The Commanders selected Clemson’s edge defender K.J. Henry in the fifth round of the NFL draft. As it stands, the Commanders defensive line is thin on the edge. With the news of third-year lineman Shaka Toney being suspended indefinitely by the NFL, Washington rightfully drafted two late-round defensive ends. Before drafting Henry and Louisiana’s Andre Jones in the seventh round, the Commanders, excluding Toney, had six defensive ends on the roster, and they all are set to become unrestricted free agents. Henry was not drafted to replace Montez Sweat or Chase Young. Instead, he was drafted to develop into a quality rotational piece in Jack Del Rio’s defense due to good gap discipline and lateral agility/quickness to be an effective looper/crasher in pass situations.
Since Hogs Haven does not have a pre-draft profile on Henry, here is some background information.
KJ Henry is a DE prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 8.34 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 253 out of 1515 DE from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/GcxuUl9sTN #RAS pic.twitter.com/grEfT2Aewn— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 14, 2023
Henry’s best asset is his speed. His 4.63 40-yard dash is in the 75th percentile of NFL edge defenders. However, his explosive traits, vertical and broad jump, placed him just below the 25th percentile of edge defenders. Henry has average hand size, height, and below-average weight. His arm length is just below the 50th percentile, and he did not attempt to bench press at the combine or at his pro day. Henry did agility testing at his pro day and produced a 7.47 3-cone and a 4.45 20-yard shuttle. His 3-cone and shuttle ranked slightly above the 25th percentile of NFL edge defenders.
College Injuries include the following:
- 2023 - Hamstring (NFL combine, minor injury).
- 2022 - Foot Injury (Orange Bowl vs. Tennessee, missed the rest of the second half)
- 2021 - Left knee (Spring Practice, Missed the rest of spring activities)
Pass Rush Package
Henry’s biggest pass rush strength coming into the NFL in 1-on-1 situations is the use of his lateral quickness. While it is not always there, at times, Henry flashed a good upfield burst that allowed him to combine his lateral quickness with good mental processing to take advantage and cross offensive tackle’s face who overset, beating them on inside rushes.
Henry’s rush plan is underdeveloped. However, his toolbox sometimes comes to life as he wins mostly on speed and speed-to-power rushes. He possesses solid chop/swim moves to add on top to his quickness and bursts at times to clear offensive tackles. One of the most underrated aspects of Henry’s pass rush is his eyes; when he knows he will not get to the quarterback, he follows him to time a bat-down at the line of scrimmage.
Henry is also a valuable rush asset in the twist game, where timing and cohesion amongst the defensive linemen involved are essential. While Henry primarily aligned as an edge rusher for the Tigers, he saw snaps all across their front on line games because of his ability to time things up nicely, and he has good overall processing in these instances. Henry’s strength on contact as a crasher is solid and helps create an easier rush path for his teammate. Henry’s timing as a looper also helped him generate several pressures for the Tigers’ defense in critical moments. The fourth quarter against North Carolina State was one of his best games in 2022 as a pass rusher generating pressure from stunts.
The Tigers’ defense primarily runs a one-gap defensive front. While Henry saw some snaps as a 3-technique between the guard and tackle, he was primarily the Tigers 5 and 6-technique perimeter defender, outside the tackle or over the tight end.
Henry has good gap integrity as a force defender when setting the edge in the run game, using solid hand placement at the point of contact and good vision to locate the ball carrier. If runners attempt to bounce outside, he displayed good lateral movement and quickness to adjust to their path and remain outside of them. As a read defender in the RPO game, Henry showed good eye discipline and solid change of direction, maintaining good gap integrity before declaring a run or pass from the offense.
Henry is a good run defender against tight ends on base blocks, using good hand placement and strength on contact to stack or squeeze gaps when engaged. In these instances, he also has good vision to locate and make tackles in his gap.
Henry shows good foot speed to turn and zone drop to occupy spaces in fire zones. He also shows good ability and processing to reach the necessary depth on hook/flat areas to take away routes.
I believe that Henry’s biggest weakness coming into the league is his overall play strength in both the pass and run game. As a pass rusher, Henry must develop his hand usage, from timing and placement, to keep his frame clean from OGs/OTs when engaged with them. That will be critical as he continues developing his functional strength on the next level; while at Clemson, when tackles were able to get hands on his frame, he had issues countering and getting hands off of him. From a measurable standpoint, his arm length will also hinder him on the next level because it is slightly below average, which creates a natural advantage for opposing offensive tackles.
As mentioned previously, while he showed good upfield burst at times, it is not consistently there, which was backed by his explosive testing at the Combine. Henry struggles with pure power rushes. He showed marginal play strength and leg drive on power rushes, preventing him from effectively squeezing the pocket. Henry had 56 quarterback pressures yet had just 3.5 sacks, one of the reasons behind that was an inability to finish plays at the quarterback, and he will have to learn how to close out plays on the next level.
In the run game, while Henry will not likely face many OG/OT double teams or combo blocks, he lacks the play strength to stalemate and withstand those types of blocks at the point of attack. Continuing with the play-strength theme, he also struggled on base blocks against guards and tackles, keeping his frame clean due to his arm length and adequate upper-body play strength.
Henry’s snap count during the season will depend on his development over the summer, training camp, and preseason. Nevertheless, Henry is an intelligent player. Washington can use Henry immediately in packages that allow him to utilize his quickness and processing to grow into a disruptive blitzer or looper.
Jack Del Rio utilizes a 1-gap defensive front, which Henry played in under Clemson’s DC Wesley Goodwin. In pure 1-on-1 situations, he will need to develop his hand usage in both the run and pass game, an effective rush plan, and improve his pad level that helps him become a smaller target for offensive linemen to latch onto at the point of attack. Lastly, his play strength is a concern today, but it may improve over time with professional strength and conditioning coaches, which can improve his chances of holding his ground at the point of attack at the NFL level.