From the moment that the LA Rams chose mighty Memphis University running back Darrell Henderson (6.20 grade per NFL.com) in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft by trading up to pick 70, the speculation has run rampant. Henderson stands just 5-foot-8, but his 208-pound frame is ideally suited for the task of carrying the football in the NFL.
Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly.
Almost as though the LA Rams offensive script was copied and pasted out of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, the Rams have struggled to get it right with Henderson. Henderson’s rookie season was playing behind workhorse running back Todd Gurley. And even while Gurley was struggling with his knee, he commanded the lion’s share of the carries. In 2019, the Rams gave Henderson just 39 rushes on 97 offensive snaps and Henderson responded by putting up 147 rushing yards. No, that wasn’t right.
So the Rams went back to the drawing board in 2020. Even with a trio of running backs, Henderson was ramped up to 347 offensive snaps and 138 carries. And the Rams passed the ball at him another 24 times. All told, he was the Rams primary offensive weapon about 50 percent of the time that he was on the field. The result? He put up 624 rushing yards with five touchdowns, and through the air, he put up another 159 yards and a touchdown. He started 11 of the Rams 18 games from 2020. But he finished the season the same way that it began. Injured.
So the Rams must go back to the drawing board one more for 2021. Somehow, the Rams must find a way to avoid going too hot or too cold for Henderson this year. Somehow, the Rams must find that ‘just right’ bowl of porridge to get the most out of Henderson and keep him around for the playoffs.
So what role is the ‘just right’ fit for Henderson? What role did the Rams foresee for RB Darrell Henderson when they traded up to select him in the 2019 NFL Draft?
Well, in a 2019 post-draft conference, GM Les Snead shared this insight:
"“(LA Rams head coach) Sean (McVay) will split him out and let him run some routes. … Because you can run the ball as a change of pace guy, but to be able to split out – a little bit like James White with New England and be able to run some routes similar to a slot receiver,” Rams GM Les Snead said in his post-draft press conference"
And yet, hew we are, entering 2021 and still looking for that magical mix of snap counts, rushes, and receptions that unlocks Henderson’s full NFL potential. What exactly does that look like? Well, on the drawing board it looks like 500+ yards and five touchdowns on the ground, 300+ yards, and three touchdowns through the air. It’s a combination of threatening defenses with every offensive play. The danger of scoring as soon as he touches the ball.
New England Patriots James White in 2018 rushed 94 times for 425 yards and five touchdowns and caught 87 of 123 passes for 751 yards and seven touchdowns. Can Darrell Henderson replicate that type of offensive output for the Rams? Well, White saw action on 600 offensive snaps that year but only started in three games, so yes, it’s absolutely possible.
Is this Henderson’s year? I suppose it comes down to whether he has the opportunity to do so. The Rams have been too hot with him, forcing him to start 11 games which resulted in his injury and missing three games for the Rams. The Rams have been too cold with him, allowing just 39 rushes. Perhaps in 2021, they will get it just right.