2022 NFL Draft Profile: Utah State DL Nick Heninger
The Aggies defensive end finished his college career with a flourish, but what do NFL teams see when they put on his tape?
A late bloomer looks to make good.
Nick Heninger sure made the most of his time at Utah State. The versatile defensive end started his career at Utah and saw some action with the Utes, but he was not given ample playing time.
After Gary Andersen became the Aggies’ coach again in 2019, he brought Heninger along as a grad transfer and the junior playmaker immediately stood out as a solid rotation player. He logged 32 tackles including a team-best five sacks and a team-best 9.5 tackles for loss. He also finished second on the team with two fumble recoveries, making a name for himself as a disruptive edge rusher.
After posting solid stats in 2019 and 2020, he positively flourished in 2021 under Ephraim Banda’s defensive scheme. He earned honorable mention all-Mountain West after starting every game and finishing fourth on the team with 75 tackles. He would lead the team with nine sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. On top of that, he managed five pass breakups as well.
Measurables (taken from Dane Brugler)
Height – 6′ and 2 1/8″
Weight – 229 pounds
40-yard time – 4.81 seconds
10-yard split time – 1.70 seconds
Arm length – 32″
Hand size – 9 3/8″
Wingspan – 76″
Vertical jump – 36″
Broad jump – 9′ and 11″ (or 119″)
Shuttle time – 4.43 seconds
3-cone drill time – 7.18 seconds
Bench press – 30 reps
— Coach E (@ematagi) September 22, 2019
USU DE Nick Heninger getting the real party started! pic.twitter.com/a6heW7OeYX
— Hans Olsen (@975Hans) December 20, 2021
Heninger’s ability to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and disrupt any given play near the line of scrimmage cannot be understated. Against San Diego State in the conference championship game, he batted down two passes right in front of Jordon Brookshire and prevented sure touchdown passes. Heninger is also big enough to make any quarterback uncomfortable and has proven he can deliver big hits in clutch moments. He also wreaked havoc on Oregon State’s passing ability, and their Joe Moore Award-nominated offensive line, by logging three sacks in an Aggie win that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. His natural instincts for the ball are outstanding and he flat out makes plays.
On the downside, Heninger isn’t a terribly fast player. If he doesn’t get off his initial block at the line of scrimmage, his ability to bring pressure is notably less effective than more athletic defensive ends. If he misses his target the first time, it takes a bit too long for him to come back and make good on a missed play.
His athleticism isn’t where it could be, so it inherently limits some of his versatility. He’s a bit smaller than other college edge rushers as well, which is not ideal when stepping up to the professional level, where players with more impressive measurables are going to have an edge.
It’s tough to make a comparison when Heninger has measurables that are smaller than the prototypical NFL edge rusher, but in terms of production, he reminds me of Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham. At his peak, he was extremely productive for the Eagles and he routinely logged tackles for loss and sacks to keep any passer nervous, just like Heninger. Both players were extremely reliable during the course of any given season and made big plays in clutch moments.
Heninger has great instincts for making plays and he has been nothing but productive for Utah State. He took a major step forward his senior year and became a defensive force in the Mountain West. With that being said, his limited athleticism might end up holding him back on draft day against bigger, faster DEs at more prestigious football programs.
He will almost certainly get a free agency contract or camp invite with a prominent NFL squad. If he ends up getting drafted, it will likely be in the sixth or seventh round where an organization can take a low-risk, high reward chance on him. He has the work ethic and the ability to get bigger, so he’ll be in good shape for a late round draft pick if a team wants to build their depth.