We resume our ongoing feature of draft profiles with a player that should be high on the Falcons short-list in Round 1 — Florida cornerback, C.J. Henderson. According to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, the corner position is at the top of Atlanta’s list of priorities going into the NFL draft, which isn’t a bombshell considering their current depth after the release of Desmond Trufant. The promising news is there are a lot of potential cornerbacks in this draft that could be ready to contribute from day one, and the best one that might be available when the Falcons pick at 16 is C.J Henderson.
It didn’t take long for the highly touted high school prospect to make a name for himself in Gainsville. As a true freshman, he started in five games, appearing in six more, picking off four passes — two of which went for touchdowns. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore, forcing four more turnovers (two interceptions and two forced fumbles), pitching in three sacks, and locking down an entire side of the field, leading to Second-Team All-SEC honors. His junior year wasn’t quite as excellent as anticipated. Henderson was limited to just nine games after dealing with an ankle injury, which is why many felt his play fell off — or at the very least — plateaued. But still, he was a First-Team All-SEC selection, capping off an illustrious three-year career for the Gators.
If his performance in college wasn’t enough to solidify himself as a first-round pick, the show he put on at the NFL Combine certainly did. Henderson ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash, put up 20 reps on the bench press — fifth-most among cornerbacks — and recorded a 37.5-inch vert. Standing at 6’1″ and over 200 pounds with extraordinarily long arms, Henderson has the profile to make an impact as a rookie in the league.
However, despite the strength he showed at The Combine, Henderson is still a bit wiry and was bullied at times by more physical receivers — both in the pass and run games. He’s also not the most aggressive tackler against the run and will have to work on adding weight to become a more all-around corner.
On the positive side, his length and speed allow him to make up for mistakes and force passers to fit the ball into tight windows, even when he’s beat. He’s best utilized in press-man but can also play off the ball, and while he may not be the most aggressive cornerback against the run, that’s not the case in the passing game. Henderson closes quickly on receivers while being able to deliver a blow. He also has tremendous ball skills, utilizing them not only to knock away passes but to intercept them as well.
Henderson has a fantastic shot of being taken inside the top 20 picks and being the second cornerback off the board after Jeff Okudah from Ohio State. He possesses the technique and length that coaches covet at the position, but his lack of physicality in his junior season may be a red flag for some teams. There have even been scouts that questioned his effort in his final year at Florida, but that could be just as much a result of the ankle injury he was dealing with. Henderson would be a terrific addition to the Falcons cornerback group, but the decision Atlanta’s front office will have to make is deciding whether he is that much better than one of the other talented corners that could be available in the second round.