A 'Derrick Henry effect' in the 2020 NFL draft? If so, we see one possible clone

The most stunning statistic of this season’s NFL playoffs might be this: QB Ryan Tannehill has less than half the passing yards (160) than his Tennessee Titans teammate, Derrick Henry, has rushing yards (377).

Henry has been more efficient, too: He’s averaging 5.9 yards per rush to Tannehill’s 5.5 yards per pass attempt, a rare tilt in a metric that almost universally is slanted toward passers.

It’s two postseason games, mind you. The sample size is admittedly small. But the stakes are high. Henry is carrying his team to the AFC championship game in a way we’ve not seen in some time.

Is it an aberration? The start of a trend? Somewhere in between?

This part isn’t clear. After all, Henry could be shut down and the Titans could get blown out Sunday by the Kansas City Chiefs. If that happens, the idea of copying the Titans’ path would feel shortsighted.

Even if the Titans beat the Chiefs, or if Henry has a great showing in a loss, here’s the issue for other teams seeking to draw from Tennessee’s success and extrapolate to their own rosters: Henry clones aren’t walking down the street en masse looking for work.

Still, there might be something to be drawn from what the Titans are doing, perhaps even leaking into the offseason on a broader, more league-wide measure. After all, it’s said often, but it bears repeating: This is a copycat league.

It’s almost certain that some team with limitations at quarterback will want to steal a page or two from this blueprint, even if copying the entire thing feels fruitless. Where can a team go to do this?

Where can we find another Derrick Henry?

What has it been like for people to try to tackle Henry? Not fun, Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell found out.

But as we’ve noted, most running backs are not Henry-sized nor Henry-skilled. Far, far fewer possess both qualities combined.

In the past 10 NFL draft cycles, only seven true running backs (not counting fullbacks) invited to the NFL scouting combine weighed more than 240 pounds. Of those six, only three — Leonard Fournette, LeGarrette Blount and Henry — have registered more than five NFL carries in a season since.

Of course, there have been other big backs since then who have played above the 240-pound mark, with Eddie Lacy the other recent example that comes to mind. At the beginning of the last decade, there were others who fit this mold: Brandon Jacobs (264 pounds!), Michael Turner, Michael Bush and Peyton Hillis, and so on.

All of them had moments of brilliance but little staying power, save for perhaps Turner. And the overarching point stands: It’s hard to find players who fit this mold, with the proper mix of power, speed, agility and balance.

Derrick Henry's breakout performance might lead teams to try to find his clone. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Derrick Henry's breakout performance might lead teams to try to find his clone. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“It’s like if [a team owner] came into our draft room and said, ‘Get me another Cam Newton!’ Or ‘let’s find the next Lamar Jackson!’” one NFL national scout told us Wednesday night, laughing at the idea. “Easier said than done, you know?

“These aren’t body profiles and player profiles we see that often. It’s the same with Derrick Henry to a degree.”

Of course, Henry is a free agent next spring. The easiest way to get a Derrick Henry is, well, to get the Derrick Henry. That is assuming, of course, the Titans let him hit the market. The assumption is that it’s not terribly likely he’ll be a free man when the league year starts in March.

Beyond Henry, there are other bigger-sized backs who have their merits. Carlos Hyde, Melvin Gordon, Kareem Hunt and Jordan Howard are free agents. Hyde quietly rumbled his way to 1,070 yards and six TDs at 235-ish pounds, even with a downtick in production down the stretch.

Gordon and Hunt are smaller, in the 215- to 220-pound range, but can run with enough power and quickness, even if each have different causes for concern that could limit their values. Howard is a bigger back with good production and fewer than 1,000 NFL touches, but he’s in no way a Henry clone.

Maybe the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson can be had for a song. He’s a 225-pounder with some punch to his game. But the veteran options remain limited overall.

The draft is a possibility, but even it feels like a shallow pool to find this style of back. But one name does come to mind toward that end from our view.

The 2020 NFL draft? There might be only one Henry clone

It once appeared that there would be a potential bounty in the 2020 WR and RB classes. That remains at least half true now. The strong influx of underclassman talent at receiver makes that position one of the deepest in recent memory. While the RB crop appears strong overall, it might not be the boundless crop envisioned.

With Alabama’s Najee Harris, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill returning to school, the overall depth and talent at running back has taken a noticeable hit for the 2020 draft. Of those three, Harris probably most fits the Henry mold as a brutish, thickly built back (230 pounds) with terrific feet.

There still is a strong group of talent atop the RB class this year. We’re fans of the upper crust; in some order, J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State), D’Andre Swift (Georgia), Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin), Zack Moss (Utah), Travis Etienne (Clemson) make up parts of the first and second tier of what still should be one of the better RB classes in recent years.

But there’s no battering ram among them. Sure, all can win with some measures of power and force. None pack the same punch or possess a Henry-sized frame.

If there’s one back who could be a fairly decent facsimile, it would be Boston College’s AJ Dillion. At 250 pounds — and a body-fat percentage in the 6-to-8 percent range, scouts estimate — Dillon certainly has that kind of frame.

AJ Dillon of the Boston College Eagles might be the one 2020 NFL draft runner who compares to Derrick Henry. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
AJ Dillon of the Boston College Eagles might be the one 2020 NFL draft runner who compares to Derrick Henry. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

He’s also expected to be an NFL scouting combine winner if his past testing numbers hold true. Dillon should kill the vertical-jump portion of the testing — a measure of power and lower-body explosion — and he has been tested in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash in college.

“That is probably the one back in this class I can think of [who] matches up physically and style-wise” to Henry, the national scout said.

Dillon’s body of work as a runner also has some Henry parallels. In 35 games at BC, Dillon ran 845 times for 4,382 yards (5.2-yard average) with 38 TDs. Compare that to Henry running 602 times for 3,591 yards (6.0-yard average) with 42 TDs at Alabama from 2013-2015. Interestingly, both were overlooked as receivers, too. Dillon put up a receiving line of 21-236-2, and Henry totaled 17-285-3 through the air.

Dillon figures to be a late Day 2 or early Day 3 option. With some of those key underclassmen thinning the position, and with Dillon’s possible combine bump, he could work his way into the top 75 or so picks. And don’t overlook the possible Henry factor if he keeps up his bludgeon-running on Sunday against the Chiefs and drags his Titans to a Super Bowl.

“I don’t know that they’re the same player, and Henry wasn’t even Henry before this season,” the national scout noted. “But I suppose there could be that team or two out there that sees the [parallels] and wants to run that kind of system. I could see that happening, sure.

“It’s easier to see something when it’s already been done [in the league], and the playoffs carry that extra weight, so to speak.”

Extra weight equals extra force. It will be fascinating to see whether Henry’s playoff run can dent what has been a decades-long priority shift away from the power run game and toward the pass.

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