Going back to 2012, NFL teams have selected 250 running backs in the draft, with 27 of those taken in the third round. The Los Angeles Rams have twice chosen backs in round three, in 2014 it was Tre Mason at #75 and in 2019 they took Darrell Henderson at #70.
Mason showed some promise as rookie, but struggled with personal problems and spent only two seasons (2014-15) with the Rams. In 2018, he made a comeback with the Canadian football League and had a solid season. Mason had nearly 1000 rushing and receiving yards, but suffered a knee ACL injury late in the season and it would prove to end his career.
Henderson was drafted out of Memphis. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.49 forty with a stellar 10 yard split of 1.42, a 33.5” vertical, a 10’ 1” broad and pushed 22 reps on the bench. Slightly undersized for lead back role at 5’ 9” and 208 lbs., he has good arm length (31”). Henderson put up big production numbers in college while playing in a running back rotation. In three years, he tallied 4303 yards from scrimmage on 494 touches, a clip of 8.7 yards per touch and scored 44 touchdowns.
As a pro, Henderson’s stat totals are modest. Although his NFL production per touch is solid, injuries have been his bane since joining the Rams. He has been plagued with knee, rib, hand, and soft tissue ailments. Currently, Henderson is a full participant in training camp, after be being limited in OTAs.
Over three years, Henderson has ran for 1459 yards on 326 carries, a 4.5 yard average, and 10 touchdowns. As a receiver he’s added 49 receptions for 372 yards, a 7.6 yard average, and four scores. Overall, he’s had 1831 yards from scrimmage on 375 touches, 5.0 yards per touch.
After almost 2 months of being out of action, RB Darrell Henderson made his post season debut in the Super Bowl and had an impactful game! Picking up 2 huge first downs through the air, Henderson had 50 yards in the victory. Congrats @DarrellH8!!! A key contributor! pic.twitter.com/BiV7RXbZ6h— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) February 15, 2022
2022 is the last year on Henderson’s rookie contact and he will become an unrestricted free agent at seasons end. Will he stay healthy enough to able to capitalize on his skills and get a new contract with the Rams, or will he be allowed to move on after the season? But this article is not about his future with LA, it’s about his past. More to the point, have the Rams gotten a proper return on their investment?
Obviously, he has panned out better than Tre Mason at the Rams team level, but what about those other 25 round three running backs? How does Henderson’s return on investment compare across 10 years of NFL third rounders?
The roster, numbers, and their rankings
First, a little bookkeeping to thin out the field. Of the 27 running backs drafted in the third round since 2012, three where drafted in in 2022, so they won’t be included. Another six are out of the NFL and left out, quite honestly, because their numbers don’t measure up.
Hendo’s numbers: 375 touches / 1831 yards / 5.0 yards per touch / 14 TD’s / 0 fumbles
- Alvin Kamara, New Orleans #67 2017 1285 / 7501 / 5.8 / 67 / 7
- Kenyan Drake, Miami #73 2016 957 / 4919 / 5.1 / 36 / 11
- David Montgomery, Chicago #73 2019 835 / 3732 / 4,5 / 24 / 4
- Devin Singletary, Buffalo #74 2019 602 / 3023 / 5.0 / 14 / 10
- David Johnson, Arizona #86 2015 1268 / 6805 / 5.4 / 57 / 18
- James Conner, Pittsburgh #105 2017 895 / 4392 / 4.9 / 44 / 9
- Damien Harris, New England #87 2019 366 / 1816 / 5.0 / 17 / 3
- Alex Mattison, Minnesota #102 2019 385 / 1822 / 4.7 / 8 / 2
- Royce Freeman, Denver #71 2018 432 / 1842 / 4.3 / 9 / 1
- Duke Johnson, Cleveland #77 2015 841 / 5131 / 6.1 / 23 / 12
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta #73 2015 905 / 4566 / 5.0 / 36 / 7
- Zack Moss, Buffalo #86 2020 245 / 1118 / 4.6 / 10 / 2
- D’onta Foreman, Houston #89 2017 258 / 1226 / 4.8 / 7 / 5
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay #76 2020 71 / 349 / 4.9 / 3 / 1
- CJ Prosise, Seattle #90 2016 116 / 694 / 6.0 / 3 / 2
- Darrynton Evans, Tennessee #93 2020 20 / 99 / 5.0 / 1 / 0
- Trey Sermon, San Francisco #88 2021 44 / 93 / 4.4 / 1 / 0
Where does Henderson fit in?
Even with all his injuries, Henderson should be slotted in at #7. Kamara and Drake have proven to be a stellar value for their respective teams. Montgomery has been a solid player in a bad offense. Singletary is the #1 option on good team. Johnson and Conner have both had injury problems but overall, they are solid pro’s. Production numbers for Hendo and Harris are quite similar and for all-intents-and-purposes they both had rookie redshirt year in 2019. Harris is the Patriots first running option, while Henderson is best suited in a change-of-pace rotational role. Henderson has the edge as a receiver and in ball security.
An investment worth keeping?
There are two arguments against giving Henderson a solid investment rating. One, he’s not the Rams #1 running option, a lot of players drafted in the third round are their team’s go-to guy. And two, the injuries. It’s an over used phrase, but “the best ability is availability” fits Hendo.
Tough to rebut the injury argument, some guys just cannot withstand the physical beating that is the NFL. But Henderson’s ailments are not chronic, so I’m not 100% sure that some of his being nicked up is just a run of bad luck.
Consider though, that he doesn’t have to be the lead back to be a value to LA. Even though Henderson missed five regular season games last season, he gained 864 yards from scrimmage. He can run, catch, and is a willing blocker. He is a seamless fit as a rotational back, it’s a role he’s been accustomed to since his college years.
In 2022, Henderson is due a little over $1.3 mil, closing out his original contract. As for projecting next year’s contract, there’s a wide variance between the high and low ends. The four-year veterans minimum is just over $1 mil and on the high side, James Conner ( #6 on the above list) new deal pays him an average of $7 mil. If both sides can agree on a deal from $2 to 2.5 mil, bringing him back would be a wise move.
Injuries are the only thing holding Darrell Henderson back from being a very good return on investment. His potential is still untapped. Hopefully for the Rams and their fans, Hendo has an injury free contract year and realizes that potential.