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.

Bucs RB Peyton Barber - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs RB Peyton Barber – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

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.

Bucs RB Ronald Jones II - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

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.

Former Toledo RB Kareem Hunt - Photo by: Getty Images
Former Toledo RB Kareem Hunt – Photo by: Getty Images

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.

Memphis RB Darrell Henderson - Photo by: Getty Images
Memphis RB Darrell Henderson – Photo by: Getty Images

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.

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 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.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

35 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure you guys already know that you can read past page one.

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    • NVM. Wish I could delete last post. Sorry.

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  2. I think that has been the thought at this point – a loss here means all hope for this season is lost after 6 games. Problem is, against rookie QBs, the Bucs are absolutely horrendous.

    Greg Altmann just published the following. While the past does not predict the future, this is pretty damning:

    NFL’s worst records against rookie QBs since 2011?

    Bucs 1-10
    Jaguars 5-9
    Browns 6-10
    Vikings 5-6
    Raiders 3-3
    Bills 7-7
    49ers 6-5
    Redskins 8-6
    Chiefs 4-3
    Titans 9-6
    Eagles 6-4

    So the Bucs are by far the worst team dealing with Rookie QBs going back over the last 7 years. Yes, the Bucs have been bad during this time but not winning here just means they are terrible yet again this year and probably it is the end of Koetter/Licht by the end of the season.

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  3. What scares me about Duffner as DC is that the linebackers, his unit, are really not doing anything that great this year.

    not great at blitzing, not great at gap assignments, not great in coverage. If he is not able to coach them up can he really coach up the rest of the D?

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    • Not great at blitzing?? Umm because Mike Smith rarely called blitz’s for them.

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    • How much of that is Duffner and how much of it is Mike Smiths scheme and rarely blitzing? Maybe Duffner wanted to blitz more and Smith wouldn’t let him. We will find out soon.

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  4. You want to play harder for coach Duffner because you know he cares for you? What kind of crap is that? You should play as hard as possible all the time for yourself, your team, and because you absolutely hate to lose. There’s our problem in a nut shell. We have a mentally weak defense, with mentally weak leadership who’ve been to O.K. with losing for to long. We need a defensive face lift from scheme, to so called star players who’ve under preformed these last few years. I hope Duff can get more out of this crew, I’m just not sure this is the crew that can get it done.

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  5. One word:

    APATHY….

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  6. Just get a win…. no more talk, no more excuses, no more hugs, just win….

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  7. While all games are important in a 16 game season, the notion that a single game will make or break a 16 game season is just media hype. I’m a skeptic about the current Bucs regime and team, but surprising outcomes are always possible in a 16 game season.

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  8. I do not think drafting another RB is necessary. Better to develop Barber and ROJO as this is a pass first team now. Plus, I still like that rookie Wilson. So in summary you have two rookies at RB and a third year guy starting to find his groove. No reason to panic at the RB spot.

    Once the Bucs start building leads and the defense improves so will the running attempts and rushing yards. That is how most NFL teams that have good rushing attack do it. The old school way of playing defense + running the ball with a lead.

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  9. The Browns think they can win this game. The Bucs will find a way to lose like they always do. This is the season. 4 losses in a row and a 2-4 record. its over if they lose and its over for Koetter and Licht. We need a new regime. Think Tony Dungy, President of Football Operations and go from there.

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  10. Is it really the best strategy to have the least rushing attempts in the NFL? Yes, the passing offense is doing well, but if you can’t run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, is there really any chance for a team to succeed? How have the RBs been inhibited by an offense that is not running that much? Rojo has the talent. The offense needs to evolve into a more balanced squad. Not running the ball also keeps the D on the field, and nobody wants to see that.

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  11. surferdudes, you are speaking with so much more clarity lately, did you get off the bong diet.
    I remember when Scott presented hiss case for firing Lovie and he changed my mind with his sound argument.
    Last year Scott didn’t call for Koetter’s firing but he sure was pining openly for Jon Gruden to return.
    Thank god that didn’t happen.
    I guess Reynolds had amnesia when it came to Gruden’s draft picks and personnel moves once he got his own lap dog into the GM office.
    The Glazer’s aren’t going to fire anyone for the rest of the season so to speculate now on the subject is ridiculous unless Reynolds has an ulterior motive.
    Let the season play out and see what happens.
    If the offense keeps operating at a high level and the defense keeps playing like a bunch of clumsy moronic girls scouts like they have been for the last 5 games, why would you fire Koetter.
    Licht put together this defense and the personnel and as good a job as he has done finding some offensive nuggets, especially in FA, he hasn’t done the same for the defense.
    So far. his defensive picks have been huge underachievers.
    So why do you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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    • Drdnest, I have been saying the same thing. Koetter is an offensive minded coach who doesn’t know a lot about defenses. He trusted Mike Smith which turned out to be a mistake. Koetter has built us the best offense we have ever had in Tampa. We are avg 28 ppg and over 450 ypg. Those are crazy numbers for us. Koetter was hired to develop Winston and improve our offense which he has done so far. We just need a great DC who can make our defense avg. With an avg defense we can make the playoffs and be a contender.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • You said the free agent pics on defense have underwhelmed. I don’t believe JPP is underwhelming.

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  12. I really want to grab Armani Oruwariye in round 1 to pair with Carlton Davis outside!!

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    • He looks good but I really like Greedy Williams from LSU.

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      • Greedy Williams, best DB name ever!

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      • Greedy goes in top 10-15. I’m wanting the Bucs to pick around 20 or a little later. That means they won 8+ games 🙂

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    • I didn’t see anything special about Oruwariye in that video other than his ability to position himself to make plays. Most of interceptions were on balls the quarterback should have never thrown. He doesn’t look like he wants to tackle either. Not starting for Penn State. PASS

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  13. I hope Tampa doesn’t draft another skill player with their high draft picks. Invest in the lines and secondary. 2017 was the year to get a RB and Tampa missed – and SR is right about Tampa’s perception of Martin. That, combined with other needs and the fact that OJ Howard was a gift too good to pass up in the first round, pushed RB down the priority list. A better O-Line will enhance Barber and Jones.

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    • Agree, I want to grab a true LT and move Donovan Smith to RT.

      2019 2nd round pick/Marpet/Jensen/Cappa/Smith 🙂

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  14. Forget the draft until after the season.
    Does anyone think we could trade McCoy for even get a fifth round selection for after the way he has played this season. I don’t.
    Scott, glad you used the Rhonde Barber example of how it takes some time for some players to develop in this instant gratification world we live in today.
    What surprises me even more is some so called “fans” are so qucik to call players busts just so they can be proven right about the choice or thier hatred toward the GM and everything he does.
    That is a big sign of narcisisism. Another character flaw more evident in today’s society.
    As for me, I make no bones about the fact I know very little about any of the Bucs draft picks when they are chosen and because I have a job that doesn’t involve being involved in evaluating professional football talent, to pretend that I did would only make me look pompous.
    I too think RoJo is showing improvement to and hope he continues to do so.
    Why would any reasonable thinking Bucs fan wish otherwise.
    Unfortunately, as we often see from some of the posts out here, there are others that don’t.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • C’mon Naplesfan, after all these years , you are still spelling Ronde with an ‘h’?

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  15. Good Article Scott. Defense I hope will stay close to LOS because of Browns running game. We need big DL in this game, not a tweener like Spence.
    Bucs should win this game.

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  16. I know the Browns are a different team now, but please don’t lose to them lol.

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  17. What was wrong with Dare O?

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  18. SR creates a straw man to defend Vea…..real shocker!

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  19. And once again, we are looking ahead to the Draft before Halloween. Boo! There’s still a lot of football left before we Bucs fans should be so eager to declare the season over; even if the Browns win on Sunday. This is the history of our fan base. As Buc-N-Phiily said, “APATHY”.

    In spite of the Browns being regarded as the NFL’s worst team the past few years, there will be thousands of their fans infesting our “home” turf to create Dawg Pound south. “Woof Woof” cheers will be heard anytime the Brownies do something positive. They still have that thing we “homers” call “hope”.

    I’ve said many times. All teams can beat you and you can beat all teams. The Browns have made a lot of Draft blunders, but also have made some good choices. I really liked Baker Mayfield’s demeanor. It’s just a matter of putting it together and gaining confidence. They have lost games similarly to our own Pewter Pirates. Those types of defeats are the most difficult to get over.

    As WNB0395 said, this Offense is as good as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, the Defense has been as bad as I can ever remember. We’re not used to this flip-flop. This sure isn’t Dungy Ball. No longer will Sapp’s 17 points win the game. Start fast and just keep your foot on the accelerator.

    Already, after a surprising 2-0 start, a couple of woulda, coulda, shoulda won close losses and one ass-whippin we’re too ready to sing, “The Thrill is Gone” and turnout Don Merrideth’s lights.

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  20. Buc stops here- I knew our Bucs had issues, but that’s worse than I had thought. Add in back-up QBs, and it’s even worse!

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  21. Do you think that our GM heard that Kareem Hunt liked our uniforms and said I could never draft a man with such awful taste?
    RoJo will run the ball when the O LINE starts blocking, easy does it on the RoJo bust talk.
    One more comment. I am glad the Duffer will be on the field, never thought or liked idea of coaching from the booth. How can you get a guy motivated unless you are looking him in the eye.
    GO BUCS

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  22. Poor product for over a decade. Now what was SR saying?

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