Derrick Henry took the league by storm last postseason, becoming one of the most effective and efficient running backs in the NFL. He led the league in almost every rushing stat imaginable last year, accumulating 303 carries for 1,540 yards, 16 TDs, and averaging 5.08 yards per carry and 102.7 yards per game. Pairing him with a very solid Tennessee Titans offensive line created arguably the most dominant rushing offense in the NFL last year.
When watching running backs eligible for the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, I never thought I would find a freaky athletic specimen like Derrick Henry. Oh boy, was I wrong. Enter AJ Dillon from Boston College. I would love to see a picture of the two of them standing beside each other, because their measurements are basically identical. Let me start by saying that I absolutely HATE player comparisons. HATE them with a passion. I’ve seen so many stupid and inaccurate player comparisons it’s crazy. It’s just so hard to find two humans that are similar in size and style of play. That being said, Derrick Henry and AJ Dillon is the most accurate player comparison I can think of.
Looking at measurements from their respective NFL Combines, and you might think Dillon was made in a lab. AJ Dillon is 6’0”, 247 lbs., with 31 5/8” arms and 9 5/8” hands. He ran a ridiculous 4.53 40 yard dash and bench pressed 23 reps. He jumped 41” in the vertical and 131” in the broad jump. He had a 7.19 three cone time. Those are absolutely absurd numbers for a man his size.
Now, looking at Derrick Henry in the 2016 NFL Combine, we see strikingly similar numbers. He measured in at 6’3”, 247 lbs., with 33” arms and 8 3/4” hands. While Henry is taller and has longer arms than Dillon, he weighs exactly the same and has smaller hands. Henry ran a 4.54 40 yard dash, bench pressed 22 reps, jumped 37” n the vertical, 130” in the broad jump, and had a 7.2 three cone drill.
Comparing these results, it looks like someone tried to re-create Derrick Henry in Madden. They just renamed the player AJ Dillon, as Dillon barely bests Henry in all the athletic testing categories.
Dillon and Henry aren’t just similar in terms of measurements and testing. Their games are eerily similar as well. They are both huge, run hard, break arm tackles, and fight for every extra yard. However, neither player is very elusive. They are not great at making routine jump cuts. They also need to be in the same scheme. Henry doesn’t work well in a gap scheme because he is so big. He can’t be constantly stopping and starting, hopping around like Le’Veon Bell in his prime behind the line of scrimmage. Henry needs to get downhill in a hurry, and so does Dillon. Because of this, they both work best in a zone heavy run scheme.
Since both running backs have enormous builds, they have high centers of gravity. This makes it difficult for them to get low to the ground and explode off a jump cut, or multiple jump cuts like Le’Veon Bell can. Look at this play and how patient Bell is behind the line of scrimmage. He hops around, stopping his momentum, waiting for his blocks to develop.
Henry and Dillon don’t have the luxury of being able to do this. If they stop their feet, it takes them far too long to get moving again. At that point, they’ve lost all momentum and are easy to tackle. Take this play by Dillon as an example. It’s a power play, with two pulling offensive linemen. If Bell were featured on this play, he would wait for the pullers to make their block and then burst into that open lane. Dillon physically can’t do that. He just has to charge ahead into the pile of players, not gaining many yards.
Furthermore, Dillon and Henry aren’t the elite jump cutters that Bell or running backs like Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey are. On this Bell carry, you can see him jump cut around former Texans safety, Corey Moore (#43), with ease. It’s a very fluid motion and he creates so much space with that cut.
Unfortunately, Dillon and Henry aren’t able to do that. Their jump cuts don’t create that much space. They aren’t able to juke the incoming defenders like Bell can.
Instead of having those big, dramatic jump cuts, Dillon and Henry have smaller cuts and run with a “bendy” style. On this play, you can see how instead of making a jump cut by planting two feet and exploding, Dillon takes multiple steps, bending it to the outside slightly so he doesn’t lose momentum.
The same can be seen here with Henry, how instead of jump cutting, he slightly bends the run outside, taking multiple quick steps instead of one big dramatic cut.
Here’s more of Dillon running with that bendy style. He starts inside and then bends the run outside, in between the pulling offensive line and the tight end. He bends the run back inside again rather than cutting. You can see his lack of jump cut ability against the safety (#31). Dillon tries to cut but he doesn’t create much space horizontally. He still manages to barely get past that defender, but it slows him down enough that he is caught from behind, minimizing a bigger play.
Now Henry. He bends the run outside, like Dillon did, but instead of bending it back inside, he continues to go outside. This is one of the main differences between Henry and Dillon. Dillon will look to get upfield as quick as possible, bending it inside and looking for the guaranteed yards. Henry will bend it outside more often, looking for the big play. Nonetheless, the end of the run looks similar for Dillon and Henry. Faced with the incoming defender, Henry tries to cut to his right to avoid the tackle. He’s unsuccessful as he, like Dillon, doesn’t create space horizontally very well.
Dillon doesn’t love to bend the run outside, but he is definitely capable of doing so. This next play will look a lot like Henry’s last play. Dillon avoids the initial penetration into the backfield by taking a small cut outside; he is then tasked with another defender (#20). He takes one step inside, messing up the defender’s pursuit angle, and then he bends it outside with a small cut. Dillon has enough short area acceleration to win the corner, getting to the edge, and outrunning the defender for the first down marker.
On this play, Henry shows off his elite short area acceleration to win the edge. The CB (#26) is in great position to make a tackle, but Henry isn’t worried; he bends the run far outside and easily accelerates past the defender.
Dillon shows the ability to make short quick cuts, not dramatic jump cuts, to help him get downfield. On this play, he starts bending the run outside, but once he sees that the cornerback (#24) has the edge, Dillon cuts it inside. On the Henry play above, he didn’t care if the cornerback had the edge; he’d just outrun him. This is what I mean when I say Dillon would rather take the run inside instead of outside. Dillon uses a couple quick cuts and a spin move to get tons of extra yards. When he builds up his speed and momentum like this, he’s so hard to stop.
Another thing that makes Henry so dangerous is his stiff arm. Henry uses his 33” arms so well. It makes him tough to tackle. At the end of the run here, he easily pushes away Earl Thomas like he’s nothing.
Dillon shares this awesome trait with Henry. While Dillon’s arms may be a bit shorter at 31”, that’s still plenty long, and Dillon has bigger hands to get a better punch on the defender. Once he makes it to the second level, the safety (#31) is in pretty good position to make a tackle; Dillon just shoves him out of the way with a stiff arm to the face. You can really see Dillon’s length here since the poor safety can’t even get a hand on him.
Dillon brings a toughness that the Houston Texans don’t currently have from in running backs David Johnson and Duke Johnson. Houston could definitely use a short yardage, tough running back to complement them. Dillon definitely brings that skill set. He always keeps his feet moving after contact and picks up as many yards as possible. On this play, there’s not a whole lot of space for Dillon to run, so he just fires into the pile created by the offensive and defensive lines. He takes on the contact and keeps moving his feet, turning what was originally a three yard gain into a six yard gain. It’s the little things like this that can make a run game stronger.
Dillon is also great at just lowering his shoulder and running over a defender. He finds the hole created by the center and right guard and hits it. Unfortunately, there is a linebacker (#6) in his way. Dillon doesn’t care. He lowers his shoulder and drives it right into the linebacker, pushing him over and gaining an extra four yards. Personally, I love watching a RB run over a defender. That’s something Houston’s offense has lacked.
Dillon is also a great goal line back, an aspect David and Duke Johnson lack. Dillon gets hit at the line of scrimmage but keeps running his feet. He lunges forward, dragging two defenders with him, and he reaches the ball into the end zone for a hard-earned touchdown.
AJ Dillon is as close of a player to Derrick Henry as I’ve ever seen. I repeat: I HATE player comparisons, but I can’t help but point out the similarities between the two. Their measurements and athletic testing are nearly identical and most importantly, their games are extremely similar as well.
If Dillon is drafted by a team with a good offensive line and a zone scheme rather than gap-power scheme, I can see him having a similar impact as Derrick Henry. Will he be breaking rushing records as a rookie? I highly doubt it. Even Henry took three years, an improved offensive line, and scheme to reach 1,000 yards in a season. Now that Henry has all of those things, he is a force to be reckoned with.
I think the Texans are a good fit for Dillon. Houston has an improving offensive line. They run inside and outside zone quite often. Dillon isn’t a great receiving or blocking back, but his weaknesses can be masked by David and Duke Johnson’s main strengths. Dillon can come in and take all of those first down runs that Bill O’Brien loves to employ. He will run tough like Carlos Hyde and fight for extra yards. He can bend the occasional run outside and break off a big run like Henry. He can pound the ball into the end zone like Ben Tate used to.
Dillon is projected to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round next week. As long as the defense is addressed early, any Texans fan should be thrilled getting him there. If Dillon becomes a Houston Texan, the Colts and Jaguars are going to be pissed off having to deal with two running backs in the division as big, physical, and fast as Henry and Dillon.