Rams rookie Darrell Henderson is one of the most exciting backs from the 2019 NFL Draft, but J. Moyer explains why his transition from start collegian to complete runner won’t be immediate.
Perhaps the draft’s most electric back, Darrell Henderson’s arrival in the Rams’ hyper-efficient rushing offense offers plenty of justifiable excitement. It never meant the transition from Memphis to L.A. would be seamless.
Henderson emerged from a Memphis offense centered on a diverse gap run scheme. When executing gap run plays, the offensive line uses an array of down blocks and pullers to create advantageous blocking angles, with the goal of opening a hole in a specific gap.
The back is told where to go, minimizing the reliance on vision, processing of post-snap change, lateral agility and controlled footwork. Instead, the best gap running backs are those like Henderson, who displays comfort navigating tight spaces, sudden acceleration, an aggressive running style and outstanding contact balance that helps him defeat tacklers in the open field.
The Rams’ rushing attack is built on two staple plays: Wide Zone and Duo. Wide Zone is designed to stretch the defense horizontally, while the running back reads defenders across several gaps before picking one and exploding through it upfield.
Duo is a down-blocking inside run that requires the back to read through double-teams on defensive linemen to the middle linebacker, then access the hole wherever it pops open. Both plays emphasize the runner’s vision, scheme awareness, processing of post-snap changes, lateral agility, and controlled footwork.
Early word from Sean McVay and Henderson himself is the lack of familiarity with the Rams’ bread-and-butter runs has caused Henderson to play with hesitation. Despite optimism that he had turned a corner heading into preseason week 1, we saw Henderson struggle to execute zone concepts against the Raiders.
While Henderson should improve with more repetitions, early signs are that it will not be a natural transition. Expect McVay to apply Henderson efficiently, prioritizing runs he is more comfortable executing and using him as a receiver to get him the ball in space. For now, Henderson’s struggles adapting to the base scheme will limit his opportunity to these change-of-pace situations.
The Chris Thompson-Lance Dunbar role as a satellite back is a far more accurate range of play that we’ll see from Henderson as a rookie.
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