By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
After selecting a defensive player in the first round of the draft for the past six years (two of them in 2013), you have to figure the Jets will take someone on the offensive side of the ball one of these years. Could this be the year that they break the trend and go offense on Day 1 of the NFL Draft?
The problem is that Mike Maccagnan is a big believer in taking the best player available and the draft is more top heavy on defense. The team’s biggest needs on offense, prior to free agency, are finding an upgrade at the RT position, someone at TE to split the reps with Jace Amaro, and a running back to carry the load with the expected loss of Ivory and Powell.
Should they fall to the 20th pick, the Jets could consider taking Ohio State’s Taylor Decker or Michigan State’s Jack Conklin to replace Bren Giacomini at RT, but finding someone at a skill position would be a more attractive option as offensive lineman do not score touchdowns.
The only TE that currently has a first round grade is Hunter Henry of Arkansas. He would definitely be an option, but judging by how little Chan Gailey utilized the TE in his game plan it is doubtful that the team will take one on the first day of the draft.
So that brings us to the running back position, where there are certainly a number of intriguing options available to the Jets in the upcoming draft, depending on what they are looking for. However, unless they bring back Ivory they are going to need someone that can tote the rock at least 20 times a game, and there are only a handful of projected every-down backs.
If this is where they decide to go in the first round, the number of workhorse candidates is dwindled down to two. One of those options is Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, who probably will not even make it to the Jets after a solid combine has been added to his already incredibly impressive college career.
The only other possibility at the position on the first day of the draft is Alabama’s 2015 Heisman Trophy Winner, Derrick Henry, who weighed in at a hulking 6’3, 247 pounds at the combine. Although he has been projected as an early-to-mid second round selection, his 4.54 time in the 40-yard dash and 22 bench press reps have surely catapulted him into consideration towards the end of the first round.
During his Heisman Trophy winning junior year, Henry set a new SEC record with 2,219 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. Though he was not used much as a receiver out of the backfield, he had 11 catches for 91 yards in the season. Henry also had four 200+ yard games on the ground in 2015, including a 46 carry, 271-yard performance against Auburn.
In addition to winning the Heisman, Derrick was the recipient of several other awards in his junior season. His outstanding play in 2015 earned him the Doak Walker Award, Maxwell Award, SEC Offensive Player of the Year Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Henry was also a Consensus All-American.
Over the course of his brilliant college career, Henry totaled 602 carries for 3,591 yards and 42 touchdowns as well as 17 receptions for 285 yards and 3 TD’s. Despite accumulating a lot of mileage in his junior year, he was used sparingly in his first two seasons while splitting time with 2015 2nd round pick T.J. Yeldon.
An extremely powerful north-south runner, Henry can bust through a defense with the force of a wrecking ball, and once he gets going forward he is incredibly difficult to bring down. With a rare combination of speed and strength for a big back, he is a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
A true workhorse back, Henry seldom shows fatigue and gets better as the game goes on. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, defenses are beat up and not so eager to try to tackle the big man. As a matter of fact, 29.6% of his explosive carries have come in the fourth quarter, when a team needs it most.
Henry is surprisingly agile for such a huge back, frequently demonstrating the ability and patience to wedge his way through small openings. Also possessing superb instincts and extraordinary vision, Henry is quick to recognize the path of least resistance. Additionally, he is much lighter on his feet than one would expect and has the speed necessary to run away from defensive backs on the second and third level.
How Henry will adjust to the speed at the NFL level has been a source of great debate, but running a 4.54 in the 40 should put some of those worries to rest. Playing against stiff SEC competition, he proved time and time again that he can break the big run. Derrick is also more elusive than one would expect at his size as he led the nation in missed tackles forced with 60 in 2015.
As enticing a prospect as he is, Henry is not without his flaws. Most of his power comes on runs between the tackles and when he starts dancing behind the line as opposed to hitting the hole with authority, Derrick loses a lot of his power and speed. He is also a bit top heavy and can use some work on his lower body in an NFL weight room to balance out his strength.
Furthermore, Henry did not gain a lot of experience as a receiver on the college level, which is something that he will need to improve on when he takes the jump to the NFL. However, he has shown progress in that area and performed well when asked to stay in to block in pass protection.
There is no denying that a guy who runs with such power and does not shy away from contact is vulnerable to wear and tear, but he has not shown any signs of slowing down or missing significant playing time to this point. In his last 4 games of the 2015 season, Henry had 146 carries for 783 yards and 7 TD’s.
It is safe to say that Henry could fill the role of Chris Ivory in the Jets’ offensive attack. He has the power, vision and second gear to rip through defenses on a regular basis. Be that as it may, he would benefit from being on a team that has a good chance of pace back, such as Bilal Powell, who the Jets can hopefully bring back in a scenario where they draft Henry.
An obvious comparison for Henry would be Brandon Jacobs and LeGarrette Blount, two big guys that have had success at the NFL level. However, Derrick seems to have more straight-line speed and acceleration than Blount and more agility and acceleration than Jacobs. Overall, he has the skills that translate to greater potential than both of them, and he seems poised to prove it to the world in 2016.
Teams might be able to game plan for the tendencies of an opposition’s offensive weapons, but there is not much that can be done to prepare for the beating that a monster like Henry can inflict on a defense over the course of a game. The ceiling appears to be high for the former member of the Crimson Tide and he would look mighty fine in the green and white of the New York Jets.