FAB 3. Henderson A Sleeper At Running Back
Tampa Bay’s Peyton Barber is a good running back coming off his best game of the season, a 13-carry, 82-yard game at Atlanta in which he also caught four passes for 24 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown. But the Bucs’ running game ranks second to last in the NFL, averaging 80.2 yards per game.
Part of the reason why Tampa Bay’s ground game ranks last is because its passing game ranks first, averaging 368.4 yards per carry. The Bucs have only run the ball 111, which are the fewest attempts in the league.
Another reason why Tampa Bay’s rushing attack hasn’t been full throttle is the lack of explosive runs. Barber has produced two runs of 20 yards or more, including a season-long 28-yarder against the Falcons. Last year, Barber had just one run over 20 yards, which was a 34-yarder at Carolina. Barber’s career-long came on a 44-yard touchdown at San Francisco as a rookie. He had 55 carries that year, but that was his only carry over 10 yards.
To help add more explosive runs to the offense, general manager Jason Licht drafted running back Ronald Jones II in the second round. Jones had 14 games with over 100 yards at USC, including five games with over 170 yards for the Trojans.
Jones showed off his 4.41 speed with 11 runs over 40 yards in his career, including seven runs longer than 60 yards. But that speed hasn’t materialized on the field at the NFL level.
Jones had a stunningly disappointing preseason, rushing for just 22 yards on 28 carries in the preseason. If he weren’t a second-round pick he would likely have been cut in early September with those kind of stats. Jones was inactive for the first three games and saw his first action in Tampa Bay’s 48-10 loss at Chicago, rushing for 29 yards on 10 carries (2.9 avg.), but had just one carry for three yards on Sunday in Atlanta.
It may take the Bucs a year or so to figure out if Jones can develop into a credible NFL running back – let alone a potential starting-caliber player. But Licht can’t bank on it and needs to be scouting the college ranks for another starting-caliber running back to draft next April – just in case.
The Bucs can have all the faith they want to have in Barber, but if he were to go down with an injury this year the team is left with a rookie in Jones, veteran Jacquizz Rodgers and an undrafted rookie in Shaun Wilson – and you would see Tampa Bay’s running game go from really bad to awful in an instant.
The problem for the Bucs is that there aren’t a lot of running backs to get excited about just yet in the 2019 draft. Stanford senior Bryce Love is too small and injury prone. The same could be said for Washington senior Myles Gaskin, who is 5-foot-9, 193 pounds, and Oklahoma State junior Justice Hill, who is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds.
Alabama senior Damien Harris is not having nearly as good a year as he did last season as a junior and has one 100-yard game in seven contests. He’s the second-leading rusher on the Crimson Tide behind sophomore Najee Harris.
Oklahoma junior running back Rodney Anderson tore his ACL in the second game of the season and is out for the year. I worry about the lack of speed that Ohio State junior Mike Weber and Kentucky junior Benny Snell, Jr. possess.
The last two draft classes have been rich at the running back position with the 2017 class featuring Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette (fourth overall) and Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey (eighth overall) in the first round, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (41st overall) and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon (48th overall) getting drafted in the second round, and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (67th overall), Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt (86th overall) and Pittsburgh’s James Conner (105th overall) getting selected in the third round.
This past year saw three running backs go in the first round – New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley (second overall), Seattle’s Rashaad Penny (27th overall) and New England’s Sony Michel (31st overall) – with four running backs being drafted in the second round in Cleveland’s Nick Chubb (35th overall), Tampa Bay’s Jones (38th overall), Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson (43rd overall) and Washington’s Derrius Guice (59th overall). Denver selected Royce Freeman (71st overall) in the third round.
I can’t find an early mock draft that has any running back taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But that’s okay because sometimes the best rushers don’t go in the first round.
Two years ago I was very high on Hunt, writing about him several times in my SR’s Fab 5 column during football season and in the months leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. I interviewed Hunt at the Senior Bowl and he told me actually wanted the Bucs to draft him so he could play with Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. He also liked Tampa Bay’s uniforms.
The Bucs were high on Hunt too, and nearly drafted him in the third round. Tampa Bay had wide receiver Chris Godwin rated slightly higher on their draft board and took him instead. Hunt went to the Chiefs two picks later.
Keep in mind that the Bucs had re-signed Doug Martin to a five-year deal worth $35.75 million in the 2016 offseason and had high hopes that he would return from a three-game suspension to start the 2017 campaign with something to prove. The Bucs needed depth at running back, not necessarily a starter, and made the ill-fated move of drafting Jeremy McNichols in the fifth round.
The Bucs had to draft a running back early this year and Jones was the pick. Time will tell if it was the right one, but I know one running back they need to target in the 2019 draft – Memphis junior Darrell Henderson, who is expected to forego his senior season and head to the NFL, although he hasn’t made an official declaration yet.
If you haven’t heard of Henderson, that’s okay. It took a while for Penny, a player I was high on last year, to become a household name, and it was the same thing with Hunt the year before.
Henderson is currently the nation’s leading rusher with 1,133 yards and 13 touchdowns on 110 carries. The quick math on that shows that he has a gaudy 10.3 yards per carry average.
Darrell Henderson can straight up FLY.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 8, 2018
Henderson is on the verge of a career high this year as he rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns in 130 carries (8.9 avg.) last season as a sophomore. As a freshman, Henderson rushed for 482 yards and five touchdowns in 87 carries (5.5 avg.).
After not having a 100-yard rushing day as a freshman, Henderson posted seven 100-yard games last year. In 2018, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound back has five 100-yard games, including a 212-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 22-21 loss to Navy and a 233-yard, two-touchdown showing in a 59-22 win over Georgia State. In last week’s 31-30 loss to UCF, Henderson rushed for a career-high 31 carries for 199 yards and a touchdown.
Henderson laying the boom 👀 pic.twitter.com/g63Pj7W91C
— The Draft Network (@DraftNetworkLLC) September 14, 2018
Henderson has breakaway speed, evidenced by a carry of 40 yards or more in each of the last six games, including a 78-yard touchdown against Navy. Last year, Henderson had five carries of 40 yards or more, including an 8-yard dash against UCLA, and an 82-yard touchdown versus Tulane.
While Jones has struggled to catch the ball in Tampa Bay, that’s one of Henderson’s strengths. Henderson caught 20 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, and had 24 receptions for 226 yards and two TDs last year. This year, he’s already caught 11 passes for 191 yards (17.4 avg.) and two scores.
Henderson can also be a factor on special teams with his speed. He has 24 career returns for 474 yards (19.8 avg.) and a touchdown.
The Bucs need to upgrade the talent in their backfield and add another speedy back capable of breaking tackles and turning 4-yard gains into 40-yard runs. Henderson reminds me of Hunt in so many ways. He’s about 10 pounds lighter, but a tick faster in terms of breakaway speed.
Life in the NFL as a running back is all about breaking tackles and slipping tackles, and Henderson does it well, in addition to running to daylight with good vision. He would look awfully good in red and pewter, and could be a great replacement for Rodgers next year on the roster. I think he’s a second-round pick and one of the first running backs taken in the 2019 NFL Draft when all is said and done.