2020 NFL Draft: Florida’s CJ Henderson is #1 (literally)

The Florida Gators awarded cornerback CJ Henderson the No. 1 jersey, a rare honor for the Gators to bestow. But for the NFL Draft prospect, it's nothing new.

A jersey with a number 1 on the back always has a good look to it. Whether you’re picturing Cam Newton, Warren Moon, or even a young, pre-NFL Draft Larry Fitzgerald, it makes your presence known out on the field. After all, you’re the first player in the program. The first listed on the website. But there’s also subtle pressure that falls on your shoulders when you don that uniform. And no school holds the jersey in higher esteem than Florida.

“You’ve got to be a baller to be No. 1”, Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen stated back in 2018.  “I don’t know if I have anybody at No. 1 just yet. I don’t know if anybody’s done enough in general. You have to really stick out”.

Over the years, stars such as Percy Harvin, Reggie Nelson, Jon Bostic and Vernon Hargreaves have all made their mark wearing the prestigious honor, and it takes a special talent to be able to live up to the level of standards those players attained. In recent years, no Gator has been worthy of taking up the mantle.  CJ Henderson put an end to the drought.

NFL Draft – The New #1

Simply put, CJ (or Christopher) Henderson is a star in the making. Coming out of Miami, as a 4-star recruit, he made his presence felt right away in his freshman season, recording 4 interceptions and two pick-sixes, despite playing a limited role. He took that a notch further this past season as a full-fledged starter, posting 5 PBU’s, 2 interceptions, and even 3 sacks. Versatile and competitive, he’s ultimately the perfect fit for the #1 role. He may even be the #1 DB off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft when things are all said and done.

Let’s take a brief look through his game to see why.

Swagger

Okay, this may not seem like an important trait on the surface, but try and show me a top defensive back in the league without elite confidence. You can’t. Having a short memory and a rambunctious attitude is crucial to playing the cornerback position, and thankfully Henderson has that in his game.

Here, we see Henderson go toe-to-toe with his wideout and play the football perfectly in the air. He subsequently goes on to stare the receiver straight down after batting the incomplete pass away. That’s what we’d call “savage”.

It may not seem like much, but this competitive type of spirit is littered throughout his tape.

Ball Skills

Ultimately one of the first things you want to see from a DB is their ball skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean interceptions (although Henderson also excels in that regard), but more so the ability to track and locate in the air. Henderson is extremely advanced at just that.

Here, we see him struggle initially, but stay calm and ultimately come down with the pass break-up. Being able to recover without drawing pass interference is a huge skill to have, and fortunately, it’s one that Henderson is quite good at.

Fluidity

Last year, I joked that Byron Murphy had hips that would “make Shakira jealous.” Henderson is cut from the same cloth. While he doesn’t necessarily have the same instincts as Murphy, Henderson is twice the athlete, while also possessing those same elite mirroring skills.

Here we see him matched up in press against a Missouri wideout. He takes one simple step in his back-pedal then flips his hips open effortlessly, proceeding to stay tight with the receiver and batting down the pass at the perfect time.

A 6’1” cornerback being able to move like that is some alien behavior, folks.

Athleticism

Recently, Bruce Feldman released his list of the “freakiest athletes in college football”, and Henderson slotted in at 34. Given the thousands of players eligible, it’s an impressive feat, but I honestly think he could’ve been even higher.

Measuring in at 6’1″ 193 pounds, the Gator cornerback benches 380, squats 545 pounds, and has a 40.5 inch standing vertical. Oh, and I should also mention he runs a reported 4.35 forty yard dash. Not too shabby.

Now on the field, there’s no doubting Henderson’s frame is on the skinny side of things. Sporting 4.3% body fat, the long-necked NFL Draft prospect will need to add a few pounds to handle the rigours of the NFL game, but it shouldn’t sap his explosion in the process. He checks every athletic box and will put on a show at the combine when he eventually declares.

Technique

This is the area of Henderson’s game that clearly needs the most work heading into next season.

Often just faster or more talented than his opponent, Henderson has developed some bad habits throughout his time at Florida, specifically lazy jabs at the LOS and sloppy footwork – and it’s been exposed at times when he plays tougher opponents.

Take the Missouri game for example. Henderson made some brilliant plays, but he also got beat by Emanuel Hall on several occasions. Now, usually Henderson’s recovery speed allows him to catch up even if he false steps, but against a 4.39 blazer like Hall, he doesn’t have that same safety net to fall back on.

Now fortunately, technique is one of the easiest traits to fix, and I don’t doubt Henderson will clean it up this coming season. Ultimately though, he must make some serious strides if he wants to be taken ahead of other superb players like Bryce Hall and Kristian Fulton and cement his 1st-round NFL Draft status.

Conclusion

Similar to how Captain America was worthy of wielding Thor’s hammer, CJ Henderson has proved himself worthy of being Florida’s new #1. Now, whether or not that translates into a #1 NFL Draft pick remains to be seen. But as you can see above, he’s got all the tools to do just that.

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