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Alabama Running Back Derrick Henry On Way To Eclipsing Highly Accomplished Predecessors


Psst. You know that running back at Alabama this year? The guy that looks like a tallish, somewhat leaned-out linebacker and runs like a receiver? The one getting plenty of pub this week after what he did to the Wisconsin defense last Saturday?

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Yeah, Derrick Henry.

The guy is pretty good.

No, seriously, he's pretty good. How good you ask. Put it this way: remember guys like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon? All big-time Bama running backs in recent years. Ingram won Alabama's first Heisman. Richardson finished third for the coveted trophy two seasons later. Lacy is the former Bama ball carrier who's had the most NFL success so far. And Yeldon, a rookie in the league this fall, is sitting atop the Jacksonville Jaguars' running back depth chart heading into the season.

Well, Henry might actually turn out to be better than all those guys. He's on pace right now anyway to attain that lofty perch.

Henry's start last Saturday in then-No. 3 Alabama's 35-17 win over then-No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, was actually his second career start at Alabama. Not his first. His first career start? That came last season — against Western Carolina, the week before the Auburn game, with a banged-up Yeldon nursing foot and ankle injuries. Henry had 12 carries for 92 yards and logged TD runs of 10 and 23 yards in the Tide's win over the Catamounts. Oh, and he also had a 9-yard TD reception.

Not too shabby for a first start.

Yeldon returned to starter status for Alabama's final three games of the 2014 season — wins over Auburn and Missouri and a loss to Ohio State. But the standout junior declared early for the NFL Draft, opening up the starting gig in 2015 for his backup the last two seasons — Henry.

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Thus, start No. 2 for No. 2 came last Saturday in the Crimson Tide's 2015 season-opener. And most people across the country know by now what Henry did last weekend against the Badgers. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound junior exploded for a career-high 147 yards and three TDs with two of those scores coming from long-range — one from 37 yards out and the other from 56. His third TD was a 2-yard blast up the middle. He added two catches for 12 yards.

"It wasn't a surprise to us because we see that every day in practice," Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson said this week of Henry's performance against Wisconsin. "So we know what he can do."

Henry was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week and the Football Writers Association of America National Offensive Player of the Week. And if he wasn't prominent on the Heisman radar before last Saturday, he most certainly is now.

One guy who needed no opening-of-the-eyes regarding Henry was Alabama coach Nick Saban.

"The guy was a fantastic player in high school," Saban said Wednesday of Henry, who set a national high school career rushing record while prepping at Yulee (Fla.) High School. "He's got great size and speed, and he's one of the hardest-working, best-attitude guys on our team, and he's improved dramatically in a lot of areas. He had a great game the other night. He can really be a workhorse for us, and we're just hopeful that he can stay healthy and continue to improve."

Henry's first career start at Alabama came and went without much fanfare. His second career start turned some heads throughout college football. And the scary part for Alabama opponents is that unlike his one-game, blip-on-the-screen, fill-in start late last season, Henry's second start is more announcement than anything else — announcement that Henry's time is here.

And it's just getting started.

Which brings us back to Ingram, Richardson, Lacy and Yeldon and when their reigns as Bama's No. 1 ball carrier were just getting started. So how does Henry stack up with those guys after two career starts? Very well. In fact, Henry's numbers as a whole top all four. Henry boasts the highest yards-per-carry average (9.56), the most rushing TDs (5) and the most total TDs (6). And his total rushing yards (239) is just two yards shy of being tied for tops with Ingram.

Yeah, Alabama's had a good string of running backs the last few years. The one it has right now? If a guy's first two starts mean anything, Henry just might end up being the best.

Alabama RBs First Two Career Starts

Derrick Henry
Western Carolina, Nov. 23, 2014 — 12 carries, 92 yards, 7.7 yds per carry, 2 TDs (10 and 23 yards), long run of 23, one catch for 9 yards and a TD (9 yds)
Wisconsin, Sept. 5, 2015 — 13 carries, 147 yards, 11.3 yds per carry, 3 TDs (37, 56 and 2 yards), long run of 56, 2 catches for 12 yards
Total — 239 yards rushing, 9.56 yds per carry, 5 rushing TDs, 3 catches for 21 yards, 1 receiving TD

T.J. Yeldon
Virginia Tech, Aug. 31, 2013 — 17 carries, 75 yards, 4.4 yds per carry, 1 TD (2 yards), long run of 27
Texas A&M, Sept. 14, 2013 — 25 carries, 149 yards, 6.0 yds per carry, 1 TD (4 yards), long run of 14, 1 catch for 4 yards
Total — 224 yards rushing, 5.33 yds per carry, 2 rushing TDs, 1 catch for 4 yards

Eddie Lacy
Michigan, Sept. 1, 2012 — 9 carries, 35 yards, 3.9 yds per carry, 1 TD (9 yards), long run of 9, 1 catch for 10 yards
Western Kentucky, Sept. 8, 2012 — 9 carries, 36 yards, 4.0 yds per carry, long run of 18
Total — 71 yards rushing, 3.94 yds per carry, 2 rushing TDs, 1 catch for 10 yards

Trent Richardson
San Jose State, Sept. 4, 2010 — 10 carries, 66 yards, 6.6 yds per carry, 2 TDs (4 yds, 39 yards), long run of 39, 3 catches for 46 yards
Penn State, Sept. 11, 2010 — 22 carries, 144 yards, 6.5 yds per carry, 1 TD (1 yard), long run of 33, 4 catches for 46 yards
Total — 210 yards rushing, 6.56 yds per carry, 3 rushing TDs, 7 catches for 92 yards

Mark Ingram
Virginia Tech, Sept. 5, 2009 — 26 carries, 150 yards, 5.8 yds per carry, 1 TD (6 yds), long run of 39, 3 catches for 35 yards and a TD (18 yards)
North Texas, Sept. 19, 2009 — 8 carries, 91 yards, 11.4 yds per carry, 1 TD (5 yds), long run of 22, 3 catches for 38 yards and a TD (29 yards)
Total — 241 yards rushing, 7.09 yds per carry, 2 rushing TDs, 6 catches for 73 yards, 2 receiving TDs

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— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.