick Henry smiles in an interview during a media preview for the college football awards at the College Football Hall of Fame, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
After running roughshod over some of the best teams in college football, Alabama running back Derrick Henry took home the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. Henry’s season totals stand with some of the best in school history; the 6-foot, 3-inch, 242-pound junior ran for 1,986 yards while scoring 23 touchdowns, pacing the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide to a FBS playoff berth.
Henry was both dominant and tireless, handling heavy workloads throughout the season as the Tide leaned on the power runner to fuel their offense. Recent Alabama running backs making the transition to the NFL have seen a mixed bag of results, however. While New Orleans’ Mark Ingram has emerged in his fifth season, former star Trent Richardson could find himself out of the league next year. After winning the Heisman, it’s likely that Henry will opt to go pro. Will he succeed? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Henry has been a hero for Alabama but scouting reports are mixed on his pro prospects. Ex-NFL scout Dan Hatman recently told The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union that he believed Henry should be drafted “basically the fourth round.” He’s a tall back who isn’t shifty, and just running over guys in college won’t make for a long career at the next level. “From what can I see of Derrick and what I’m seeing around the NFL, he’s an individual who’s going to be a little more reliant on scheme,” Hatman wrote. “If you want him to stop on a dime, make guys miss and create on his own if the blocking breaks down, he’s not your guy.” Henry may be able to find time in a platoon backfield but it might prove hard for him to earn a starring role in the NFL.
This Nov. 14, 2015, shows Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2) looking across the field for any Mississippi State defenders on his way to a 65-yard touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
Green: The role of the “big” back is still prevalent in the NFL, and there’s always a place for a Heisman winner. Henry will get his chance in the NFL and it’ll be up to him to seize the opportunity, but I believe he can. Hatman goes on to list a lot of Henry’s good traits, noting that “what he has is good balance. And even though he gives a long target for a defender to hit, he takes glancing blows and has subtle moves and he can move 2-3 inches and then, all of a sudden, the hit is glancing and he has the balance to keep moving.” Henry could be faulted for his traits or he could be praised, it all depends on who’s looking. I think Henry can be productive, he runs with power and is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. Alabama running backs have been fairly successful at the pro level. Just don’t draft him too highly, especially within the top five picks. Recent history has proven you don’t take running backs that early anymore. It’s a new league which favors the pass over the run, and quality running backs come a dime a dozen.
Riley: Alabama running backs haven’t exactly blown up the league in recent years and there’s no reason to expect Henry to do so, at least at the first eye test. Special running backs normally do special things, but those things are absent with Henry’s game. I agree with Hatman—we both fail to see the blazing speed or the cat-quick moves possessed by the elite backs of the NFL. The question is not whether Henry will make it into the NFL, but how well will his game translate? His game and history of dominance is no different than any other Alabama running back in their collegiate years and although I hate to group him with anybody else, it’s hard not to see direct similarities to the other “average” running backs that the Tide has produced.
Green: College success and the production of past performers inside the same program can be both detrimental as well as favorable. Henry wears the same college jersey as a handful of players around the league, but that doesn’t mean he can be cast in the same light. He’s a different cut of runner from the guys in his class such as Richardson or Eddie Lacy. Henry’s a better athlete than they are, and he can switch gears quicker than his predecessors. Wherever he goes, he’ll make an impact and emerge as a top-level player.