Just one offseason ago, everything was all good for the Los Angeles Rams.
They just competed in the Super Bowl, the team was spearheaded by superstar Head Coach Sean McVay, the roster was loaded with talent at all positions, and the franchise was poised to make another deep playoff run in the 2020 NFL Season.
Obviously, things didn’t work out as planned for the Rams as they managed a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs altogether.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Rams pinpointed Memphis Tigers RB Darrell Henderson as a guy they were clearly high on, and somebody they had major interest in adding to an already explosive and potent offense. That’s when the Rams packaged two third-round draft picks to move up to the 70th-overall pick in the third round, which they then used to select Henderson.
Henderson’s rookie season didn’t go as planned with the runner touching the ball only 43 times throughout the season, though his per-touch efficiency suggested Henderson deserved much more usage throughout.
Let’s review Henderson’s rookie season in-depth (stats from Pro Football Reference):
Yards before contact/attempt:
Yards after contact/attempt:
Rush attempts per broken tackles:
The stats aren’t mind-blowing or eye-popping, though one of these stats above prove just how productive Henderson was, and how much talent oozes out of college football’s most explosive runner: the 5.6 rush attempts per broken tackle statistic. Out of all RB’s with 20+ carries this past season, Henderson broke tackles at the highest rate in the league.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Henderson needed 5.6 rushing attempts for every broken tackle of his, and that figure was good enough to place him at first place in the league. Ironically enough, teammate Malcolm Brown came in at second in the NFL, which proves just how tough the duo is and how much they can create post-contact.
Henderson didn’t receive a ton of work, leaving us with only a small sample size to evaluate, though the talent was visible every time #27 touched the field. The rookie surely had some rookie mistakes (like the fumbled pitch against the San Francisco 49ers), but still proved to be an effective RB with a ton of burst, acceleration, and contact balance.
Here’s a highlight tape I put together from his rookie season:
(Google AMP and Apple News news readers can click here to view the clip):
Using Warren Sharp’s Sharp Football Stats, we can further break down Henderson’s performance with charts displaying his success rate by direction (top-left chart), comparing it to the league average success rate by direction (bottom-left chart), and Henderson’s success rate over the average (chart on the right).
As you can see below, Henderson was most productive behind RG, LT, and the far boundaries to the right and left, in that order. Comparing that to the league average, Hendo was far more productive running behind RG and LT, slightly more productive on boundary runs to the left, and far less productive behind RT and to the right boundary.
Some of these stats are more indicative than others, though it’s hard to come to any conclusion based off the small sample size. For example, I used the same directional charts for teammate RB Todd Gurley, and ironically enough, Gurley also struggled mightily running behind RT and to the right boundary, yet had plenty of success behind RG. These charts display a lot of where the Rams were productive — and lack thereof — along the offensive line.
Looking at this chart below, you can compare the rushing success rate by down between the trio of Rams running backs:
As you can see, Henderson was by far the most productive on first downs, yet the least productive on second and third downs (tied with Brown). In total (far right), Henderson actually had the greatest success rate of all the runners coming in at 47%, just nearly edging out Gurley.
You’re probably asking what the hell all of this means and why it’s relevant... well, let me explain.
Henderson’s lack of usage makes it incredibly hard to pinpoint any one conclusion, but we can attempt to extrapolate his usage and make a far more educated guess on his potential impact moving forward because of these in-depth stats and his per-touch efficiency. Henderson didn’t touch the ball much, but when he did, he proved to be a weapon capable of making guys miss (and often).
It’s hard to come to any further conclusions than that, but Henderson was the most explosive CFB running back in his final year in college (and even his sophomore season) when he averaged 8.9-yards-per-rushing attempt and totaled 22 rushing touchdowns.
The Rams have had trouble — particularly with Gurley — breaking off long runs and scoring long rushing touchdowns on the ground, though Henderson has shown plenty of ability in that regard, which is likely why the Rams elected to pursue his talents even after handing Gurley a massive contract extension and re-signing Brown after the Detroit Lions attempted to vulture him.
The best idea moving forward is to continue to scale back Gurley’s workload (or potentially offload him if possible), and to increase Henderson’s workload tenfold, both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield.
Sean McVay is smart enough to make it work in a creative manner, and new Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell will be tasked with bringing new and innovative ideas to keep the stable of running backs happy and involved in a timeshare. A timeshare is inevitable due to the amount of resources the Rams invested in both Gurley and Henderson, and is likely the smartest idea moving forward in a league that rarely deploys the “workhorse” running back any longer.