Reception Perception: Carlos Henderson and Something Worth Believing In

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Sometimes it just clicks. You witness an event unfold and almost instantaneously it hits you that you’re taking in something different from the norm, perhaps even something special.

In the best of cases, those feelings and a logical assessment of them afterward inspire us to take a stand, to believe in something. A mere observation alone isn’t something worth celebrating, but rather the action that follows it.

Watching Carlos Henderson play wide receiver creates that effect. His play inspires you to craft the story of his future NFL success and believe in its coming to pass.

After the consensus top two receivers in this class, Mike Williams and Corey Davis, it’s essentially open season in terms of who will fill out the rest of draft analysts’ top 10 position rankings. Henderson is one of the best x-factors to shoot up those lists in the coming months.

Unlike his peers Williams and Davis, or even the likes of John Ross and Juju Smith-Schuster, Carlos Henderson hasn’t been on the scene for multiple years. He’s a newcomer, and those not inundated in the deepest depths of college football might just be learning about him. I certainly fell into that category before charting out his Reception Perception sample.

I expected Henderson’s numbers to be just another set to round out my database of wide receiver prospects for the 2017 draft class. What I didn’t see coming was that by the end of the process, he would easily be my favorite wide receiver prospect of the 2017 draft class. Yet, that’s exactly what the data bore out.

When viewed in totality, Carlos Henderson’s Reception Perception results speak to a player with perhaps more upside than any other receiver outside the top two. There are few flaws to pick out of his game, and cartons of potential of which to unpack.

Alignment and target data

Games sampled: Texas Tech, Arkansas, Western Kentucky 12/3, Southern Methodist, Western Kentucky 10/6, Massachusetts

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Louisiana Tech lists Carlos Henderson at 5-foot-11, 191 pounds. While he’s not the biggest player, he almost exclusively functioned as the Bulldogs’ X-receiver this season. Henderson lined up at left wide receiver on 51.4 percent of his snaps over the six games sampled for Reception Perception and on the right side for 44.6 percent. He was on the line of scrimmage for 91.1 percent of his plays.

While slot receiver Trent Taylor recorded more catches than Henderson this year, it’s clear who the focal point of the aerial attack was. Louisiana Tech’s quarterbacks targeted him on 36.1 percent of the 202 routes he ran in the Reception Perception sample. His targets often come in high-leverage, big play potential situations, as Henderson maintained 19.6 yards per reception average for his collegiate career.

In space and contested catch ancillary metrics

Before looking at his success rate vs. coverage scores, it’s important to quantify the aspects of Henderson’s game that “pops” on film. It’s his performance in these ancillary metrics in conjunction with his raw profile that got him on the draft world’s radar.

Carlos Henderson is a dynamic player in space, that’s easy to see when watching a highlight reel of his big plays. Yet, Reception Perception helps shine a light on just how dominant he was in this regard, as he is bar none the best prospect charted the last two years “in space” with the ball in his hands.

Of his 202 routes charted, Henderson was out “in space” with the opportunity to break a tackle on 13.9 percent of them. He was only brought down on first contact on 21.4 percent of those attempts, the lowest rate of the 40-plus prospects charted over the last two seasons. Conversely, his astronomical multiple broken tackle rate of 39.3 percent was the best score recorded. To put that into context, Corey Davis has the second highest rate at 22.6 percent and Corey Coleman led the 2016 class with 17.4 percent.

What Carlos Henderson did at Louisiana Tech with the ball in his hands was special, no questions asked. His combination of tenacity, power and agility make it hard to imagine that he won’t at least translate that skill to the NFL level. Don’t be surprised if Henderson tests off the charts and performs in the top-five of several drills at the NFL Scouting Combine this year.

Of course, a sub 6-foot-0 receiver is expected to be something of an asset after the catch. Their abilities in space are meant to offset the potential worries brought on by a lack of height. However, what makes Henderson so unique is that he is a small receiver who wins in the air and in contested situations.

Henderson posted a 76.9 contested catch conversion rate on 13 attempts in his Reception Perception sample. That score slides him into the 87th percentile among prospects charted over the last two years. Despite his lack of size, Henderson is an excellent leaper who doesn’t shy away from tight physical coverage. We have plenty of examples in the NFL today of smaller receivers who end up becoming the focal point of their team’s passing offense, due to their ability to integrate playing above the rim with the separation they create. Henderson appears to have the skills to do that as well.

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Success rate vs. coverage

While winning contested catches and making highlight-reel athletic feats after the catch will get you on the draft radar, showing consistent route-running and earning separation get you into the Day 2 conversation. It was in the success rate vs. coverage metric, which measures how often a receiver gets open on each individual route run, that Carlos Henderson established himself as one of the better receiver prospects in this draft.

Last season, Sterling Shepard was the best performer almost across the board in success rate vs. coverage. His 82.8 and 91.1 percent success rate vs. man and press coverage, respectively, were far and away the top scores in the class. His 80.2 percent success rate vs. zones was also a top-three mark. All of those metrics pointed to Shepard being a strong NFL prospect, something he showed to be true right away in year one of his career.

Among the 2017 prospects, it was Carlos Henderson who stood above the crowd. Henderson bested Shepard’s success rate vs. press coverage score with a 92.6 percent score this year. Now, he didn’t face much press coverage in his lower-level conference, but when defenders took the chance to try and square him up at the line of scrimmage, Henderson defeated their efforts with a variety of release moves. Henderson also took home the highest success rate vs. zone coverage score in Reception Perception’s prospect database with 90.5 percent. While Shepard still holds the best score against man coverage after the entry of the 2017 prospects’ data, Henderson’s 78.9 percent success rate v. man coverage checks in above the 91st percentile.

Carlos Henderson has a more refined technical arsenal than one may expect. He shows precision timing when breaking off his routes, as well as the ability to use deception in the nuanced sections of creating separation. His unhinged athleticism on the field helps put a crescendo on his efforts to get open at all levels of the field.

Route data

I’ve long been on the record as someone who believes “doesn’t run the full route tree” should not be levied as a critique against draft prospects. It’s a note that assesses the environment a receiver exists in, not the player himself.

With that being said, what a player is asked to do as a route-runner is a part of the story that helps bring context to their Reception Perception profile. What Carlos Henderson’s route percentage shows is a player with a narrow utilization portfolio.

Red is below the two-year prospect average, green is above and yellow is within the average. 

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What we clearly notice is Henderson’s lack of deployment on out-breaking routes. The corner, out, comeback and flat routes combined for just 4.5 percent of his patterns overall. Given Henderson’s skills after the catch, it makes sense to assign him in-breaking routes to best get him in space. Still, such limited use on outside routes is noteworthy.

Henderson’s most run routes compared to the two-year prospect average were the nine, dig, curl and screen. He’s capable of picking up vertical chunk plays on vertical routes, as well as using and creating cushion for himself by breaking back to the quarterback on curls. Those routes will help him become an asset as a downfield receiver in addition to what he does after the catch. His high usage rate on digs is striking, and points to some of the more under-noticed aspects of his precision that show up on his route success rate chart.

Not only was Henderson used frequently on digs routes compared to the average prospect, he was also incredibly successful. His 94.4 percent success rate on dig routes was the best score of any prospect charted this year. Henderson shows a strong understanding of where to break off his routes at the 90-degree angle, and does so with pristine foot frequency.

Carlos Henderson posted a success rate vs coverage score above the two-year prospect average on every route on the tree outside of the screen and comeback (which he never ran in this sample). Also showing his versatility, he was one of the top-two performing receivers in both the short and deep game.

Among the six prospects who ran the nine route at a rate above the two-year average (20.6 percent), Carlos Henderson’s 66 percent success rate was the best score. His 88.9 percent success rate on post route tied Mike Williams for the best among prospects this year. His 87.9 percent score on slant route trailed on slants trailed only Isaiah Ford. There isn’t a level on the field where Henderson isn’t one of the best receivers in this class.

It’s easy to get swept away with enthusiasm watching Carlos Henderson play. The fact that Reception Perception quantifies his abilities on a route-to-route basis doesn’t make it any easier to avoid getting bullish with the projections.

Still establishing his NFL Draft story, expect Henderson’s stock to continue to gain steam in the coming weeks. As perhaps a surprise underclassmen declaration, the big draft industrial complex and even the most passionate observers have just turned their gaze to this star over the last few weeks. It won’t be long before Henderson replaces names like Cooper Kupp and Zay Jones, still riding off the buzz from strong Senior Bowl weeks, as the darling of the second-tier of receiver prospects this year.

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As a player who clearly has it all when it comes to on-field ability, Carlos Henderson checks all the boxes of a player we need to monitor closely in his career, especially if he lands with an NFL team able to nurture that clear upside in his corner. Henderson’s is a story worth believing in, one that Reception Perception believes won’t stay a tale of folklore for much longer. When it comes to “my guys” this year, Henderson is squarely at the forefront of the group.

If you’re interested in more Reception Perception analysis, make sure to visit our Reception Perception pages for college prospect evaluations and pre-order The Ultimate Draft Kit for access to 50 NFL players’ full data this summer. You can keep up with all of the work using the #ReceptionPerception hashtag on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Get full Reception Perception data and written evaluations by Matt Harmon on top 50 wide receivers for the 2017 NFL season in the 2017 Ultimate Draft Kit

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