Speed. Size. Physicality. Love of the game.
All reasons the Jacksonville Jaguars made Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson their newest top-10 pick with the No. 9 overall selection on Thursday night. For a team who had big shoes to replace on both boundaries, they made it clear they wanted to leave Thursday with a cornerback of Henderson's caliber.
"C.J. (Henderson) can cover. We believe he can take a team’s number one receiver [away] because of his athleticism and his speed. He’s a great young man. He’s all about football," Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said on Thursday night.
The last time Caldwell took a cornerback in the first round, he took another elite athlete from a Florida school in FSU's Jalen Ramsey. Like Ramsey, Henderson had an epic performance at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.39 40-yard dash) which helped him shoot up boards.
But unlike Ramsey, Henderson prefers to go about his game with a businessman approach. He won't be loud and animated on or off of the field, but the Jaguars hope he brings a similar style of physical coverage as their former star cornerback, even if head coach Doug Marrone said he hasn't made comparisons of Henderson to A.J. Bouye or Ramsey.
"I really feel like you have someone that you could put on a no. 1 receiver, and the reason why I believe that is because C.J. has speed," Marrone said Thursday. "Sometimes these no. 1 receivers may be smaller, fast guys. C.J. is big, also physical in press so you can put him on the bigger, stronger receivers, so I felt that he’s a great fit, a guy that can truly be a no. 1 corner and can take guys out of the game.
"At the end of the day, we’re looking at it, and not to go against anyone else that went before him or anyone else who has been here before, but we feel he has the potential to be a true no. 1.”
Another big selling point for the Jaguars on Henderson was the high praise they heard from Henderson's former Gators teammate, Jawaan Taylor. Taylor, who the Jaguars selected in the second round in 2019 and started 16 games at right tackle, admitted earlier this month he had been pushing in the building for the Jaguars to draft Henderson.
According to Marrone, it was Taylor's advocation of Henderson that made a big impact on him personally.
"Jawaan Taylor, he knows C.J. That was a big thing for me. I can’t speak for scouts, coaches or anything else. Their relationship -- and they had been teammates -- and what type of teammate C.J. is. It was great to hear from Jawaan," Marrone said.
Henderson was knocked throughout the draft process for his ability as a tackler, but Marrone stated Thursday this wasn't a concern in the Jaguars' eyes. Instead, his ability in coverage far outweighed any negatives to his game.
Along with Henderson's skill set as a cover man, the Jaguars were sold on Henderson thanks to his experience against top collegiate wide receivers such as Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and others.
"For me, his coverage ability and the ability to man-up and really shut guys down, for me coming in and out of breaks and watching him stay in a receiver’s hip pocket, and some of the best receivers in college football," Caldwell said.
The Jaguars needed to walk away with a cornerback early at some point of this year's draft after the departures of Bouye and Ramsey turned a former strength into a glaring hole on the roster. For Caldwell, the decision to turn to Henderson to fill this void was an easy one considering the other options in the first round.
We looked it at No. 9 and No. 20 and who do we feel comfortable taking at No. 9 if we didn’t take C.J. and who would be there at 20. We felt like there could be some corners at 20 that we liked, but we didn’t like as much as C.J. obviously," Caldwell said.
The Jaguars hope Henderson can turn into their newest shutdown corner in a short period of time. Their faith is based in his mentality, natural talent, and college experience. Only time will tell if they were right, but as of today the Jaguars are over the moon with their first-round selection.