I have a soft spot for Derrick Henry. The newest member of the Heisman Trophy fraternity ran over and through opposing defenses in little Yulee, Florida in high school, and then like running backs before him, waited his turn to show every in college football he is the best running back in America.
Henry’s story is just like many before him – the hard work, the determination, the blessed skills and the talent to be as good as he wants to be. Henry, now a rising senior on an Alabama football team that is still loaded on offense, will have to decide soon if his playing days in college are over and the NFL is his next destination.
Like Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley last season, he should jump at the chance. If you are old enough to have seen both Earl Campbell, with his bulldozing style and Eric Dickerson, with the ability to outrun defenders like a stallion, Henry might not be in the same category as the two Hall of Famers, but his play reminds me of years gone by.
And the team that drafts Henry next season, probably in the first 15 picks of the NFL Draft, he could exceed Gurley’s rookie season with the St. Louis Rams. Should Henry surprise us all and come back to college for his senior season, he, along with Leonard Fournette, could wage the greatest battle over the Heisman Trophy ever seen in 2016.
If he does leave the college game, here are seven candidates who should make their presence known early on as Heisman Trophy frontrunners.
Leonard Fournette – The LSU running back was the runaway winner at the midseason point of the year. It looked as though no player would catch him, but as fate would have it, he and his Tigers teammates ran into Alabama.
Figuratively and literally.
Fournette will only be a junior but has all the tools to be another Herschel Walker-type runner and could make a run at 2,000 yards next season, much like Henry did and came up just short before the bowl game.
Deshaun Watson – The Clemson quarterback finished third in the Heisman voting this season and should be even better next year.
Watson’s ability to throw and run and lead the Tigers attack will make Clemson a favorite again in the ACC and in the polls next year. And remember, he plays the most important positon on the field, which automatically makes him the leader from the clubhouse from the quarterback spot.
Christian McCaffrey – I admit that I did not know much about this guy until he was announced as a finalist. The kid, who is the son of former NFL great Ed McCaffrey, is a solid player who could be a contender next year in the Cardinal attack.
Will players overtake him next year – coming from the Pac 12 and the possibility of Josh Rosen from UCLA grabbing the headlines? I still think McCaffrey is in the mix next season.
Nick Chubb/Sony Michel – Whoever it is who totes the football, the Georgia Bulldogs are in good shape.
I love Chubb and his style of running. But do not discredit the play of Michel, either. Both could make a major impact in Kirby Smart’s first year as head coach in Athens.
The only problem with two great running backs like these two is they may take carries away from each other, which means it could take away Heisman votes as well.
I figure Chubb will be the lead back and Michel will get the relief carries.
Dalvin Cook – Cook showed he could carry an offense on his back. He was the third best running back in the country in my opinion. Next season, FSU could be even better, which means the Seminoles will contend for an ACC and national title.
The junior is a big tail back with speed to burn. He is also one of those runners who gets better as the game progresses. And we all know there are times when it take the FSU offense some time to rev up.
Baker Mayfield – Finished a surprising fourth in the Heisman balloting. Mayfield helped the Oklahoma Sooners win the Big 12 and grab a place in the CFP tournament.
The Sooners are generally known for playing solid defense under head coach Bob Stoops, but now Mayfield has everyone talking about how the team from the Midwest is an offensive juggernaut. He is the sixth person on this list, but in the end, he could be the dark horse everyone thought of after the fact.