With a tremendous all-around performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, Derrick Henry proved he's the kind of old-school thoroughbred running back that's become an endangered species in the NFL.
After measuring in at a massive 6'3", 242 pounds, with a 33-inch arm length that put some offensive tackles to shame, Henry showed he's every bit as explosive as his smaller colleagues. Henry's 37-inch vertical leap and 130-inch broad jump were fifth- and second-best, respectively, out of 15 tested backs.
Then he ran his 40-yard dashes:
At Henry's size, turning in an official 40-yard dash time of 4.54 seconds is outstanding. That's an awful lot of muscle mass going very fast in the second level and a big load to bring down.
Vanishingly few collegiate backs get a pro-style workload these days. Henry didn't just lead the FBS in every rushing category with 395 rushes, 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns in his final college season. Those numbers top many of his fellow combine tailbacks' career output.
Though a long line of Alabama tailbacks have carried big loads in college only to become marginal players at the next level, the Heisman Trophy winner proved he's in a different class than those who preceded him.
"Today was about proving he's not just another Alabama running back," said NFL Network analyst (and Hall of Fame running back) Marshall Faulk. "We saw a guy that was explosive, ran well for a guy his size—and I'm not going to lie, did well catching the ball."
In fact, NFL Network's tale-of-the-tape comparison didn't put Henry up against any current NFL tailback, but a monster runner on the other side of the ball: Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller:
"His measurables are outstanding," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said after the running backs finished working out. "He's a powerful guy that gets stronger as the game goes on."
Many NFL decision-makers learned the game in an era when the running game was the foundation of the offense and big backs were pulling their team to Super Bowls. They will look at Henry as a throwback to those days and want to hitch their wagon to him.
But how many NFL coaches are really ready to throw their offense back to the Oregon Trail days?
Only the Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings ran more often than they threw in 2015—and the Panthers and Seahawks only barely joined that group because they each had a quarterback who ran over 100 times.
The Bills and Vikings have their bell-cow backs in LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson, respectively. While Vikings general manger Rick Spielman openly mused about finding Peterson's heir during his combine media session, it's hard to imagine the Vikings drafting Henry as a backup while trying to stave off the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North in 2016.
In fact, Henry is certain to run the rock less in the NFL than he did in college. His per-game average of 26.3 carries in 2015 outpaced the NFL leader, Peterson, by nearly six carries a game.
Henry is an incredible specimen, but he's just not going to be the same back getting a diet of 12-15 touches.
Whichever team drafts him is going to have to commit to the run. That doesn't just mean paying lip service to it, as all coaches do, but building their entire offense around it.
That means getting heavy-handed maulers up front, as opposed to long-limbed dancing bears better suited for pass protection. It means having tight ends who can block—not just slow wide receivers. It means building a defense that won't give up early leads, and not abandoning the run as soon as you go down by more than one score.
A lot of fans are looking at Henry's incredible potential and rightly wanting him on their team. A lot of NFL coaches are thinking the same.
But if we're ever going to see Henry at his best on Sundays, the team that drafts him must fully commit to going as far as he can carry it.