Henry Can Be a Valuable Asset in the Rotation | Washington Commanders
By Adam Aniba
Many expected the Commanders to select an edge rusher in the NFL Draft with Chase Young and Montez Sweat on the final year of their rookie deals. Also, second year DE Shaka Toney was suspended for the entire '23 season (Full Story) and prior to the draft was the only defensive end under contract for '24.
Rivera had his eyes set on Clemson edge rusher KJ Henry on day 3 of the draft. Washington traded up to draft the Tigers DE in the 5th round, obtaining the #137 overall pick, giving up selections #150 and #215.
6'5" 246 lbs | DE | Clemson
Drafted RD 5 #137 Overall
Career (48 Games)- 147 TAK (63 solo), 28 TFL, 13.0 SACKS, 2 FF, 3 FR & 11 PD
'22 Stats (14 Games)- 51 TAK (26 solo), 9.5 TFL, 3.5 SACKS, 1 FF, 1 FR & 6 PD
Henry grew up in Winston-Salem, NC and was a dual sport athlete for West Forsyth High School, playing football and basketball. As the team's F/C, Henry scored 1,156 career points, averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds a game as a junior.
Although Henry was a standout on the hardwood, his ability on the football field is what grabbed the attention of college scouts. The edge rusher finished his senior season with 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 14 pass deflections in 2017.
Henry was ranked as a 5-star recruit, #3 defensive and and #6 overall prospect in the nation by ESPN. He also received an invite to play in Under Armour All-American Game.
The West Forsyth edge rusher was highly recruited by Penn State, S. Carolina, Alabama, Stanford, Ohio State, USC, Kentucky, Va Tech, Georgia, Clemson and many others. Henry ultimately committed to play for Tigers.
As a redshirt freshman in '18, Henry was active in 4 games and registered 9 tackles (2.0 for loss) and 1 fumble recovery. The following season Henry played in 15 games and registered 22 tackles (4.5 for a loss), 2 sacks and 3 pass breakups.
In 2020, Henry played in 12 games with 6 starts registering 23 tackles (6 for loss) 3.5 sacks, 2 passes defended and 1 fumble recovery.
The Tiger's edge rusher made his first career start vs Wake Forest, recording 5 tackles (3 solo) including a nine-yard sack.
Henry showed tremendous growth, refining an effective spin move in his passing rushing repertoire. In the ACC Championship Game vs. #2 Notre Dame, Henry recorded 4 tackles and 1 sack. The following game vs #3 Ohio State, he recorded 2 tackles before leaving the game due to injury.
In 2021 Henry played in 13 games (4 starts), the Tigers edge rusher registered 28 tackles (6.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
He had one of his best performances of the season vs Iowa State during the Cheez-It Bowl (12/29/21). Henry recorded 3 tackles and a pivotal late game sack that helped clinch a 20-13 win for the Tigers.
During the final stretch of the '21 season, the Tiger's pass rusher recorded a least a 1/2 sack in four consecutive games. In addition to his play on the field, Henry was also an All-ACC Academic Team selection.
Last season Henry was voted as a permanent team captain by his teammates and named 1st-Team All-ACC selection by the Associated Press after a career year. ESPN ranked Henry as the #81 player in college football in '22.
The Clemson edge rusher played in all 14 games, recording 59 total tackles (9.0 for loss), 3.5 sacks, 6 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and team-high 24 quarterback pressures (most since '16) in 659 defensive snaps.
His most impactful game came vs Georgia Tech (9/5/22), in which he registered 6 tackles (2.5 for loss), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 5 quarterback pressures in the 41-10 victory.
For the second consecutive season, Henry was named to the All-ACC Academic Team.
Ryan Fowler of The Draft Network had the following to stay about his vision for Henry in Washington.
"Maybe you show some unique looks, you got guys like Daron (Payne) and Jon (Allen) in the middle, why not put a guy like KJ Henry on one side, put Chase Young at 3-tech, put Montez (Sweat) on the opposite side, show a blitzer through the A gaps. Be unique in what you're doing".
Impressive burst off the snap with little wasted movement
Non-stop motor plays through the whistle
Utilizes an effective spin move when rushing the passer
Effective play diagnoser who attacks off the snap, while still playing under control
Overall speed (4.63 second forty) and length (33" arms & 79 3/8" wingspan) transalate to the NFL
Needs to develop his arsenal of pass rushing moves/counters
Overall footwork and flexibility/bend off the edge will require refinement on the next level
Lack of production over 5 seasons is a bit concerning
Too often relies on his strength/physicality, rather than technique when taking on blockers
Struggles against the run when facing pulling blockers and often gets stonewalled
Henry could carve out a role in time for Del Rio, but will need to refine his game. As mentioned, Young/Sweat are on the final year of their rookie deals with Toney and Henry the only other DE's under contract for 2024.
Considering the current depth at defensive end, Henry could likely be a game day inactive for most of the '23 season, barring any injuries along the defensive line.
When Henry eventually does see regular season game action, playing on obvious passing situations/3rd downs could be his niche. Until then, he'll need to contribute on special teams and impress coaches during training camp and the pre-season.
Although drafting Henry could help the defense this season, the move was more of an investment down the line for Del Rio's defense. After underachieving for the most part at Clemson, the former 5-star edge rusher will get a shot to be a valuable asset in Washington's defensive line rotation.
*Games Played- 9/5/22 vs Ga Tech, 9/24 vs Wake Forest, 10/15 vs FSU, 11/6 vs Notre Dame, 11/12 vs Louisville & 12/3 vs N.Carolina