Going into the 2019-20 season, Los Angeles Rams fans began to eye rookie Darrell Henderson as the ideal complementary back, and candidate for the eventual replacement to the ailing Todd Gurley — who at the time seemed more on a pause due to injury than on his way out of LA. Similar to the offseason hype behind Cam Akers this year, Darrell Henderson came into the league with some high expectations. Finishing 10th in Heisman voting his final year at Memphis, the hype for Darrell Henderson felt warranted.
Is Darrell Henderson A Featured Running Back OR Better In Relief?
Drafted by the Rams in April and placed on IR by the end of December in 2019, Darrell Henderson’s first true impression as a running back feels overdue from a rookie campaign that was cut short. And it has left us with questions: is he more of a committee running back? Change of pace? A 3-down, ball toting runner who can bring back some of the juice that Steven Jackson, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, and other great Rams running backs all brought to the offense? Who knows, he’s never received the chance … not anymore. After gaining a total of 121 yards and scoring a touchdown in Week 2 against the testy Philadelphia Eagles, along with injuries to Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown, Henderson’s opportunity to showcase his true identity as a running back will finally arrive this Sunday.
But it’s time to lay some framework. I believe that the best way to evaluate Darrell Henderson at this point of the season to forecast his performance going forward, the verdict will be based on his Week 2 performance. It’s the perfect microcosm of opportunity and production, along with it being the healthiest Henderson has been since December of 2019.
His Week 2 tally of 12 carries and six targets on 29 snaps is his best usage worth grading. So you wonder, a total of 121 yards and one touchdown should be considered an A-level performance, right? Not at all. Based on his performance in Week 2, Henderson is a B to B- running back for this offense.
Which is still passing.
When it comes to Darrell Henderson, the talent is undoubtedly still there from his Memphis days. Running a 4.49 out of college at 5’8”, 208 lbs may not be considered a burner, but it’s a balanced skillset. Henderson played with good adherence to his assignments and displayed adequate field vision.
For the basis of my first critique on Henderson, I have to establish that his ability to spot a lane according to the playbook is exemplary for his production. However, here’s the critique: the tape showed that a fair amount of Henderson’s production came off clear, open lanes, and a great throw down the sideline by Jared Goff.
The offensive line did not play like the rags before riches production of 2019, which led to a gaping lane for Henderson to rip off a 40-yard run. That means for the rest of the contest, Henderson went 11 carries for 41 yards.
The performance was one to commend — have a DAY Henderson — but Henderson’s call for volume does not feel justified yet. For most running backs that get the call for nearly every down, there has to be the cliché “IT” factor when you watch a running back. It’s overused but undefeated when you see a Saquon Barkley or an Aaron Jones performance. Henderson’s running was a consistent shooting through the gap instead of finding the lane and he frankly didn’t pop on Sunday.
In Week 2, Henderson put his head down, ran as fast as he could, and had an excellent day. There was no display of nimble change of direction, effort to trick an oncoming defender, or firm hands for the ball displayed best by his longest reception of the day. The mechanics did not stand out and that is why Henderson should be in a limited role to complement the offense, with horizons optimistic for a possible uptick in usage late in the year. A committee back will prove to be the best role for Henderson with the ability to change the flow of the offense that will keep the ball moving forward and the defense on their toes.
Stepping back and assessing the Week 2 usage, a large part of his opportunity comes from a rib injury to Cam Akers and a finger injury to Malcolm Brown. Most fans would place their bet on Akers to finish with a better season, barring an extensive sidelining due to the injury.
Darrell Henderson will remain a running back to keep some stock in, as a Rams fan or fantasy manager, but the expectation on Henderson should be tempered after a hot start.
As a noteworthy rewind, going into the season there was a speculative eye placed on Xavier Jones, fourth-string RB out of SMU, to get a chance at jumping past Brown or Henderson as a rotation running back. With better size and elusive speed, Jones appears to have an upside on the receiving role for the backfield if given the chance.
Darrell Henderson will remain a running back to keep some stock in, as a Rams fan or fantasy manager, but the expectation on Henderson should be tempered after a hot start. With a lineup of great running backs along the team’s history and a clear belief in Sean McVay‘s offense, Rams fans may be quick to jump on the next prospect that reminds them of Wendell Tyler or Eric Dickerson, and that may be an over-encumbering expectation for the trending Henderson. Keeping his role at a reasonable rate such as Sunday’s (still trailing Malcolm Brown in snaps by eight) will develop Henderson into a dependable running back for the Rams instead of turning him into the next Zac Stacy or Benny Cunningham.