Derrick Henry's Heisman Triumph Signals the Return of the Running Back

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 13, 2015

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryMike Stobe/Getty Images

He's back.

No, not Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. His decision on whether to bolt to the NFL or return to Alabama for his senior season probably won't happen until after the College Football Playoff.

The running back position, however, is back.

Henry claimed the 2015 Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City, edging out Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. Henry set the single-season SEC rushing record this year with 1,986 yards, scored 23 times and joins fellow running back Mark Ingram (2009) as the only two Heisman Trophy winners in Alabama history.

"Ever since I was a kid, this has been a dream of mine and a lifelong goal," Henry said on ESPN's broadcast of the presentation. "I'm just so thankful.

"Growing up, I had this dream. I'm so nervous; I never thought I would be up here. But God is good."

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryJulie Jacobson/Associated Press
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Henry is just the third running back since the turn of the century to claim college football's most prestigious individual award; Reggie Bush had to give back his 2005 award after the NCAA sanctions hit USC.

There will be more in the future.

Nothing about Henry's season was sexy, at least by Heisman standards. He was punishing, physical and relentless, which looks like it might be the new normal for the award.

The final voting, as provided by Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated, is another indication that the death of the running back has been greatly exaggerated. 

Henry won in a close vote—the closest since 2009, in fact. But his consistency through most of the voting regions is remarkable for a running back in an award driven by quarterbacks.

What's more, five of the top eight finishers were running backs, including McCaffrey, LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott.

Think about that for a second—Watson and Oklahoma signal-caller Baker Mayfield are starting quarterbacks with video-game statistics on teams that are in the College Football Playoff, which used to be the perfect recipe for Heisman success, and they were almost afterthoughts in the year of the running back.

It's another sign that running backs have returned.

McCaffrey, Fournette and Cook will definitely come back in 2016, and they will be joined by Oregon's Royce Freeman, Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, North Carolina's Elijah Hood, Georgia's Nick Chubb, Penn State's Saquon Barkley and potentially many others. 

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryMike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Now that Henry broke through that Heisman glass ceiling, what's to prevent any of these top-flight running backs from going toe-to-toe with the best quarterbacks in the game for the 2016 Heisman?

Nothing.

The running back isn't just back in college football, it's true in the NFL, too. 

Former Georgia running back Todd Gurley and former Wisconsin standout and 2014 Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon were both taken in the first round of the most recent NFL draft, after no running backs were selected in the first round during the previous two drafts.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson returned from nearly a year off to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,251 yards through 13 games, and Carolina Panthers star Jonathan Stewart is third in the NFL with 914 yards in his eighth season in the league.

Great running backs aren't interchangeable—they're indispensable.

The crop of running backs littering the Heisman top 10 and rendering star quarterbacks as secondary figures this year are proof the position is back, and the success of top-tier running backs—both young and old at the next level—are proof that it isn't going anywhere.

In the past, the Heisman was a quarterback-driven award. Expect the running backs to carry more of the load in the future.

Fitting.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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