In Jaguars Cornerback CJ Henderson, Dan Mullen Sees a Ready-Made Pro
Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen and his staff have been trying to get a message across to their team for three years now. If you’re going to leave school early for the NFL draft, make sure it’s worth the risk. In other words, evaluate your grade, the number of others at your position and make sure you’ll be a first or second-round pick.
When CJ Henderson was chosen No. 9 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he became their shining example. Henderson extended the Jaguars all-time Florida draftees to 12, more than any other school Jacksonville has picked from.
A year after a wave of early departures left Gainesville only to fall into the mid-rounds, Henderson became the only UF player to declare for the NFL as a junior. From beginning to end, he did what Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham asked of the decision.
"I think the first part of that is, you look at this year of guys, and Year 2, the year before we had several guys leave early for the draft. Nobody went in the first round and so there’s some, you could look maybe some good, maybe some bad decisions,” Mullen explained on a Zoom call with reporters on Monday following the 2020 NFL Draft.
“I think you look at the roster this year and I think the guys making good, positive decisions in what they do. That’s what you want, guys that are going to leave early, have that opportunity to leave early, to go be a top 10 pick, absolutely. I think CJ handled it the right way. His family handled it the right way. They made very informed decisions and made a great decision for his future and for their family’s future, to have a long, lasting impact for his family in generations to come.”
Henderson is an unquestionable talent, so much so that Grantham—a longtime college and NFL defensive coach—called him the best player he’s ever coached, college or pro. Henderson made his name known as a freshman, nabbing pick-six’s in his first two collegiate games, against Michigan and Tennessee respectively.
According to PFF, in single coverage alone Henderson saw 172 career snaps. He was targeted 49 times. Meaning 72% of the time, quarterbacks elected to throw to the other side of the field. Of the 49 times he was targeted in his career, he gave up one touchdown. That score was in Death Valley against the eventual National Champion LSU Tigers. The safety and linebacker bit, moving up for run and left little help on the back end.
But it’s not Henderson’s talent that Mullen thinks will translate best to the league. Instead, it’s the same attitude that led to Henderson handling the draft process so well.
“I think he is a guy that's going to have the opportunity, just because of his attitude, not just his talent, but his approach within his preparation, how he handles himself on a daily basis. He’s certainly going to have the opportunity to start Day One.”
It’s exactly what Dan Mullen told coaches when they called to ask about the corner. With the cancellation of Pro Day due to the spread of COVID-19, Mullen admitted he fielded many more phone calls this year than in the past. Several, he joked, let him know upfront they wouldn’t ask about Henderson because, as they explained, “I’m not going to ask about CJ because that’s a waste of time because he’s not going to be there when we get to pick, so let’s talk about other people.”
Still, there were those that wanted to ask about the Gators' defensive stud. Mullen took the conversation a certain way every time.
“They evaluate his talent. I’m not going to say, he’s 6-2 and he runs this fast, they have all that information. Mine was about his attitude. I look at guys, especially guys that are going to leave early for the draft, because you have the different aspect of it. One is are you talented enough to leave? Well, that obviously CJ was talented enough.
“But two, are you prepared to leave, do you act like a pro, are you ready to be a pro. Because it’s a different world, it’s a different lifestyle of acting like a pro. So that was probably the biggest thing I talked to people about is I think you’re getting a guy that you know the talent that you’re going to get. But I think you’re going to get a guy that’s ready to be a pro: how he prepares, how he acts on a daily basis, how he goes about his routine and his preparation to get ready to play, how he carries himself on and off the field, he’s ready for that next level to go be a pro and go be ready to play.”