Why Derrick Henry shouldn’t win the Heisman Trophy
Gordon McGuinness explains why the favored Alabama running back shouldn't be a lock, and why Christian McCaffrey is a better option.
Why Derrick Henry shouldn’t win the Heisman Trophy
As we reach the end of the season, it’s time for award discussions to really start to heat up. When it comes to the biggest one — the Heisman Trophy — it’s easy to forget that just a few weeks ago everyone had LSU running back Leonard Fournette (+32.7 grade overall) as the clear favorite, and had for much of the season after that huge performance against Auburn early in the year. Fournette’s season stuttered its way towards the end, with the Alabama game cementing where he lost a lot of luster.
That game also gave Alabama running back Derrick Henry the chance to shine, and with a +6.0 rushing grade and 210 yards on the ground, he delivered one of the very best games by a running back we’ve seen all season. That momentum got thrusted Henry into the Heisman conversation, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s important to have Heisman moments and we’ve seen all the previous winners have big games in the second half of the season to solidify their status among the greats. That’s the kind of impact that Henry had in that game, and it was a microcosm of the second half of the season for the powerful runner.
There’s no doubt that if the Heisman trophy was being awarded purely for a player’s work in the second half of the season, Henry would be right up there. Since Week 7 against Texas A&M he’s posted a +19.7 grade — the second-highest of any running back in the nation — while his 1,132 rushing yards are the most in that span. In four of the past six weeks, he’s rushed for over 200 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns in the process, so I’m not suggesting for a second that he’s not been one of the best running backs in the nation as of late. That being said, the Heisman Trophy is supposed to go to the best football player in the nation over the course of the season, and Henry’s full body of work just doesn’t stand up to that standard.
As impressive as the second half of his season has been, he wasn’t close to being as dominant in the first half. He rushed for 665 yards through the first six games of the year, with the +2.5 graded performance against Wisconsin to open the year his only real standout performance. From a grade standpoint, he was tied for 77th amongst all running backs with a grade of +3.1 in the first half of the season, while in terms of rushing yards he was back in 15th. As dominant as he’s been lately, we’re talking about an impressive six-game stretch as opposed to a season-long showing.
|Weeks 1-6||Weeks 7-13||Full season|
|Rushing yards rank||15th||1st||1st|
Furthermore, while he’s been very good as a runner, Henry is somewhat one-dimensional. He has caught just 10 passes for 97 yards all year, taking his Alabama career total to 16 for 291 yards. He just hasn’t made any impact as a receiver this year with the exception of the 28-yard catch and run against Charleston Southern last week. In pass protection — a role that doesn’t have the same impact but is still important — he hasn’t allowed a sack, but has allowed a hit and seven hurries, giving him a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 91.7, tied for 108th amongst all running backs. I’m not suggesting that pass blocking efficiency is high on the Heisman voters priority list, but if we’re truly looking to give the award to the best player in college football, it carries some weight.
While his lack of receiving prowess and pass protection limits him somewhat, the real reason why Derrick Henry shouldn’t win the Heisman Trophy is a lot simpler than that. Simply put, there are two candidates who are much more deserving. Oklahoma Quarterback Baker Mayfield has graded positively in every game this season, combining impressive efficiency with big-time throws when the Sooners have needed it. He’s our highest-graded quarterback on the year, and has stepped up when the season got to crunch time, grading at +15.4 over the past three weeks in the must-win games against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. The best quarterback in the nation — and the leader of a team in contention for a National Championship — Mayfield has likely swayed several voters recently.
The best player in the nation, in my opinion, is another running back. Stanford’s do-it-all playmaker Christian McCaffrey has been exciting to watch all year. At +39.1 he’s our highest-graded player at the position, and his rushing grade of +28.0 only trails Fournette. What makes McCaffrey special is that he can hurt you in so many different ways. His receiving grade of +11.5 is the best at the position, and he’s forced 67 missed tackles when you combine his rushing and receiving. Topping it all off is his ability as a kick returner, where he once again leads the nation with a grade of +9.0. He’s racked up 3,035 all purpose yards this year and he now firmly has Barry Sanders’ record of 3,250 in his sights. The fact that you can even mention McCaffrey in there with Sanders tells you exactly what kind of season he’s having, and it’s a season worthy of winning the Heisman.
All of that adds up to one thing: Derrick Henry is deserving of being in the discussion, and he’s had a tremendous second half to the season, but his full body of work this year just doesn’t match up to McCaffrey or Mayfield.
Thanks to the support from Ohio Film Office.
Gordon McGuinness | 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.