Name: CJ Henderson
Weight: 204 lbs
2019 stat line: 9 games, 33 tackles, 0 interceptions, 11 passes defensed, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack
Combine results: 4.39 40-yard dash, 20 bench press reps, 37.5” vertical, 127” broad jump
The Cowboys are officially moving on from Byron Jones, as the cornerback signed a deal with the Dolphins to make him the highest paid corner in the NFL on Monday. Now that it’s happened, it officially makes cornerback a position of need for Dallas, even with the Cowboys bringing back Anthony Brown and signing Maurice Canady. The draft offers some really intriguing options to fill such a need. CJ Henderson out of Florida might very well be the best corner on the board when Dallas picks, too.
Jeffrey Okudah of Ohio State is widely regarded as the top corner, and could even go as high as third overall to the Lions. But Henderson should be considered the next best corner after Okudah, and his style of play would fit in well with the Cowboys.
With Al Harris becoming the team’s new cornerbacks coach, it’s expected that Dallas will be asking their defensive backs to play a lot more aggressive, press man coverage than in the past, which fits Henderson’s modus operandi. Aggression is the name of the game when Henderson plays tight man.
Henderson is violent with his arms off the snap, doing a good job of striking the opposing receiver square in the chest. He combines good length (nearly 32” arms) with strength (note the bench press numbers) to stun smaller receivers and throw them off their rhythm.
Henderson is also incredibly fluid in both his hips and feet, both of which he utilizes perfectly in man coverage. When he has to flip his hips and carry receivers up the field, he does so without missing a beat. Going laterally across the field is also a seamless effort for Henderson; it all helps that he’s got great range and long speed, and is able to hang with most guys he goes up against.
In zone coverage, Henderson is equally aggressive. He has a ballhawk mentality and is constantly trying to get the ball in his hands. He may require a bit of patience, as sometimes he’ll leave a zone or overcommit based on what he sees, but the mentality of being aggressive on the ball is surely something this new Cowboys staff will love.
Henderson didn’t record a pick in 2019, but it was a statistical anomaly for him. Henderson had six interceptions in the two years prior to that, and he returned two of them for touchdowns. Henderson has a great sense of positioning when going for the ball, and his length helps him to contest at the catch point.
When looking for Henderson’s ball skills specifically, the most impressive trait is something that Cowboys fans will be overjoyed to hear: he does a phenomenal job of locating the football. It seems like any time the ball gets thrown Henderson’s way, he turns his head to find it and then goes after it. Of course, Henderson’s aggressiveness to play the ball comes with risks, but his ability to affect the ball - he had 11 passes defensed in 2019 despite zero picks - mitigates a lot of that.
The one weakness in Henderson’s game, and likely the driving reason he could fall to the Cowboys at 17, is how Henderson performs in run defense. For how aggressive he is with the ball in the air, Henderson is curiously uninterested in mixing it up with ballcarriers. While he’s not completely unwilling to go down and make a tackle, he’ll make business decisions more often than not.
And when he does come in for a tackle, it’s messy and inconsistent. Henderson will wrap up when he’s already in a good position to do so, but it doesn’t appear as if he’s got the instincts or desire to consciously position himself for wrap up tackles. For all the good Henderson offers in coverage, he shouldn’t be relied on for run support, and it’s the biggest area of needed improvement for him.
However, Henderson is still a terrific cover corner who would fit seamlessly into the Cowboys’ plans and fill a glaring need for them. He offers aggressive, technically sound coverage skills and ball skills that, more often than not, are going to result in explosive plays for this defense. There’s a chance that some other team takes a shot on him earlier, but Henderson seems likely to be in the Cowboys’ range at 17. And they could do a lot worse than getting Henderson on day one.