Is Derrick Henry the best running back in the country?
Surpassing 200 yards four times in the season’s final six games will get any runner into the conversation for best in the country, but does Alabama’s Derrick Henry really have the top rushing resume?
Henry has pounded opponents down the stretch, wearing down defenses as the focal point of Alabama’s punishing approach – hit them hard enough and long enough and they’ll eventually break. Routinely chipping away at fronts determined to limit him, Henry makes good once that tipping point is reached and he piles on the yardage in chunks after the body blows have taken their toll.
But how does the Alabama slammer stack up when looking at the rest of the nation? A run through the numbers paints a strong picture of Henry’s season – lots of work, yards after contact and missed tackles, and a pile of long runs and touchdowns to finish it off.
Against Power-5 competition, Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey are essentially neck-and-neck at the top in attempts and yards, but Henry’s 978 yards after contact leads the country, (well in front of second place Royce Freeman of Oregon) as do his 16 rushing touchdowns (just ahead of Ezekiel Elliot’s 15 for Ohio State).
Henry’s 21 breakaway runs (of 15-plus yards) and the 646 yards gained on them are both second to Freeman, while his impressive total of 56 missed tackles forced trails only the 58 that Freeman and UCLA’s Paul Perkins have produced.
Much of the above, of course, reflects the sheer volume of work Henry has received and some rate numbers may be more informative. His 3.81 yards after contact average, for example, has him tied for ninth in a category that Florida State’s Dalvin Cook leads with a 4.5 mark.
Getting past the stats, what do the grades say?
Against FBS competition this year, Henry’s rushing grade of +23.9 is fifth, trailing McCaffrey, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Utah’s Devontae Booker and Perkins. If only looking at games against Power-5 schools, Henry moves up to second, but still checks in behind McCaffrey’s comfortable lead.
The bottom line is Henry is in the conversation for best running back in the country as he should be. His raw numbers can match up with any runner in the nation, but in a season with so many standouts, even a second half as dominant as Henry’s hasn’t vaulted him into a clear lead at the top.