Defensive Draft Prospect: C.J. Henderson

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Nate continues his corner back scouting obsession with his review of C.J. Henderson out of Florida as a potential draft target for the Kansas City Chiefs

We’re continuing on in our series of cornerbacks, with more of a top-tier cornerback, C.J. Henderson. Henderson, a junior from Florida, is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the entire class, while also being an elite athlete. While he may be out of the range of Kansas City, he does make some sense for this team.

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Measurables

6’0 1/4, 204 lbs, 9″ hands, 31 5/8″ arms, 75 7/8″ wingspan, 20 bench press reps, 4.39 40 yard dash, 37.5″ vertical jump, 127″ broad jump. 21 years old (22 in September)

RAS Score

If you didn’t see this with my Bryce Hall review, this is called the Relative Athletic Score. Developed by Kent Lee Platte, it measures scores from the Combine, and put a score on a scale from 1-10.

As you can see, Henderson is an amazing athlete. He tested as near perfect and had the best athletic score of any cornerback. His 40, 20 and 10 yard splits are amazing. Henderson also is a large cornerback…

Strengths

Henderson is exceptional in press coverage. He’s really light on his feet, does a nice job of mirroring, and has exceptional footwork. No release really fools him, and he’s able to position his toes to the route. This way, he condenses space quickly and can make the play on the ball. He’s also very good at the top of routes in press and won’t bite against longer-stemming ones. Overall, he’s exceptional in nearly whatever you ask him to defend in terms of routes.

Henderson is really good around the ball. He’s not great at tracking the ball over his shoulder, but when asked to play around the ball, he can do it. You can’t throw short against him, or he’s going to pull down a ton of interceptions. In this class, he’s one of the best around the ball, which the Chiefs have sorely lacked for years.

Henderson is obviously very athletic. He can jump to get the ball, run with any routes, and quickly flip his hips. His short area quickness is exceptional, which helps him against any of the stuff underneath. I don’t even think he’s fully tapped into his athletic potential, which makes his ceiling potentially very high.

Finally, Henderson is phenomenal at blitzing. Florida had him blitz a lot off the edge, and he largely won his matchups against running backs blocking him. Spagnuolo loves to blitz his cornerbacks, and Henderson would give him even more options in his pressure packages.

Weaknesses

Henderson has weaknesses, and it mainly starts with his technique, especially in zone. His shuffle technique (open hips to WR, butt facing sideline) isn’t very good. He tends to cross his feet a lot, which hurts his ability to flip his hips. He consistently can’t shuffle and backpedal, which causes teams to attack him in zone. Even when it’s a straight vertical route, he struggles getting out of his stance to recover to make a play. For Spagnuolo he would need to get that cleaned up quickly.

Henderson also isn’t a very good tackler. In one-on-one matchups, he tends to lose when he has to tackle. It isn’t due to a lack of effort, just poor mechanics. He tends to not wrap up well at the hips and tackle too high. He even struggled to tackle quarterbacks, but especially receivers. The Chiefs were fortunate to have two great tackling corners in Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward, so Henderson would need to improve there.

Overall, Henderson just isn’t very physical. He tends to rely on his feet more, which leaves him vulnerable to bigger receivers, and especially guys who get physical. With guys like Mike Williams and Courtland Sutton in the division, Henderson may be eaten alive by bigger, more physical receivers at the catch point.

Range for Chiefs to take him

Henderson’s range in this class is broad. I truly think he may go top 10, but I also think he may wind up in the mid-20s. It all really depends on how the four main left tackles go and the run on receivers. There’s essentially zero chance he’s at 32, but I think it’s fair to say he goes somewhere between pick 10 and pick 25. As a trade-up target, Henderson makes some sense for Kansas City if they get some extra picks.

Scheme Fit

Henderson is primarily a press cornerback. Sure, he’s exceptional there, and could quickly make our press scheme much better and more versatile, but there’s an issue attached.

Henderson isn’t good in zone. His shuffle technique (butt to sideline, opens hips) isn’t very good. He tends to cross his feet easily, which leaves him vulnerable at the top of routes. He can make plays on the ball, but his zone footwork isn’t there yet. Spagnuolo did play more press in 2019, but he still plays primarily Cover 4.

As a scheme fit isn’t seamless. Other cornerbacks make more immediate sense than him. Now, you can develop zone footwork, but as of now it would take a lot to get him up to speed. In press, he plays exactly how Spagnuolo wants him to play, but in zone, he needs a lot of work.

Comparison

Comparison: Xavien Howard

Between athletic profiles and play, they’re both similar. Both are great around the ball, will bring down many interceptions, and want to press. They’re not necessarily comfortable in a zone scheme, and prefer to feel the receiver in press. Howard is a little more physical, but both lock onto their receivers pretty well.

Henderson needs work in the effort department to reach the level of a Howard, but with similar athletic profiles and skills, Henderson projects as someone who can get to that type of ceiling in the pros.

Film Room

Henderson doesn’t much want to get physical. Sure, he’s good with his feet, but when you get physical with him he tends to fail. With big receivers, Henderson may struggle. He’ll turn his head, but he doesn’t really want contact.

Now, I’m aware that someone like Tyrann Mathieu could get him to be more physical, but with a lot of bigger receivers in the division, if Henderson wants to be a full-time press corner, he needs to get much more physical at the catch point to be consistently great.

Henderson is really good around the ball. Some guys just understand how to position their bodies to get in front of the ball, and Henderson is one of those. Even when he gets beat by his poor technique he has the athleticism and speed to recover, and make a play on the ball. Once he fixes those issues he truly could be one of the best cover corners in the league.

There’s no denying one thing about Henderson; he’s just really good in press coverage. His light feet really help him break on routes, but he does a pretty good job angling his feet to the release. He has quick enough feet to change quickly, which helps him condense on underneath routes. When the receiver releases vertically, then reverts inside Henderson angles his toes to the quarterback and makes a play on the ball.

Good footwork is hard to teach for a cornerback in press. The Chiefs really haven’t had a guy with this good of footwork in press in the Andy Reid era. Henderson could immediately help there.

While Henderson does struggle to get physical and tackle, he’s willing to try. He’s not an albatross tackling, and when asked to play the alley he’ll wrap up. He needs to work on his tackling mechanics, but I’m glad to see it isn’t an effort issue, and just a technical issue. I trust this coaching staff, which places a huge emphasis on cornerback tackling, to get him fixed quickly.

The one thing I can’t get over for Henderson is his really bad shuffle technique. He just doesn’t seem to get how to shuffle. Generally, you want to sink your hips, and not cross your feet. This way, you can flip your hips much more quickly to the break. Henderson seems to not get this, which leaves him super vulnerable to 10-15 yard out routes.

He has to get this fixed. NFL teams will play a lot of zone, not just press alone. If he wants to climb up to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league, he has to clean up his technique in zone, especially for Spagnuolo.

Conclusion

Henderson is one of the better players in this class. Back in January, Henderson was someone that would be in the 20s and 30s for picks. This process has been really good for him, and he continues to soar. He likely won’t be available for Kansas City unless we get some picks and trade up to get him.

Still, the board may fall differently for Kansas City. He may go by pick 10, but he also could be in the mid-20s for picks. Really, we don’t know for Henderson yet. So, we’ll wait and see, but if he’s in the 20s, Henderson is a great trade up target for Kansas City.

I think the floor is low for Henderson, but the ceiling is high. At his best, he’s going to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Even if he doesn’t solve his technique issues, Henderson will still be able to press. He may need time to fully tap into his potential, but when he reaches his prime, don’t be surprised to see him as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. If the Chiefs have a chance of getting him, he would instantly help the position out.

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CHIEFSandSABRES

I like him, but I don’t think he will be there when we pick.