Najee Harris vs. Derrick Henry: Comparing the two Alabama RBs

Derrick Henry ran for over 2,000 yards this year. He led the NFL in rushing for the second straight season. This year, Henry ran for 470 more yards than Dalvin Cook, who finished second. There isn’t another running back in the league quite like the 27-year-old Henry, but he certainly wasn’t considered a sure thing coming out of Alabama in the 2016 NFL Draft. How does Alabama’s latest great RB prospect Najee Harris compare to Henry when he was a draft prospect?

Derrick Henry vs. Najee Harris

Derrick Henry profile

Derrick Henry was born and raised in Florida, setting the national high school record for most rushing yards. He was also an accomplished sprinter at the high school level. As you can imagine, with his unique size and power, along with that high school production, there was heavy recruitment for Henry. He first committed to Georgia before changing his mind and enrolling at Alabama in 2013.

Even in a loaded Alabama backfield, Henry didn’t redshirt as a true freshman. His role grew in 2014 when he shared a backfield mostly with T.J. Yeldon. Kenyan Drake and other extremely talented Alabama RBs were in the mix with Henry in 2015.

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However, Henry still dominated carries (395 rushing attempts) on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy before inevitably declaring for the NFL Draft. Derrick Henry then put on a dominant performance at the NFL Combine.

Why wasn’t Derrick Henry drafted higher?

This is obviously an amazing profile. As mentioned earlier, no one looks like Henry does at the running back position. So why wasn’t he drafted earlier?

First off, he caught just 17 passes over his three-year college career. He has improved a bit in this area with the Tennessee Titans, but by no means is route running and pass catching a strength of Henry’s game.

The other concern with Henry was his ability to change direction. He was the “Track Runner” needing a clear lane. Additionally, he needed a little buildup to reach top speed.

There is still some truth to that in the NFL about Henry. Needless to say, however, it is a minor concern, and the former Alabama RB has exceeded expectations in this area. Derrick Henry is obviously a dominant ball carrier at the highest level.

Najee Harris profile

As for Najee Harris, he grew up in California and ran for well over 2,000 yards in each of his final three high school seasons. In addition, he scored 70 touchdowns over his junior and senior years. 70! In the 2017 recruiting class, Harris was seen as the No. 1 prospect overall in the entire nation. Of course, he ended up enrolling at Alabama.

Related | Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – NFL Draft Player Profile

Many thought the Alabama RB would declare for the draft a year ago. Instead, he stayed at Alabama and noticeably improved in several areas this past year. Harris now has a much better understanding of getting what is there instead of always trying to hit the home run. And his prowess in the passing game increased by leaps and bounds in 2020. However, Harris will turn 23 years old in March, making his age a bit of a negative in the draft community.

Harris also doesn’t have Henry’s pure long speed and probably will not break away from defenders in the league like his predecessor does. This isn’t a knock on Harris, but he doesn’t have Henry’s sheer power, size, and violence as a ball carrier. Then again, who does?

It took Harris time to take over the Alabama backfield

It did take Harris until his third college season to really gain control of the Crimson Tide’s backfield in 2019 before totally dominating as a senior. Yet, Harris is a way better receiver and looks to have a lot more upside here going forward.

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Najee Harris changes direction more abruptly and smoothly than Derrick Henry. Harris’ power and physicality are obvious strengths as well. Harris projects as an every-down workhorse back, something that is hard to find at the NFL level. He should be on the field in third-and-long situations, whereas Henry watches that situation transpire from the sidelines.

Will Najee Harris be a first-round selection?

In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott was selected fifth overall, which was no surprise. On the other hand, Derrick Henry wasn’t considered a player who had a shot of going in the first half of Round 1.

It is unlikely that Harris lands in that portion of the draft, either. The final third of the first frame and into the early second round is the hot spot for Harris. Simultaneoulsy, Harris is competing with Travis Etienne as the first running back to hear their name come draft night. However, the Alabama RB is the favorite for that honor.

Harris won’t last until the 45th overall pick. Does that mean he is a better prospect than Henry was at the same stage of their development? No, and if Harris’ career in the league is anywhere close to Henry’s, his new team will be extremely pleased. Harris clearly is the better player of the two in the passing game, and that in itself, in today’s NFL, holds a ton of value.

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