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Breaking Down Derrick Henry vs MSU: The Spartans Expose Weaknesses

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Evaluating the former Alabama running back in the Cotton Bowl.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last time we checked in on Derrick Henry's film, he was bursting through Texas A&M's defense. That post certainly put the spotlight on some of Derrick Henry's strengths. Now, its time to look at his weaknesses. The draft is so popular because it breeds optimism but looking at both the strengths and weaknesses of players should hopefully give a more complete evaluation of the prospects.

The best way to describe Derrick Henry's running style is to think of him like a train. He is at his best when he can pick up speed moving in a straight line.  Once at top velocity, Henry is more fluid and agile than when trying to make tight cuts earlier on in his runs. As well, Henry's weight, strength and power are magnified when at his fastest, allowing him to crash through or drag defenders for additional yards. These features are all what makes Henry an attractive running back prospect and why the Titans felt compelled to use a second round pick on him.

His running style also has its weaknesses though. Henry can struggle when teams force him to make cuts early, when he's moving at a slower pace. The defense successfully creates a big, slow target. Henry's size is then a flaw - he's easier to tackle and isn't able to power through defenders as much.

Here's the first example:

Immediately Michigan State is able to get Henry moving laterally on this play. This creates two advantages. Obviously the first is that Henry isn't gaining yards when running along the line of scrimmage, but he also has to slow down to turn up field. Those big cuts can be difficult for Henry. The Spartan defense manages to stop him after a two yard pick up, and there isn't yards after contact here. The power many expect from Derrick Henry doesn't make an appearance.

MSU manages to disrupt Henry's running lane in our next example with a similar result. Below, the defensive tackle initially pushes into the lane and forces Henry to hop left. Henry's lost his momentum and the advantage flips to the Spartans.

A similar result arises if Henry is forced into a full stop on a run:

Alabama's left tackle whiffs on his block, freeing up MSU DE Shilique Calhoun. With Calhoun free on the edge and Alabama center Ryan Kelly locked in a battle with DT Malik McDowell, Henry attempts to use Kelly's position to avoid both Calhoun and McDowell. Its certainly not a bad plan. Unfortunately MSU's #30 read the play well and crashes into the hole. Its possible that most backs on this play would end up with a similar result, but ideally if you can make that quick cut earlier (before putting his hand on Kelly), there may be a chance to pick up a few more yards. A smaller, quicker back may have been able to make more out of this run.

Below is another example where Henry's size and footwork hurt him more than your typical back.

The defensive lineman beats his man, putting Henry into a one-on-one challenge. He has the right idea to slice back inside, but slows down and the MSU defender is able to get his hand up high on Henry's shoulder pads, ultimately hanging on to bring him down.

Despite the insane production at Alabama last year, Henry is going to have several things to work on in his first training camp as a Titan. I would put footwork and lateral agility at the top of the list.  It is certainly going to be a challenge, but if he improves on those then Henry has the chance to become a very good running back for Tennessee.