Besides quarterbacks, running back may be the most fascinating and unique position in the NFL. Due to the various schemes as well as ways running backs can be deployed on a per play basis, it welcomes many different physical, athletic and pure "football" skill sets to play the position. On top of that, the sheer volume which a featured running back will endure allows us to experience the full bandwidth of that running back's ability.
Thus, with quite literally endless possibilities of what a running back can be from a physical and skill standpoint, there are so many types of running back archetypes in the NFL. You have your tough yardage types like prime Frank Gore who could get four yards if you an entire army in front of him. There are tremendous "air backs" like Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles and Shane Vereen who you could not help but think would be excellent wide receivers. Of course, there is "the freak" types like Adrian Peterson or Todd Gurley who have every bit of size, power, speed and wiggle you could want and can get tough yards, catch passes or just bust the whole damn game open on any given snap. I could go on and on because of the formentioned uniqueness that the position holds, but I really would like to talk about a specific archetype...
The Home Run Threat.
Chris Johnson. Lesean McCoy. Melvin Gordon (in college).CJ Spiller. Hell, even Barry Sanders. Guys who could lose yardage on any given play because of their constant search for that splash play and could frustrate the shit out of coaches and fans alike.... But suddenly- BOOM. Out of nowhere, these guys found that crease and they are in the open field. Blazing speed, unreal quickness, open field power or some combination makes these guys absolutely unstoppable once they hit the second level, but it is football Russian Roulette. It is important to understand that a running back has that dynamic and be patient with it. Like I said before, lead back is a volume position and running the football itself is a battle of attrition, so it is important that running backs with these special open field abilities are given the proper volume and they will reward coaches and teams alike while punishing defenses.
This is where Alabama running back, Derrick Henry comes in.
Speaking of unique physical profiles, you will be hard pressed to find a 6-3, 240 pounder in the NFL that is not playing linebacker. Henry is rocked up from head to toe. However, despite his size and musculature, he is not your grandfather's power back. He is certainly not Jim Brown or even Brandon Jacobs. I would call it downright irresponsible and even lazy to call Henry a power back just because he is built like your average tow truck.
Henry is a homerun hitter.
It is weird to say because a lot of the guys I mentioned before are much smaller and are thought of as quick. Henry is neither small nor quick, in a vacuum at least, but he perfectly embodies that same dynamic that those other backs have. He will not get that consistent yardage in the NFL because his vision is sub par and he takes time to build speed because of his size, but once he hits the second level at full speed, it's game over. Henry can be likened to your revolutionary era cannon's. He takes some time to load and your gonna have a hell of time trying to get him to change direction, but, by god, try to stop him once he makes it past the line. His straight line speed is mesmerizing at 240 pounds and the sheer physics of that mass at such speed makes him so damn hard to tackle. Yes, he will get tackled behind the line quite a bit and may run into a few offensive linemen, taking himself out of plays... But we are talking about a player who can give you a 50 yard run on any given down and explosive plays are some of the most important things in the NFL. Derrick Henry is an explosive play waiting to happen.
Less important, but still a part of playing running back, Henry is an excellent pass protector due to the fact that he is the same size of most of the defenders he is blocking. He is aggressive and also technically sound when picking up the blitz. Though I am a strong believer that no one should think any more or less of a back due to his blocking ability, it is worth noting Henry is damn good at it. More important than blocking, Henry shows he can function as a receiver, albeit in a relatively small sample size.
NFL Comparison: Derrick Henry is an innately unique player. His combination size, athletic ability and football dynamic is something that I have not really seen in my time watching football. However, they always say the most special players are the most unique. However, I think the evaluation with Henry is very straightforward. He will get maximized through a high volume and his ceiling on a per play basis is incredibly high.
Unfortunately, though I really like Henry as a player, I do not think he fits in the current offensive scheme. His vision and lack of initial burst would limit him incredibly in a primarily zone blocking. He would be excellent in a predominantly gap based running game where he does not have to do a lot of reading behind the line and he can just kinda run forward, which is what he is excellent at. Whatever team takes him will need to accept the inherent high variance that he brings to a football field and that variance may make him less valuable to some teams than less dependable backs. However, with the right volume, I absolutely think Henry can make an impact that the NFL much like the other home run threats I mentioned earlier.