Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 7: Florida CB CJ Henderson

Yahoo Sports


Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

7. Florida CB CJ Henderson

6-foot-1, 204 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.32 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Confident, smooth cover corner whose pre-2019 tape showed the best of what he can be, even with some tackling and playmaking worries

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, C.J. (short for Chris Jr.) Henderson initially committed to Miami (Fla.) but ended up flipping and signing with the Gators. And he made an immediate impact with them in 2017 as a true freshman, earning Freshman All-SEC honors.

As a sophomore in 2018, Henderson was named second-team All-SEC, making 38 tackles (five for losses), three sacks, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles, starting all 13 games.

In 2019, he switched uniforms — from No. 5 to No. 1 — and. was a first-team All-SEC pick, making 33 tackles (three for losses) and 11 passes defended in only nine games. Henderson missed three games early in the season with an ankle injury and skipped the team’s bowl game.

Henderson, who turns 22 years old in September, opted to declare for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and performed all the drills except for the 3-cone and short shuttle.

Upside: Elite athleticism for the position — ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and had great vertical jump (37 1/2 inches) and broad jump (127 inches) numbers at 204 pounds. Good length (75 7/8-inch wingspan). Racked out an impressive 20 reps on the bench press.

Elite, natural coverage skills. Mirrors receivers’ movements and has the makeup speed to recover. Cuts off route angles and flips hips extremely well. Patient and smooth in his backpedal. Great change-of-direction skills. Looks natural in both man and zone. Brings confidence and swagger to his coverage assignments.

Watch a less-than-full-health Henderson effortlessly stay in phase with LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase (a possible top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft) on the go route, and time his jump to knock the ball away perfectly in the end zone:

This is how you stay in phase with an elite receiver.
This is how you stay in phase with an elite receiver.

Possesses the press-man cover skills to handle that duty extensively. Good eyes to see what’s developing in front of him — looks through receivers in zone to the QB. Drives quickly on plays made in front of him.

Most teams opted not to go after him out of respect. A number of catches he allowed looked like partial coverage busts by Gators safeties. Pitched a lot of shutouts and one-hitters in his career — 17 career games, per PFF, with one or no catches allowed in a game.

Effective on corner blitzes — times them up well and closes fast with his speed. Notched four sacks and five pressures on only 19 tries, per PFF, the past two years. Here’s an extremely well-timed blitz by Henderson in the red zone that helped limit South Carolina to a field goal:

Henderson is an underrated blitzer.
Henderson is an underrated blitzer.

Made more than one TD-saving tackle in his career. Looks for chances to punch the ball out when possible. On this play from 2018, Henderson isn’t really going for the ball, but watch the terrific hustle to come from halfway across the field to not only prevent the TD but also force the ball out for a touchback:

This is an outstanding hustle play to not only prevent a TD but also force a fumble.
This is an outstanding hustle play to not only prevent a TD but also force a fumble.

Three-year starter in the SEC — faced top competition and never backed down from a challenge. Asked to cover all shapes and sizes, often without much help — speed receivers, big receivers, even tight ends. 

Florida mixed myriad coverages, and Henderson thrived in most. Has played several spots in the secondary. Extensive special-teams experience back to his first season.

Tougher than given credit for — not as soft as some would have you believe. Suffered ankle injury that required him to wear a boot, missing three games. Came back at less than 100 percent and held his own against Auburn and LSU, registering three pass breakups in each of those two games.

Competitor. Plays with a chip when pushed and challenged. Ideal mindset in an NFL corner. Known as a bit of a quiet killer — soft-spoken but makes his presence felt.

Downside: Thin frame — likely played closer to the 190-pound range than at his combine weight of 200. Durability must be weighed given injury history.

Tackling skills and desire rightfully have been called out. Throws shoulders and dives at ankles. Not a physical, wrap-up tackler. Doesn’t disengage from blocks with force to make plays away from his man often enough.

In the 2019 opener, Henderson (No. 1) made this feeble tackle attempt and earned Draft Twitter’s eternal scorn — and yes, it was bad:

Henderson has too many tackle attempts that look like this.
Henderson has too many tackle attempts that look like this.

And that was followed up shortly thereafter by this whiff, even though Henderson did enough to save the TD:

This wasn't a whole lot better, but Henderson at least got the guy down.
This wasn't a whole lot better, but Henderson at least got the guy down.

Ball skills are up for debate. Gets his hands on a lot of balls but hard to know if he’ll ever be an elite playmaker on the ball. Hands are on the smaller side (9 inches).

Here’s a play where Henderson (No. 1, at the top of your screen) had strong coverage and baited South Carolina QB Ryan Hilinski into making a poor decision, but he can’t secure the pick and almost gives up the TD on the dropped INT:

Henderson baits the QB but has to make this interception.
Henderson baits the QB but has to make this interception.

Needs to be more sharper in off coverage — will sag too much and rely too much on his recovery speed. And for a sub-4.4 40, Henderson was strangely slow out of the blocks — 10-yard split time of 1.56 seconds.

Not flagged for pass interference much but seemed to get away with some downfield contact at times. Needs to maintain slightly better body position at the catch point and time plays up a bit better. Bit of as guesser and gambler, and it will come back to bite him.

Best-suited destination: Henderson is likely the CB2 in this draft behind Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah on most teams’ boards, but we know of at least one club that has Henderson listed first on its board. Regardless of where he goes, however, Henderson has the traits to be a Year 1 starter no matter what types of coverages different teams might favor.

Among the teams we believe are interested in his services include the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans.

Did you know: Cornerbacks can be quiet? It’s apparently true.

Henderson is soft-spoken off the field, all his teammates agree. Media, too.

But that doesn’t mean Henderson lacks competitiveness. When fellow corner Marco Wilson got hurt in 2018, Henderson started becoming the communicator in the Gators secondary. And his effort belies that quiet demeanor.

“The thing about CJ is he gives relentless effort all the time,” Grantham said that year. “He’s a really good player. He’s a guy that takes a lot of pride in his work, and he practices like that, honestly. ”

They said it: “Looked like a guy who was playing not to get hurt early in the year. You could see him pull back. The tackling was part of it. He just wasn’t physical. But he came back (from an ankle injury) and battled in two big games, I thought. He wasn’t full strength, you could see. Maybe someone got in his ear a little. I think he’s got some competitive juices. He’ll never be Richard Sherman back there. But he can run and cover great, and that’s the No. 1 thing for me in a man corner.” 

— AFC college scouting director

Player comp: Jalen Ramsey

Expected draft range: Top-15 pick

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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