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.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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
Grade +3.1 +19.7 +22.8
Grade rank T-77th 2nd 11th
Rush yards 665 1,132 1,797
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.

| 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.

  • Derrick Yulee Henry

    WELL I WILL GRADE THIS AN E FOR EFFORT

    • Parker Smith

      Hard to disagree. SEC defenses are very overrated this year

      • Derrick Yulee Henry

        What team have you ever scored a td against

        • Parker Smith

          And you probably got a 12 on your ACT. I bet I could beat you in a race though

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            And your girl probably doing 12 of your friends but you still kiss her

          • Parker Smith

            As long as its not 13 I’ll let it slide. I’m just glad that Alabama football has such great character gentlemen representing their school.

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            Dumb guy this his dad but you probably think he doesn’t have one and for one you didn’t have to open your mouth I was talking to the guy that wrote the story

          • Parker Smith

            So a man that has a son in college is more immature than most college students by making remarks about my girlfriend?

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            12 on the act right stop judging and if you are butthurt tell your girl to stop putting her finger there

          • Parker Smith

            Yeah I’ll do that and you can tell your son to get off his knees and stop blowing the SEC coaches for having such horrible defenses.

        • Tim Edell

          To offer an educated opinion on a subject does not require a person to have rushed for a TD. I do believe Henry will win the Heisman in what should be one of the closest races I’m years!

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            Educate that kid in your picture that should be your concern

          • Tim Edell

            Derrick Henry pro evaluation… Mid 3rd round pick. Offers nothing at all in the passing game and pro comparison is Brandon Jacobs. Will go down easynin the backfield but once he gains head of steam is very dangerous.

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            What nfl team contacts you for an opinion on draft day COACH

          • Tim Edell

            What are you 12???? At least one member of your family went to college sir…why don’t you grab a towell and dust off your GED certificate!!

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            Naw 38 and while you’re on the couch watching the sec championship and heisman show I’ll be there hope your son don’t grow up to be a female like you

          • Mike R.

            Pops, you better get some thicker skin. The local media and fans of all professional teams are far tougher on their players than a benign comment such as “Hard to disagree. SEC defenses are very overrated this year”. You seem to forget, without the fans, there is no opportunity for your son to play college football or go to the NFL. Stay classy and let small comments roll of your back.

          • Derrick Yulee Henry

            And what do you do at the pro football hall of fame cut grass or mop

          • jazzmanjimmy

            Who cares?

          • Bob Papadazzio

            Nothing in the passing game? He’s rarely targeted and still averages about 10 yards per reception on this season. Last season he only got 5, but averaged about 27 per catch.

            And that’s just receiving. That makes no mention of the possibilities his size offers him as a blocking back.

            https://youtu.be/1C0YZw4HlKc

          • jazzmanjimmy

            It will not be close.
            Henry by a mile.

          • Tim Edell

            With their 3rd round selection the Colts select Derrick Henry.

      • Derrick Yulee Henry

        You look the type that was scared to play pop warner

      • Bob Papadazzio

        Wisconsin isn’t an SEC defense, is #5 in the country in rush defense, and allowed him 147 yards. That’s their seasonal average yards allowed per game… plus 50. They’ve also allowed only 11 rushing TDs this season, and three of those were Henry’s.

  • timtimcharoo

    just another system back. Doesn’t even have a Top 3 YPC for all Saban RB’s since he’s been at Bama.

    • nabiki

      While running behind one of Saban’s worst OL’s…

    • Bob Papadazzio

      Uh… maybe that has something to do with the fact this is one of Alabama’s least-vaunted O-lines since Saban got there?

  • jazzmanjimmy

    McCaffrey is not in Henry’s league. He does not catch many passes to save him. Bama does not have another marquee runner to share carries like they usually do. The trophy is Henry’s by a mile. The other 2 stars play against awful defenses.

    • KAO

      SEC has plenty of average to poor defenses….

      • jazzmanjimmy

        Sec 8 top 50 defenses, Pac 12 has 3

        • KAO

          You’re right theyve been better than the PAC in that regard….

          • BC

            Defensive stats are easy to pile up with run first bland offenses in front of you and QB’s who can’t throw it in the ocean – LSU, UGA, SCar, UK, etc. Just sayin…

    • KAO

      SEC has plenty of average to poor defenses….

  • Spitting Bull

    If you look at what Baker Mayfield has meant to his team, he’s a landslide winner. Add to that the fact that he is a walk on. He’s the definition of a winner. A leader. Tough as nails. He won’t win it. But that just sets up a remake of the Orange bowl. When the teams captains met in the middle of the field. Torrance Marshal said to Weinke, “You stole my boy’s trophy and I’m here to get it back.” Laid the wood to mighty FSU. Record setting offense…..Shut them out nearly. We’ll handle Henry too.

  • cell29

    Point blank henry is in the sec. Get over it. Stanford just gave mccaffrey the ball alot.

  • Mirko

    Most overrated back in America…hands down. Will be a flop in the NFL where he won’t be the biggest kid on the block anymore.