2013 recruit and 5-star Alabama running back commit Derrick Henry is going to be an exceptional player at the college level.
He's 6'3'', 240 pounds and runs a 4.54 40 according to 247Sports. Essentially, Henry is big, strong and fast enough to play outside linebacker in college, and that's why he's ranked as an athlete by 247Sports. In fact, he's the No. 1 ranked athlete according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings.
That said, if you've ever watched Henry run the ball, you'd know that he's a pure running back and he has what it takes to be one of the greats at the position.
His size and strength allow him to be effective between the tackles, and he runs with a ton of power and forward momentum behind him. He's not afraid to lower his shoulder and break a tackle, and he's always moving his feet. He'll be tough for just one defender to take down—even in the SEC.
Henry is also more than fast enough to run off the edge and break a long play, though, and he'll be able to outrun linebackers and safeties in the second level.
Finally, as if that weren't enough, Henry can be a more than adequate receiver out of the backfield, and if you're feeling very creative, you can motion him out into the slot and he'll be comfortable running routes a receiver.
He really does project to be the complete running back for Alabama. The only kicker—the Crimson Tide's depth chart (Rivals.com) is more than full at the position.
With that in mind, what should Tide fans expect from Henry in 2013?
Frankly, he's too talented not to see the field as a freshman, and Nick Saban generally finds a way to get everybody touches in the backfield. Last season, Eddie Lacy was the main rusher with 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns, but freshman T.J. Yeldon also ran for 1,108 and 12 touchdowns himself—on 175 attempts.
Kenyan Drake (freshman), saw the football 42 times for 281 yards and five scores, and redshirt sophomore Blake Sims notched 30 carries.
With Eddie Lacy heading to the NFL draft, Yeldon should move into the starting role and then it will essentially be a competition for the No. 2 spot after him. That's a competition that Henry should have no problem winning.
He could play the role that Yeldon did last year, and he would play it well.
Henry is a tenacious runner between the tackles, so he'd be a great option on the goal line or in the red zone, and of course, Saban wouldn't need to hesitate use him between the 20s either. The beauty of having two great backs is that Saban can keep both players fresh during the course of the game, and that allows them to be extremely effective when they get the ball.
There's also the idea of putting Henry in as an H-back if Alabama wants to get both him and Yeldon on the field at the same time. Henry is big and physical enough to be a lead blocker on the edges as an H-back, and he could also leak out into the flats and be a receiving option, especially in play-action scenarios.
National recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt of 247Sports mentioned Henry as an H-back candidate back in September of 2012, per a report from Matt Scalici of AL.com:
"Henry has good hands and with his size and build could be a tremendous weapon at H-back or on defense," Shurburtt said. "I think the other two, Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny, are definitely running backs, so it's not like you have too many guys projecting in the same manner."
Playing Henry on defense would be the third option in my opinion. Alabama would be wise to keep him on offense and get him the ball as much as possible, and when he's not running the ball they can use him as a blocker.
In time, I have no problem projecting that Henry will be the next great running back to play for the Crimson Tide. He has a unique combination of size, speed and talent, and that's going to make him very good for Alabama in the future.
In regards to 2013, expect to see Henry play a very important role on Alabama's offense. He has the talent to come in and compete to be Yeldon's backup right away, and don't be surprised if you see him in the backfield as an H-back as well.
Either way, Henry will be a major contributor for Alabama in 2013.