Darrell Henderson: Buy, Sell or Hold?

Bruce Matson

With Todd Gurley headed back to Georgia to play for the Atlanta Falcons, the Los Angeles Rams backfield instantly turns into an ambiguous situation. Who will be the team’s lead back? Will we see a running back who is currently on the roster or will they turn to free agency or the NFL Draft to fill the void?

The Rams traded up with the Buccaneers to select Darrell Henderson in the third round of last year’s draft. Shortly after, there were rumors concerning Gurley’s health and whether or not he would be able to handle a sizable workload. It was believed that Henderson would be used in a change-of-pace role. Rams’ general manager, Les Snead, even mentioned he had an Alvin Kamara” element to his game, lending the notion that the team planned on using him in a similar fashion by getting him the ball in space and spoon-feeding him a heavy dose of touches in the passing game.

word image 241

Courtesy of DLF’s College Market Share App.

Henderson was a highly productive prospect out of Memphis, finishing his collegiate career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. During his junior season, he rushed for 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns while averaging 8.9 yards per carry. That year, he owned a 30.09 percent market share of the team’s offensive production. According to Pro Football Focus, he averaged 6.2 yards after contact per attempt and forced 57 missed tackles on the season.

This time last year, he was considered the RB4 in rookie drafts with an ADP of 9.70. After the NFL Draft, his rookie ADP plummeted to 18.10 making him a second-round pick. Once the rumor mill started spinning stories on Gurley’s viability for the 2019 season, Henderson soon became a popular handcuff in all fantasy formats.

The anticipation is always elevated right before the NFL season. However, the excitement fans had prior to the NFL season, didn’t resonate in Henderson’s production during his rookie season where he rushed the ball just 39 times for 147 yards.

Things went downhill in week six against the 49ers where he mishandled a pitch from Jared Goff. The 49ers recovered the ball which led to them scoring a few plays later. Henderson was sent to the doghouse and fellow teammate Malcolm Brown was leaned on to carry the load since Gurley wasn’t able to suit up for that game. After the dreaded fumble, Henderson saw five or more carries in just two games for the rest of the season.

Even with limited opportunity, he did manage to flash some of his talents. He had a few runs where he displayed some of his athleticism, providing a nice portrait of what he could potentially do if given a larger workload. He’s a very smooth runner with a low center of gravity that allows him to easily bounce off defenders at the point of contact.

Speaking of his athleticism, Henderson measured in a 5-foot-8 and weighed 208 pounds at the NFL Combine. He ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash which equated to a 102.4 size-adjusted speed-score. Although he doesn’t possess the typical size of a three-down workhorse back, he is still more than capable of handling 15-20 touches per game as a change-of-pace back.

word image 242

Courtesy of DLF’s Snap Count App.

Malcolm Brown could be a potential roadblock. He out-snapped Henderson on a regular basis and was deemed the more reliable back to spell Gurley when needed. His ability to carry the rock on short-yardage and goal-line situations allowed him to receive some additional opportunities. The Rams matched the Lions on a two-year $3.3 million offer sheet in March of 2019. If anything, this deal means the Rams value him as an asset.

The odds of Brown ever taking over as the team’s long-term RB1 are highly unlikely. He hasn’t been regarded as a serious talent since he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. The war of attrition during a long NFL season might allow him to receive the role sometime down the line, but he’s not a candidate to be the team’s workhorse back.

Free agency is always an option for the Rams to fill the void. The list of names is certainly much smaller compared to the beginning of free agency. Some players who are still currently available to sign with the team in the near future could be Devonta Freeman, Chris Thompson, LeSean McCoy, Carlos Hyde and many more. Signing a free agent running back would murky the waters, but there aren’t many running backs who could take over the entire workload. Freeman would be the most dangerous addition the team could make. He has a history of toting a hefty workload from his days in Atlanta. He is also a sound veteran who very efficient with the ball in his hands.

Competing with a veteran running back would take some of the wind out of Henderson’s sails. Dynasty owners should see his value decrease, but not nose dive. He will still be targeted as a trendy handcuff in many dynasty and redraft leagues. This will allow you to snag him up via trade at a cheaper price point since his future is uncertain.

The NFL Draft is another trick bag that we will need to open soon. This is a very talented running back class. There are impact fantasy players through all rounds of the draft. The threat of the Rams acquiring one of these runners creates a lot of risk to Henderson’s stock. Dynasty owners will be sweating bullets throughout the entire draft hoping the Rams don’t select one of the top running back prospects.

We will know exactly how the team feels about their depth chart during the first three rounds of the draft. The Rams have just two picks in the top 100 with their first selection at 52 overall. They do have two picks in the third round with picks at 84 and 104 overall. A lot of pressure will be put on Henderson if they decide to select one of the top running backs with one of their first three picks.

word image 243

Courtesy of DLF’s Rookie ADP.

This year’s running back class is very top-heavy. Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, Cam Akers, JK Dobbins, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire all have the potential to get drafted in the first three rounds. All of them would instantly push for either the starting job or a large portion of the carries right out of the gate.

Henderson’s value will tank if the Rams select a running back with one of their top selections. Besides the added competition, another reason why adding a top-flight running back prospect will sink Henderson’s overall fantasy value is because the Rams are telling us how they feel about their current backfield. By spending premium draft capital on a running back, the Rams would obviously feel what they have currently on the roster isn’t enough to adequately get them through the season. This will be the ultimate time to buy low on Henderson if you are a believer in his talents. Dynasty owners will be selling him at rock bottom prices and the initial impact might allow you to buy him for pennies on the dollar.

We are not out of the dark once we get out of the third round. There are plenty of solid running backs the Rams could pull the trigger on throughout the rest of the draft. Historically, running backs drafted in the fourth round or later are less likely to develop into reliable fantasy contributors. However, this year is different because due to the sheer depth of talent it could be marked as an outlier. We could see multiple running backs get selected in the later rounds that could develop into fulltime starters.

Added competition is never good. It will depend on who the Rams select to in rounds four through seven that will dictate Henderson’s initial value. If they draft a runner who is ranked in the top ten in rookie ADP, then there’s a chance Henderson will see a decrease in his dynasty value. There will be a lot of uncertainty to who will become the lead back, but unlike the team spending premium draft capital on a running back, Henderson will have a much better chance at carving out a large role within the offense if the team decides to draft a running back in the later rounds of the draft.

His current dynasty value should objectively have all of the scenarios baked into his price point. The confusing part of evaluating his absolute player value is that dynasty owners have him ranked all over the place. Some have him valued as a top-20 running back and others have him valued in the 30-35 range. Then you will also come in contact with dynasty owners who will not touch him.

Not to spark a debate, but if we cast recency bias aside, and drop Henderson as a draft prospect into this year’s rookie draft pool, he would be comfortably drafted somewhere in the middle of the second round to the early third round of rookie drafts. His positional value will be all over the board like most running backs in this class with him holding an ADP somewhere between RB5 and RB10.

word image 244

Courtesy of DLF’s ADP Over Time App.

He went into the month of March holding an ADP of 115 while being drafted as the 38th running back off the board. We should see him shoot up the draft board once the next batch of ADP is cooked for the month of April. As of right now, we are seeing a wide spectrum in his player value, because there is a lot of uncertainty concerning what his situations will look like in the next few weeks. Needless to say, riverboat gamblers are going to roll the dice and take the chance and conservative players are going to remain frugal until he’s they can get him at a palatable price point.

CONCLUSION

Henderson profiles as a player who has the potential to take a step forward and become a premium fantasy asset. There are some obstacles that could prevent him from establishing himself as the key focal point to the Rams’ offense.

I believe it’s best to exercise caution with Henderson. He’s not a safe asset. There’s a lot of ambiguity in his short-term situation that could quickly diminish your investment. Everything is according to price. I’m more than willing to open my wallet if he’s being sold at an RB30-35 price tag. On the contrary, I’m going to walk away if he’s being priced in the RB20 range.

bruce matson
Latest posts by Bruce Matson (see all)