When it comes to running backs in the 2016 draft, Ezekiel Elliott has become the clear No. 1 option. At a distant No. 2 sits Derrick Henry. That distance has been exacerbated, in the minds of some league insiders, by the fact that Henry played college football at Alabama.
The perception in the NFL is that players exit Tuscaloosa with bodies that have experienced potentially significant wear and tear. When it comes to the ups and downs of former Alabama running backs at the next level, the pounding they took while playing in the SEC — and while playing for Nick Saban — creates a concern that there isn’t as much tread on the tires as other players may have.
“NCAA regulations currently do not address inseason, full-contact practices,” the NCAA itself declares in a document outlining non-binding “guidelines” for practice. Which means that coaches can still work players in practice as hard as the coach wants (with the exception of the Ivy League and Pac-12, conferences which have imposed their own limits on practice).
For Henry, winning the Heisman and being a flat-out giant at six-three and 240 pounds helps. The extent to which that frame absorbed punishment in college, where he had a whopping 405 in-game touches last season, hurts.
How those pros and cons blend will become more clear on Thursday and, more likely, Friday. Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository makes the case for the Browns to consider Henry at the top of round two, notwithstanding the team’s experiences with Trent Richardson, the last great Alabama running back who has been the opposite of great in the NFL.
Setting aside the apples-to-road-apples comparison between Henry and Richardson, it’s hard to imagine the Moneybrowns opting to pick a running back so high, given that plenty of competent running backs can be found at any round of the draft, and beyond. This could be where potential friction between the front office and the coaching staff manifests itself, given that coach Hue Jackson made the Bengals offense go with a pair of second-rounders in Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
Regardless, Henry will have a chance — in Cleveland or elsewhere — to show that he’s more like Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy than Trent Richardson. Given that Ingram and Lacy have had their share of struggles in the NFL, Henry should be aiming even higher.