Last season, Jacksonville Jaguars top pick Josh Allen set the NFL ablaze on his way to breaking a Jaguars rookie record. Could history repeat itself this fall with 2020 top pick CJ Henderson?
Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, broke the Jaguars rookie record for sacks with 10.5, becoming the first Jaguars rookie to ever notch double-digit sacks as well as the first rookie in the franchise's history to make the Pro Bowl. Now, the Jaguars will be desperately hoping for similarly dominant production from Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick in April's draft.
So, how exactly could Henderson write himself into Jaguars history books? If he wants to break records like Allen did last fall, there are two marks he can look to hit: Jaguars rookie records for interceptions and takeaways.
Presently, the Jaguars player with the record for the most interceptions as a rookie is Reggie Nelson, who recorded five interceptions in 2007 after being selected with the No. 21 pick in that year's NFL draft.
For Henderson to tie or break Nelson's record, he will have to be more of a ballhawk than most recent Jaguars cornerbacks. The last Jaguars cornerback to record five interceptions or more in a single season was A.J. Bouye in 2017, making him the only player of the 2010s to record five interceptions or more in a single season for Jacksonville.
As for the rookie record for takeaways forced, three different Jaguars rookies recorded five takeaways in their first NFL seasons with Nelson (2007), Derek Cox (2009), and Fernando Bryant (1999).
In his career at Florida, Henderson didn't have a season in which he recorded five interceptions, though it needs to be factored in that college football seasons are shorter than 16-game NFL seasons. In three seasons at Florida, Henderson recorded six total interceptions, with zero coming in his final season. He did record four as a true freshman and then two as a sophomore, however, and his pass breakup numbers did increase as a junior.
Henderson flashed ball skills galore at times during his collegiate career, but 2019 showed he still needs to define his game when it comes to playing the ball in the air and finishing on a play. Luckily for Henderson, he will likely be tasked with covering No. 1 wide receivers through most of his rookie season, so he should have ample opportunity to record turnovers.
In comparison to Nelson, Henderson should realistically have more chances to come close to matching his interception total. Cornerbacks naturally are targeted more in coverage than safeties, especially rookie cornerbacks. While Henderson will likely be picked on by quarterbacks from time to time as he sharpens his tools, this will at least give him the opportunities needed to match Nelson's interception record.
What also needs to be factored in is the fact that the Jaguars' 2007 defense was a top-10 unit that had playmakers at all three levels to compliment Nelson. While Jacksonville's defense has talent throughout the roster for 2020, the team is coming off of a down year defensively and there is a real chance Henderson could be one of the better players from the jump, so he may not benefit as much from his surroundings as Nelson did in 2007.
Maybe the best comparison for Henderson's situation would be that of Jalen Ramsey, the last defensive pick Jacksonville selected with a top-10 draft pick. In Ramsey's rookie year in 2016, he was instantly one of the best parts of a mediocre defense, limiting the ability for him to thrive thanks to plays made by his teammates. As one of the Jaguars' top players as a rookie, Ramsey recorded just two interceptions and one forced fumble.
Due to the situation in front of him, as well as due to the sheer luck that is sometimes involved when it comes to interceptions, Henderson may have a better shot at matching or exceeding the takeaways record set by Nelson, Cox, and Bryant.
For Henderson to break this record, he would have to have a mix of forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and interceptions. While this isn't impossible, though fumbles also largely hinge on luck. With that said, Henderson has shown a knack for forcing the ball out in the past after recording two forced fumbles in 2018, which gave him back-to-back seasons with four takeaways recorded.
It will be hard for Henderson to hit either of these marks, but the Jaguars will give him all of the chances he needs to do so. How quickly he adapts to the NFL and to the Jaguars' defense will play a big role, but there is at least a possibility for Henderson to make a mark as a rookie like Allen did.