Back in April, the Los Angeles Rams keyed in on an explosive and versatile weapon who represented arguably the best scheme fit available in Memphis Tigers running back Darrell Henderson. The Rams elected to spend the 70th-overall pick on the star from Memphis, urging all sorts of questions surrounding the health of current workhorse running back Todd Gurley. Let’s take a look at what this could mean for both players.
Henderson was an extremely productive college football player, totaling 3,545 rushing yards on an insanely high 8.2 yards-per-carry, 36 rushing touchdowns, 63 receptions, 758 receiving yards, and another eight receiving touchdowns. His versatility allowed the Tigers to use him as a runner whilst in under center and shotgun formations, while Henderson’s receiving ability meant he also needed to be treated as a threat out of the backfield.
The Tigers often ran zone-scheme runs, which ironically, the Rams deploy more of than anybody in the NFL. That is probably a large reason why the Rams singled Henderson out as a player they were highly intrigued by, and one they were deadset on drafting. Henderson’s transition is likely to be a relatively smooth one, simply because of the similarities of concepts between the Tigers and Rams. Sure, the Rams are going to be far more evolved than a college team, though the principles remain the same. Generally, the running back looks to the outside hip of his tackle on an outside zone run, reading his gaps from outside-in, remaining patient until he see’s a potential hole for him to burst through, then planting one foot in the ground and getting upfield in a hurry. Henderson excelled in this role as the biggest homerun hitter at running back in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Not only will Henderson be utilized as a big play threat in the running game, Head Coach Sean McVay has enough creativity and play design to maximize the potential of Henderson as a receiver too. On multiple occasions, McVay and General Manager Les Snead have mentioned the name of New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara when discussing Henderson and his role with the Rams. Kamara immediately proved to be one of the most dangerous players in the league as a dangerous runner and downright elite receiver out of the backfield. In two seasons, Kamara has combined for a whopping 205 targets, parlaying that into 162 receptions for 1,535 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns (among a boatload of rushing statistics).
Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports estimates the Rams are likely to use Henderson in a similar role to how McVay used one of the premier receiving backs in the league during his time in Washington, Chris Thompson. In the three-year span McVay was the Offensive Coordinator in Washington (2014-2016), Thompson attempted only 106 rushing attempts for 584 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. The interesting part of his usage is the receiving game, in which Thompson received 117 targets, turning those into 90 receptions for 616 receiving yards and five touchdowns. The Rams are far more talented and explosive than any of those Redskins teams, so the comparison is hard to make statistically, though the usage pattern is one to take note of.
When looking at the strange saga surrounding the health around Todd Gurley, you can begin to question just how much of a role Henderson might have. There are no concrete reports as to what is truly the issue when talking about Gurley’s health (knee), though it’s apparent that something is wrong as Gurley totaled only 36 touches in three playoff games (an average of 12 touches per game), while also missing both the week 16 and 17 contests in their entirety. The plan for Gurley can’t be pinpointed to an exact, though it’s very clear the Rams anticipate scaling back his workload in favor of sprinkling in help by way of the backup running backs – namely Henderson, though Malcolm Brown could also see usage. The fair expectation is to anticipate certain games where the Rams will rely on Gurley more heavily, though more often than not it’ll likely be a 65-35% split between Gurley and his counterparts. Looking back to his healthiest season under the McVay regime (2017), Gurley registered a combined 343 touches in a 15-game sample. If we do the math (65% of that share), Gurley could land somewhere in the range of 220 total touches, or an average of 13-14 touches per game.
Since McVay took over the Rams in 2017, the Rams have attempted 454 and 459 total rushes in the two seasons. If we estimate Gurley receiving somewhere between 200-220 of those (blowout wins are harder to gauge), roughly 250 attempts remain, which are likely to be split among Henderson and Malcolm Brown. Couple that with a potential 40 or so targets in the passing game, Henderson has the potential to receive somewhere in the range of 130-150 total touches in his rookie campaign.
The duo of Gurley and Henderson are one of the more intriguing storylines when looking at the Rams’ 2019 season. Diving their workload is going to be one more task at hand for the genius of Sean McVay to handle.