Perhaps no running back has made a more indelible mark on college football’s first month than Memphis’ Darrell Henderson. The former South Panola High School (Miss.) star has been a factor since his arrival on campus, but this could become a season to remember.
Through three games, he is averaging nearly 14.5 yards per carry while leading the nation in rushing yards (521). He is also tied for second in the country with six rushing scores. The added strength he put on this offseason could explain some of his early season success (https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/sports/college/memphis-tigers/football/2018/08/04/memphis-tigers-football-darrell-henderson-mike-norvell-aac/858753002/). Over the course of the last three seasons, DraftNasty has gotten the opportunity to see Henderson play live on three different occasions. Here are some of the attributes which make him such a difficult player to get on the ground.
Some of Henderson’s best moves come in-between the hash marks setting up second and third-level defenders. To get there with ease, he runs with a center of gravity low to the ground that allows him to bounce off would-be tacklers. This becomes evident on the team’s outside zone (stretch) run game principles versus force defenders.
The patience that he shows in allowing his offensive linemen to reach block defenders creates cutback lanes for him back into the middle of the field. In the clip pictured to the left, he forces UCF free safety Tre Neal to overrun a tackling angle that results in a 30-yard touchdown scamper in the 2017 AAC Championship Game. Neal weighs 215 pounds and Henderson -standing 5-foot-8- checks in around the 205-pound mark.
SPEED-to-POWER/YARDS AFTER CONTACT
Henderson gets to full speed in a hurry once he hits the accelerator button. A combination of lower and upper body power allows him to run through tacklers. Versus Georgia State last Friday, he buckled freshman safety Chris Bacon once he burst through the line of scrimmage. Later in the first quarter, Bacon overran Henderson on a top-down angle as Henderson displayed his ability to stop-and-start with relative ease on an outside stretch play. It resulted in a 54-yard touchdown that showcased his game-breaking speed.
Since arriving on campus, Henderson has showcased capability on special teams. Although he has just four tackles in the course of his career, three came during his freshman campaign in 2016. On his 18 career kickoff returns, he has averaged 22.5 yards per return with one score. Overall, this is not an area (special teams) to expect to see him in much during the year, but he will show up as a kickoff returner and punt cover guy in big games (see 2017 AAC Championship Game). As seen in the picture , he runs with passion as a kickoff returner.
Vision is one of the top characteristics many college recruiters identify at the running back position. Aside from the outside zones, the Tigers used a combination of weakside one-back powers in 2017. The team would pull its backside guard and tackle while blocking down with the center, guard, tackle and tight end on the front side of the formation. When they did, it was Henderson’s job (from an offset shotgun alignment) to find a crease and get vertical quickly. They also employ him at the Wildcat quarterback in the shotgun to add an insert blocker on outside runs. His cutback ability shines on these types of schemes.
As a freshman in 2016, the team used him on wheel routes from the offset running back position. In these instances, he’s shown the ability to snag passes away from his frame (3rd and 6, Cincinnati ’16, vs. 3-cloud defensive look). They also occasionally use him in the screen game to the weakside of their formations away from speed motion (by the Z-WR) to the strong side. Versus Georgia State last Friday night, he lined up at the No. 2 slot position to run a quick out in the team’s Empty Gun Spread Trips Left formation. Henderson averages 11.5 yards per reception for his career (53 receptions, 6 TDs).
Despite 319 touches in three seasons, the eighth-leading rusher in Mississippi high school history has fumbled just twice during his time in school. He holds the ball high and tight to his frame and rarely allows it to swing loose from his frame.
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Despite the ball security, Henderson does have a tendency to run as a left-hand dominant runner. Even when he is running to his right he is most comfortable with the ball in his left hand. Take a look on the picture to the right. Henderson is running a right kickoff return towards the right sidelines versus UCF in the 2017 AAC Championship Game with the ball high and tight in his left elbow. While he is also able to jump cut and make defenders miss with sudden stops in momentum, he carries some tightness in the lower body. As a tightly-wound athlete, he has to pay increased attention to flexibility moving forward. He was unable to play in the 2017 Liberty Bowl versus Iowa State due to an undisclosed lower body injury.
Regardless, the former 2014 Mississippi Gatorade Football Player of the Year has increased his production at a time where the Tigers are transitioning from All-AAC quarterback Riley Ferguson to former Arizona State quarterback Brady White. In three games, White has thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception. In his own estimation, Henderson is a big reason the transition has been so smooth.
“I love it,” White said, when asked about having Henderson lined up behind him. “It makes my job easy. You just hand the ball off and watch him run to the end zone. It’s been a huge help to have that guy in your backfield.” (–https://gotigersgo.com/news/2018/9/14/football-henderson-white-lead-tigers-past-georgia-state-59-22.aspx)
---By: Corey Chavous, DraftNasty Staff Reports