Since 2012, NFL teams have drafted 250 running backs, 27 of them in the third round. The Los Angeles Rams picked backs twice in round three, picking Tre Mason at number 75 in 2014 and picking Darrell Henderson at number 70 in 2019.
Mason showed promise as a rookie but struggled with personal issues and only spent two seasons (2014-15) with the Rams. He made a comeback with the Canadian Football League in 2018 and had a solid season. Mason had nearly 1,000 rushing and receiving yards but suffered a knee ACL injury late in the season that would end his career.
Henderson was drafted from Memphis. At the NFL Combine, he ran 4.49 forties with an excellent 1.42 10-yard split, a 33.5-inch vertical, a 10′ 1-inch width and bench pressed 22 reps. He’s a little short for the leadback role at 5ft 9in and 208lbs and has a good arm length (31in). Henderson turned on big production numbers in college while playing in a running back rotation. In three years, he rushed for 4,303 yards from scrimmage on 494 touches, clipped 8.7 yards per touch, and had 44 touchdowns.
As a pro, Henderson’s stats are modest. Although his NFL performance per touch is solid, injuries have been his bane since joining the Rams. He was plagued by knee, rib, hand and soft tissue ailments. Currently, Henderson is a full-fledged participant in training camp, having been restricted in OTAs.
In three years, Henderson has rushed for 1,459 yards with 326 carries, an average of 4.5 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a receiver, he has added 49 receptions for 372 yards, a 7.6-yard average and four points. Overall, he had 1,831 yards from scrimmage on 375 touches, 5.0 yards per touch.
After being out of action for almost 2 months, RB Darrell Henderson made his post-season debut in the Super Bowl and had an impressive game! Henderson collected two huge first downs through the air and had 50 yards in the win. Congratulations @DarrellH8!!! An important contribution! pic.twitter.com/BiV7RXbZ6h
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) February 15, 2022
2022 is Henderson’s final year of rookie contact and he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Will he remain healthy enough to use his skills and land a new contract with the Rams, or will he be allowed to continue after the season? But this article isn’t about his future with LA, it’s about his past. More importantly, have the Rams received a decent return on their investment?
Obviously he’s done better than Tre Mason at the Rams team level, but what about the other 25 rounds of three running backs? How does Henderson’s return on investment compare to 10 years as an NFL third-round player?
First a little accounting to thin out the field. Of the 27 running backs drafted in the third round since 2012, three were drafted in 2022, so they’re not included. Another six are from the NFL and are frankly left out because their numbers don’t measure up.
Hendo’s numbers: 375 touches / 1831 yards / 5.0 yards per touch / 14 TDs / 0 fumbles
- Alvin Kamara, New Orleans #67 2017 1285 / 7501 / 5.8 / 67 / 7
- Kenyan Drake, Miami #73 2016 957/4919/5.1/36/11
- David Montgomery, Chicago #73 2019 835 / 3732 / 4.5 / 24 / 4
- Devin Singletary, Buffalo #74 2019 602 / 3023 / 5.0 / 14 / 10
- David Johnson, Arizona #86 2015 1268/6805/5.4/57/18
- James Conner, Pittsburgh #105 2017 895 / 4392 / 4.9 / 44 / 9
- Damien Harris, New England #87 2019 366/1816/5.0/17/3
- Alex Mattison, Minnesota #102 2019 385 / 1822 / 4.7 / 8 / 2
- Royce Freeman, Denver #71 2018 432 / 1842 / 4.3 / 9 / 1
- Duke Johnson, Cleveland #77 2015 841 / 5131 / 6.1 / 23 / 12
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta #73 2015 905 / 4566 / 5.0 / 36 / 7
- Zack Moss, Buffalo #86 2020 245 / 1118 / 4.6 / 10 / 2
- Donta Foreman, Houston #89 2017 258/1226/4.8/7/5
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay #76 2020 71/349/4.9/3/1
- CJ Prosise, Seattle #90 2016 116 / 694 / 6.0 / 3 / 2
- Darrynton Evans, Tennessee #93 2020 20/99/5.0/1/0
- Trey Sermon, San Francisco #88 2021 44/93/4.4/1/0
Despite all his injuries, Henderson should be slotted in at #7. Kamara and Drake have proven to be excellent stats for their respective teams. Montgomery was a solid player on a bad offense. Singletary is the #1 option for a good team. Johnson and Conner have both had injury issues, but overall they are solid pros. The production numbers for Hendo and Harris are pretty similar and actually both had a rookie redshirt year in 2019. Harris is the Patriots’ first running option, while Henderson is best suited for an alternate rotating role. Henderson has the edge as a receiver and in ball security.
There are two arguments against giving Henderson a solid investment rating. First, he’s not the Rams’ No. 1 running option, many players drafted in the third round are their team’s go-to. And second, the injuries. It’s an overused phrase, but “The best skill is availability” fits Hendo.
It’s hard to refute the injury argument, some guys just can’t take the physical beating that is the NFL. But Henderson’s ailments aren’t chronic, so I’m not 100% sure if some of his nicking is just bad luck.
However, keep in mind that he doesn’t have to be the leadback to be of value to LA. Despite missing five regular season games last season, Henderson gained 864 yards from scrimmage. He can run, catch and is a willing blocker. He fits seamlessly as a rotational back, a role he’s been used to since his college years.
In 2022, Henderson is due just over $1.3 million, ending his original contract. As for the contract’s forecast for next year, there’s a big difference between the top and bottom ends. The minimum for four-year veterans is just over $1 million, and on the high side, James Conner (#6 on the list above) is paying an average of $7 million for his new deal. If both sides can agree on a $2 million to $2.5 million deal, calling it back would be a smart move.
Injuries are the only thing keeping Darrell Henderson from getting a very good return on investment. Its potential is still untapped. Hopefully Hendo has an injury-free contract year for the Rams and their fans and realizes that potential.