The summer is here, meaning we're getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2020. However, that latter exercise isn't easy, especially in the case of players who are among the elite at their position or are coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets.
However, fantasy managers also need the 411 on players who will be thrust into bigger roles due to injuries or depth-chart changes. While opportunity is king in the world of fantasy football, not every player can take advantage and thrive. So, can we find some stats or trends that might help us separate the breakouts from the busts?
That leads me to this series, aptly named “The Fantasy Case Against…” where I’ve done my due diligence in looking at players who everyone in fantasy land thinks is a sure bet to remain or become uber-productive after finding a high level of past success or will be projected to see a bigger role in his offense compared to previous campaigns.
The Fantasy Case Against ...
Jalen Hurts | Justin Herbert | Zach Wilson (Dynasty) | Alvin Kamara | Darrell Henderson | Derrick Henry | Michael Carter | David Montgomery | Saquon Barkley | D’Andre Swift | Brandon Aiyuk | Ja'Marr Chase | Julio Jones | Justin Jefferson | Kenny Golladay | Kyle Pitts | Travis Kelce
Next up, let’s look into Rams running back Darrell Henderson.
Henderson finished his second NFL season ranked 36th in fantasy points among backs. He started 11 games, leading the Rams backfield in touchdowns and fantasy points. He was actually 19th in points at the position over the first five weeks, scoring 19 or more points three times. He scored fewer than five points in the other two. Henderson later suffered a high ankle sprain during the season and lost his starting role to Cam Akers.
Did You Know?
Akers suffered a torn Achilles while training, so he’ll miss the entire 2021 season. It’s a massive blow to the Rams backfield and fantasy fans alike, as coach Sean McVay said there were no “limitations” on how the team would use Akers. Based on what he did at the end of last season and in the postseason, the Florida State product had the look of a true featured back. In his final seven games, including the playoffs, Akers averaged 21.7 touches and 16.3 fantasy points. During that period, his 114.2 combined fantasy points were good enough for him to finish seventh among running backs.
Akers’ absence leaves a huge hole at the top of the Rams depth chart, which McVay hopes Henderson can fill without a hitch. But can he play the role of a featured back?
Let’s see what we can find out from his past.
Henderson was a real home run hitter in college, averaging 8.9 yards per rush during his final season at Memphis. In those final 13 games, he averaged 18 touches and 169.5 yards. Those are impressive totals, but the competition was less than stellar. Some of his best games came against the likes of Navy, Georgia State, and Connecticut.
Still, many fantasy analysts touted him as a sleeper as a rookie, even with Todd Gurley on the roster. However, Henderson barely made a statistical peep, touching the ball 71 times and finishing 98th in fantasy points. That poor finish, coupled with the selection of Akers in the 2020 draft, kept Henderson from being prominently selected in fantasy.
That’s what made his early-season emergence a surprise, as Henderson led the Rams backfield in touch share (23.4 percent) and averaged 13.2 fantasy points over his first five games. During that time, as I mentioned earlier, he scored 19 or more points three times. His success would be short-lived, though, as he would go on to score 10 or more points just twice the rest of the season. Akers made him invisible down the stretch, too.
Now let’s take a look at what the Memphis product has done overall as a pro. In 22 NFL games, he has had more than 15 touches just three times. Three. He’s also recorded double-digit fantasy points just five times. The projected increase in his opportunities in the absence of Akers could change this trend, but to what degree and at what risk?
Let’s also keep in mind that Henderson has missed four games and parts of others in his first two seasons due to various injuries, including the high ankle sprain in 2020.
McVay will continue to be the main play-caller for the Rams. Gurley had a pair of top-3 finishes and an RB14 season in Los Angeles under McVay, but just one other running back (Alfred Morris – 2014) has ranked better than RB29 in his system. We all liked Akers to bust out, and I’d be surprised if Henderson didn’t finish in the top 30 in terms of points among running backs based on that projected increase in touches.
Henderson saw his stock soar when news broke that Akers would miss 2021, and for a good reason. The Rams don't have a ton of depth behind him on the depth chart, and their offense is projected to be one of the league's most explosive. But when we break it down, he hasn’t had much success from a statistical standpoint at the next level.
The Rams don't view Henderson as a true featured back, which was evident when the team drafted Akers one year after taking Henderson in the third round in 2019. He couldn’t impact a declining Gurley’s touches in 2019, and he lost his starting role to a rookie in 2020. We should not forget these facts when targeting Henderson in drafts.
Also, my friend Jourdan Rodrique over at The Athletic tweeted out an interesting quote from McVay this week when asked about Henderson’s prospects for this season.
It has never been an “ability” question with Henderson. It’s about, “How do we keep him available?” McVay, like fantasy managers, is wondering if Henderson can be durable. At least, that's how I interpret his use of words from the outside view.
That’s not a glowing endorsement.
The Rams could still decide to add a veteran, which could jeopardize Henderson's touch share. For now, he's on the RB2 radar with Xavier Jones and rookie Jake Funk behind him on the depth chart. But based on his lack of success at the pro level and a very small sample size of games with double-digit touches (not to mention at least some questions about his durability), Henderson is no lock to be worthy of a high pick.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!