Second half of season powers Henry’s Heisman win

Derrick Henry wasn't PFF's choice for the coveted award, but Gordon McGuinness breaks down what lifted Alabama's running back over the competition.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Second half of season powers Henry’s Heisman win

A couple of weeks ago I detailed exactly why I didn’t think Alabama’s star running back should win the Heisman Trophy. This was mainly down to his fairly average first half of the year, and the stunning full seasons of Standford’s do-it-all superstar Christian McCaffrey and our highest-graded quarterback, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. That being said, while we still feel that McCaffrey and Mayfield were more deserving, it’s easy to see why Henry did indeed win last night.

His second half run started with a +4.3 graded performance against Texas A&M, but the defining moment came against LSU in Week 10. It seems bizarre to consider, given that he’s just won the coveted trophy, but back then Henry wasn’t even the best Heisman candidate in the SEC. LSU’s Leonard Fournette had been wowing the nation for over half the year with big performance after big performance, running through anyone who attempted to bring him down. Alabama versus LSU was supposed to be Fournette’s night to cement his, and LSU’s, end-of-season aspirations. Instead, Henry had a +6.0 rushing grade, and powered the Crimson Tide firmly back into the College Football Playoff picture.

Over the past seven games, he has rushed for 200 yards on four occasions, and had over 100 yards after contact five times, forcing 40 missed tackles as a runner in those seven games. Compare that to the first six games of the year where he didn’t have any 200 yard rushing games, including three where he had less than 100 yards, just one game with more than 100 yards after contact, and forced just 26 missed tackles. It really was like an entirely different player from the first half of the year to the second.

So while we don’t think that Henry was deserving of winning the Heisman over the balance of the season, it’s impossible to deny that he was one of the very best players in the nation from Week 7 onwards. His elusive rating of 75.0 in the second half of the year was 13th amongst all running backs, compared with 61.8 in the first six weeks of the year, which ranked 23rd in the nation.

Considering McCaffrey’s consistent big-play ability, along with his ability to contribute as a receiver and on special teams to go along with his rushing prowess, and Mayfield’s big performances down the stretch in big games against the other Big 12 contenders, it’s tough to put Henry’s season ahead of them. That being said, when he had so many big games down the stretch, it’d understandable that voters leaned that way. In the end, this season for Henry will be remembered for some huge performances that helped power Alabama to the College Football Playoff, and Henry to the Heisman Trophy.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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