Dan Hatman is a former scout with the Eagles, Jets, and Giants. He caused a minor stir on Twitter today after sharing these comments with the Florida Times Union about the projected stock of Heisman winner Derrick Henry:
I think in the Nos. 100-150 range — basically the fourth round. I’m a little biased because I don’t value running backs highly. There are too many guys who have been drafted in the sixth round or later — or not drafted at all — and been functional.
Gil Brandt then got involved and then… a typical Twitter set-to:
Anytime you want to watch film Gil, don't hesitate to reach out. Always willing to listen to alternate opinions. https://t.co/iHGigsQL9g
— Dan Hatman (@Dan_Hatman) December 12, 2015
Hatman’s opinion is shared by many. I disagree with it fundamentally but understand the take. The perception is you can find productive running backs later in the draft. This is true. It’s also true that the NFL’s top three in rushing yards this year (Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin and Jonathan Stewart) were all first round picks. Five of the top six are actually first rounders (Todd Gurley, Chris Johnson). Seattle’s lynchpin (no pun intended) is also a former first round pick.
I wouldn’t a judge running back any differently to most other positions. If you believe a player can be a key impact player as a runner, a guy who can help you win games and if the grade matches up — there’s nothing wrong with an early pick. Gurley has shown in flashes his massive potential. The Vikings have no regrets over taking Peterson (and how Arizona wished they’d pulled the trigger in 2007). Sure, there’s going to be a Trent Richardson every now and again. Is that any different than Robert Griffin III flaring out? Or disappointing left tackle Jason Smith (remember him?) from 2009?
And while there have been star running backs drafted later on — the best cornerback on the NFL’s top-100 list from 2015 is a fifth round pick. The #3 player on the list was a quarterback taken in the sixth round. The second best receiver on the list (who really should’ve been the top ranked receiver) is a former sixth rounder. The four running backs in the top twenty were taken in the third, first, third and second round respectively.
Anyway, back to Henry…
I suspect Hatman saying he could be a fourth rounder is more a review of his overall stance on the running back position rather than the players actual stock. That said, I don’t think Henry will touch the first round.
He’s one of the more unique players you’ll ever see. Tall, long and massive — he’s listed at 6-3 and 242lbs. And yet it’s not power, trucking or tough yards you associate with him.
Henry’s best asset is his surprising ability to accelerate, explode through a crease and be a home-run hitter. He’s a great finisher in the open field capable of turning good runs into great runs. When he gets a head of steam he glides — and that’s when he’s really tough to stop. This season he had a 56-yard run against Wisconsin, a 55-yard run against Texas A&M and a 74-yarder against Mississippi State.
In short yardage situations he doesn’t project to be quite as productive. Henry’s length is actually an issue that takes away the benefit of his overall size. He offers a big target to hit and with long legs he’s easy to knock off balance. He’ll go down after a glancing blow. If you get to him before he’s into the second level, he can be ineffective. He’s not one for dragging defenders or getting an extra 2-3 yards with every run. He doesn’t always fall forward. He’s far from the power-back you’d expect at 242lbs. He’s more Shaun Alexander than Marshawn Lynch.
He also needs a lane. His vision and patience can be very good — but at that size he’s not a crazy cut-back runner who can plant and explode. Again, he’s better going through the gears and building up speed. And for that to happen he needs the space to move forward.
Henry might be an ideal fit for a team like Dallas that blocks pretty well and will offer opportunities to get into the second level. Zone blocking teams or teams (like Seattle) that prefer physical, competitive runners who get the tough yards aren’t likely to be lining up to draft him early.
I think he’ll go in round two, possibly to the Cowboys. It wouldn’t be a major shock though if he did just hang around a bit longer into the third.
Hatman isn’t the only one not enamoured with the idea of taking a running back early. It is a copycat league afterall. And while Gurley has had some success, Melvin Gordon has had a very disappointing first season in San Diego. At the same time undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls has been a major revelation and could yet make a case to be the offensive rookie of the year.
That could have some impact on the upcoming draft class, particularly with nobody as talented as Gurley eligible to declare (it’ll be a different story in 2017 when Leonard Fournette turns pro).
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott has the best chance to go in the first frame. As one unnamed scout states: “Elliott can create on his own, (Henry) can’t.” A good team picking late in the first (Arizona?) could see the benefit in taking an impact player like Elliott very early. Even he might have to wait until the early stages of round two.
That could be good news for the Seahawks (and not because I think they’ll draft Elliott or Henry).
It seems almost inevitable that Marshawn Lynch will be moving on in the off-season. Jason La Canfora — a trusted and established source for Seahawks news — has suggested as much. The emergence of Rawls and Lynch’s massive $11.5m cap hit for 2016 makes it likely.
In theory the two players would create quite a two-headed monster for the Seahawks. Yet Lynch doesn’t strike you as the type of player to appreciate a new, lesser role in the closing stages of his career like Fred Jackson. As La Canfora notes, “He (Lynch) has been a challenging player to deal with at times.” It’s hard to imagine he’ll be any easier to handle if he’s only getting 10-12 carries a game. That situation might worsen if Rawls continues his prolific form and they find it harder to keep him off the field.
Is Lynch ever going to be effective in a committee approach? Surely his best quality is his ability to break tackles and wear down a defense over four quarters? He’s not really an impact player who will make big plays on a snap-count.
There was some feeling that a Lynch holdout in 2014 was somewhat inspired by quotes attributed to Darrell Bevell discussing a possible committee approach with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. The Seahawks chose not to create a similar committee this year even during Rawls’ hot form. A week after he ran for 169 yards at Cincinnati and with Lynch back in the line-up he had just a single carry against Carolina. In the subsequent three games Rawls averaged four carries a week. Then Lynch had surgery and the rest is history.
The potential distraction caused by an unsatisfied Lynch, the enormous cap hit ($11.5m), the savings Seattle can make ($6.5m) and the dynamism and success of Rawls makes a possible parting of ways increasingly likely.
That would mean having to add another back at some point in the draft (or UDFA).
If the likes of Henry get pushed back, the next group of runners could also slide — providing great value in the middle rounds. Alex Collins has been a revelation for Arkansas — combining tough short-yardage runs with explosive grand slams. Utah’s Devontae Booker has his favourites and would add a complimentary slasher style to Rawls. UCLA’s Paul Perkins isn’t the biggest runner — but he’s incredibly tough to bring down, has a dynamite cut-back and could develop into a useful third-down specialist.
I’ve not been overly impressed with LA Tech’s Kenneth Dixon — although he has his admirers. Notre Dame’s converted wide out C.J. Prosise is considering his options. There’s also a whole host of other runners we’ve barely even looked at yet.
The Seahawks have shown they’re willing to consider drafting running backs in the middle section of the draft. Robert Turbin was a relatively early fourth round pick in 2012. They took Christine Michael in round two the following year. To be drafted that early by Seattle any runner is going to need to be as athletic as Michael. The third round compensatory selection they’re likely to receive in 2016 would be a similar slot to the range they drafted Turbin — who proved to be a solid if unspectacular #2 back. That could be the range where they ultimately target a value running mate for Rawls if Lynch does indeed move on in the off-season.