INDIANAPOLIS – Derrick Henry is thinking of a number, but has sworn himself to secrecy.
It’s the 40-yard dash. Henry’s time is a thick plot line at the NFL scouting combine.
“No predictions,” the Alabama running back told media on Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The backs will hit the field for workouts, testing and timing on Friday.
“There’s a number that I want to hit, but I’m not really going to say it,” Henry said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”
Henry won the Heisman Trophy and led the Crimson Tide to a national title. A big, powerful back, last season he rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns – and led the nation by forcing 60 missed tackles.
He even struck the Heisman pose for a snapshot with President Obama earlier this month.
Yet with all of that, Henry’s not projected to be a first-round pick this spring.
Shoot, he isn’t even rated as the top back in his draft class, a status afforded to Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.
Shouldn’t he at least be the first running back drafted?
“No, not at all,” Henry said. “I approach the situation as an underdog, working my way up. That’s how I approach every day.”
Sure, there are questions. Henry didn’t do much in the passing game in college; he’ll have to prove capable in protection and show his hands. He logged 395 carries last season, making some wonder whether he has been used up by wear-and-tear, which has been said of other Alabama prospects.
“I’m good, I’m healthy, I’m ready to go,” he said.
How fast he’ll go, though, is something of a moment of truth.
“If he runs well, I don’t know if that would catapult him into the first round,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick told USA TODAY Sports. “But if he doesn’t run well, I can see it hurting him.”
Riddick, a former NFL personnel executive, expects Henry will clock in the mid 4.5-second range for the 40-yard dash – the race that remains the standard measure of speed in the NFL scouting world.
Too often, though, the hard-core numbers obscure the reality. I mean, Jerry Rice, only the greatest receiver in NFL history, ran something like a 4.6 – slow for a receiver – when coming out of Jackson State in the mid-1980s.
Henry’s case is influenced by the value on running backs in a pass-oriented league. Last year, two backs were drafted in the first round: Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. In the two years before that, no backs were taken in the first round.
“That’s how the game has evolved, and you’ve got to take it for what it’s worth,” Henry said. “You’ve got to make the teams want to draft you, on how you perform.”
Maybe so, but it seems like every January in sizing up the Super Bowl contenders, the wish lists include a dominant running game that control tempo.
Henry undoubtedly knows. Perhaps that’s why, when asked of projected status as a second-rounder, he responded, “I just use it as fuel.”
The NFL can sure provide quite the reality check, if not the motivational juice to excel.
Riddick believes Henry’s status reflects more about the NFL scouting process than it does about the player, who has been compared to former New York Giants back Brandon Jacobs.
“What it tells you is that they’re very particular as far as the skill-set, the physical trait and style, to be considered as a legitimate first-round running back,” Riddick said. “He’s a big, powerful straight-line runner. An upright runner. Not that he doesn’t have any wiggle, but he’s not that type. He may wind up surprising people with his wiggle room.”
From studying videotape, Riddick said that he’s not convinced that Elliott – the top-rated back – has much more elusiveness than Henry.
But Elliott is a blazer, who has been timed as low as 4.32 seconds in the 40, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
Henry insists that he was never timed in the 40 during his pre-combine training, which included work on form and techniques to improve speed.
He won’t reveal his exact target … unless he hits the mark.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I definitely will.”
Besides, there’s another number attached to Henry generating buzz.
At the morning weigh-in, he tipped the scales at 247 pounds. It confirmed it: He’s a big load.
“I was kind of shocked,” he said of the weight. Henry, who measured at 6-foot-2 ½ on Wednesday, was listed on Alabama’s roster last season at 242.
The extra weight, he concluded, came from drinking excessive amounts of water.
“It will go down,” he said. “I don’t really stay at that weight.”