So to get a better sense of what the Rams picked up, I linked up with Joe Broback of Underdog Dynasty, the SB Nation community for fans of the Memphis Tigers.
Henderson wasn’t highly recruited in 2016, but was able to get into the running back rotation that year with fellow freshman Patrick Taylor, Jr. Man alive, did those two ever deliver over the last two seasons. As for Henderson, how did he develop from the unheralded project in 2016 to someone who nearly hit 2,000 rushing yards this year?
First, and I’m sure Henderson would tell you this, he benefited from having an experienced offensive line in front of him. Four of his five starters up front returned in 2018, giving the Tigers one of the most talented and experienced groups in the conference. As for Henderson, he came to Memphis as a speedster who was raw (like you said, a project), but he quickly worked on his game and added nearly 30 pounds to his frame. He did so without sacrificing that explosive speed we saw the last two years. Even from 2017 to 2018, Henderson’s balance improved and added physicality to his game as well. Becoming a more refined back was clearly his goal, and the results were evident.
While nearly every performance from Henderson was an exercise in explosion, there were a couple games where he was limited including the game against Tulane where he ripped off that early 47-yard touchdown but had just six carries for four yards thereafter. The SMU game late was another one where Henderson didn’t have his typical impact. The game against Missouri probably shouldn’t be included here since he went out injured early on. What limitations held Henderson back at Memphis if any? What are the holes in his game?
The Navy game was an anomaly for the entire Memphis team. It was pouring rain pretty much the entire game, and the Midshipmen had Henderson stuffed all day. The biggest thing with Henderson is his running style. As we’ve said, he’s insanely fast, but sometimes he’s too fast. Changing directions at times would be more beneficial than trying to outrun the defender chasing him. While he had a ton of big runs, a good number of them were due to large holes, so his ability to create on his own will be scrutinized in the NFL. Pass blocking is also a concern, which could limit him as an every down back.
How do you account for the huge bursts in output in year 3? What clicked?
Honestly, he should have produced bigger numbers even in Year 2. Doroland Dorceus was actually the starter through the first few games in 2017 and Henderson split backup carries with Patrick Taylor Jr. Dorceus went down with an injury for the season, and those two took over from there. We saw the magic in Henderson’s game, but only got to see him as a starter in the second half of that season. The 2018 season basically just showed us what we expected. Transitioning to a new quarterback also played a role. Riley Ferguson graduated and Brady White needed time to learn the offense. Current Bears and former Tigers receiver Anthony Miller was targeted and given the ball plenty in 2017, which limited the number of carries Henderson could receive. With Miller and Ferguson gone, Henderson needed to carry the load early and often while White found his role in the offense.
Henderson comes into a pretty unique situation with the Rams having had a successful postseason run despite an unexpected curtailment in the usage of RB Todd Gurley amid the team’s insistence that he wasn’t hampered by injury. As a Memphis fan, what kind of volume are you hoping for from Henderson in his rookie year even on a depth chart with the highest-paid running back in the NFL?
I don’t think anyone expects Henderson to take over for Gurley anytime soon, but Memphis fans know the impact he can have on an offense. His explosiveness is too great not to be used in the offense, and I think fans are just excited to see how Sean McVay utilizes him. Henderson became a more natural pass catcher last year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s utilized in the passing game to get him in space. I’m sure fans would tell you that he could be a great player in the NFL, but for now the Rams should feel good about their new weapon in the backfield.
Let’s look at the program as a whole. Justin Fuente helped turn things around, but Mike Norvell has done a fine job helping guide you guys to 26 wins in the last three years. Taylor’s back for his final season as it QB Brady White. How do you feel about 2019 and beyond? Who are some other Tigers NFL fans should keep an eye out for?
It’s tough to say. Norvell essentially picked up where Fuente left off, but you never know how long he will stay (or if his predecessor can keep the momentum going). Memphis lives in UCF’s shadow in the conference, and they just want to get over that hump first. Taylor is an intriguing prospect. At 6’3”, 223 pounds, he’s a huge back that could intrigue scouts depending on his production. Linebacker/safety hybrid Austin Hall is another that could be interesting. He’s a gamer that know show to make big plays during the clutch moments. The most intriguing prospect will be cornerback TJ Carter. He had a down year last year but was still impactful in every game. Teams tend to avoid his side of the field because it typically doesn’t go well.
Thanks to Joe for the time.