Rookie Report Card: Derrick Henry and Rob Kelley

Dan Meylor

Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week.  On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2016 potential and long term upside. 

The series continues with a look at Derrick Henry and Rob Kelley.

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Derrick Henry, RB TEN

Week Eight Stats: 16 carries, 60 rushing yards, one touchdown, four receptions, 37 receiving yards

Despite having the size (6’-3”, 247 pounds) and powerful running style to catch any dynasty owner’s eye, Henry scared me more than almost any prospect during draft season.  Although he showed while at Alabama that he was bulldozer, running behind his pads incredibly well, he appeared at times to lack the burst at the line of scrimmage to consistently hit running lanes quickly enough to be a reliable number one tailback at the next level.

On top of his lack of explosion at the snap, Henry had also never shown that he could be effective in the passing game, either as a pass catcher or as a blocker.  Although his opportunities to contribute as a receiver were limited in college, he appeared uncomfortable catching the ball and wasn’t fluid when releasing into routes out of the backfield.

When most watched Henry run while he was in college, they saw the powerful runs between the tackles where he got to the second level and turned on the jets to pay dirt.  They saw good vision to find running lanes, hammering hits while running behind his pads with authority, and the ability to continue to wear on defenses late into a game.  While I saw the same things at times, I couldn’t help but think while watching Henry that in the best case scenario, I was watching a two-down running back at the next level.

Needless to say, I didn’t draft Henry in a single league this summer.  And to this point in his rookie season, I haven’t regretted it for a second.

Before last Thursday night, Henry’s workload had been extremely limited.  Averaging just over five carries per game and getting more than five totes in just three of seven games, he was being used strictly when starter DeMarco Murray needed a breather.  Week eight brought a new opportunity for the rookie however.

Partially due to Murray’s toe injury and partially because of the lopsided score, Henry got 16 carries against the Jaguars.  Like he displayed throughout his college career as well as his first seven weeks as a pro, he was powerful, running with determination and plowing over defenders between the tackles.

Henry was a very effective inside runner throughout the game. He broke tackles and got hidden yardage by lowering his shoulder and finishing runs effectively.  Even getting the edge a couple times, he was able to pile up 60 yards on the ground and found the end zone in the second quarter.  The play was designed to go off the right guard and was blocked well, but the Jaguars didn’t seal the outside and Henry got to the edge for the six yard score.  Many may have seen the play as a display of quickness but the truth is that it was a much bigger display of horrible defense by the Jags.

If there was something that caught my eye as a positive for Henry on Thursday night (outside of his powerful inside running) it was his comfort as a pass catcher.  Although he’ll never be confused with Darren Sproles, he released into routes smoothly – as both a check down option and the primary pass catcher on screen passes – and quickly moved from pass catcher to runner after making his four grabs.  No doubt, seeing Henry as a more natural pass catcher was a welcomed surprise for any dynasty owner

Overall, Henry has done nothing to change my feelings that he’s a bruising runner that can be the powerful half of a quality one-two punch in the NFL and be a great closer for a team looking to finish a game in the fourth quarter, but isn’t well rounded enough to be a true fulltime runner at this level.  Although he’s destined to have big games, he could lack what it takes to be a consistent fantasy contributor which could prove to be maddening for his dynasty owners and limit his long-term upside to being no more than an RB2.

As for his short term potential, as long as Murray is healthy, it’s hard to see Henry being startable – even during the bye weeks and with all the injuries at the position.  It’s very possible we just saw his biggest fantasy game of the year but with that said, he has the potential to be a weekly RB2 if Murray misses time.


Rob Kelley, RB WAS
Week Eight Stats: 21 carries, 87 rushing yards, one reception, zero receptions (two targets)

Kelly was a bit of an unknown to most when he went undrafted back in April.  Coming out of Tulane, where he never ran for more than 420 yards in a season and averaged a very mediocre 4.0 yards per carry, he lacked top end speed (4.68 40-time) which limited him to working strictly between the tackles.  Despite having a good build (6’-0”, 228 pounds) and showing above average hands with the Green Wave, he profiled as a career NFL backup at best due to his lack of explosion and ability to make defenders miss in the open field.

Surprisingly to many (including myself), Kelley burst onto the scene during training camp.  By the time the preseason came around, he was ahead of seventh rounder Keith Marshall on the depth chart.  He ran for 198 yards on 38 carries (5.21 YPC) in the preseason and looked decisive and powerful between the tackles.  Proving to be a true one-cut runner that likes to get behind his pads and get north and south as quickly as possible, he didn’t dazzle but consistently got what was blocked and always finished his runs with authority which was no doubt the reason  he moved up Jay Gruden’s depth chart.

Up until Sunday, Kelley was used very sporadically behind Matt Jones.  Handling the ball just 18 times over the first seven weeks, he was on the field only when Jones needed a breather on first or second down.

In week eight, Kelley got the start thanks to a knee injury suffered by Jones and he didn’t disappoint.  Handling 21 carries and pumping out 87 yards and a touchdown, he was once again solid, but also made a few eyebrow raising runs.   

Kelley’s touchdown came early in the game on the Redskins’ first drive.  On second and three from the four yard line, he took the handoff on a dive play to the right but the hole was clogged due to penetration from Carlos Dunlap.  He side-stepped the defender, lowered his shoulder and lugged three Bengals into the end zone for the score.  The play wasn’t blocked well enough for him to get to the goal line but Kelley’s power made the difference.

Although the score was a nice run, Kelley’s biggest highlight actually came late in overtime on first and 20 from the Cincinnati 29 yard line.  The blocking was great on the run off of left guard and he wasn’t touched until he was seven yards downfield, but that’s when Kelley ducked out of a tackle and ran through two hits to pick up 16 yards before Karlos Dansby barely grabbed his toe and tripped him up.

Overall, Sunday was an impressive showing for Kelley.  Although I still believe he is limited to being only an inside runner due to his lack of quickness, I can no longer continue to think he’s the kind of runner that can only get what is blocked.  He ran with power, always kept his legs churning in an effort to break tackles and got extra yardage after contact, and finished runs emphatically.

At this point, it’s unknown if Jones will be back when the Redskins come off of their week nine bye and whether Kelley can work his way into more of a timeshare once Jones returns remains to be seen but at the very least, Kelley’s established himself as a strong handcuff to the starter with RB2 upside when he gets starter’s carries.

In the long term, if Kelley continues to run as violently as he did against the Bengals, he has the potential to be an early down runner as part of a committee which could translate into fulltime RB2/flex upside for his dynasty owners.



dan meylor