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NFL draft: How CJ Henderson compares to Gators’ other star defensive backs

Florida’s recent defensive back history has some NFL hits (Joe Haden) and misses (Vernon Hargreaves).
Florida Gators defensive back CJ Henderson wags his finger after breaking up a pass intended for Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Jeff Thomas in last season's opener in Orlando.
Florida Gators defensive back CJ Henderson wags his finger after breaking up a pass intended for Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Jeff Thomas in last season's opener in Orlando. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 16, 2020

When former Florida Gators cornerback CJ Henderson is picked in next week’s NFL draft, he’ll become the latest success story for a program that considers itself Defensive Back University.

His selection (almost certainly in the first round) will mark the fifth year in a row and the ninth time in 11 years that the Gators had a defensive back drafted. If the speedy Miami native goes in the top 10 — a legitimate possibility, according to some of the latest mock drafts — Henderson will be Florida’s highest drafted defensive back since Joe Haden went seventh overall to the Browns in 2010.

Related: Why CJ Henderson, Kadarius Toney are Florida Gators’ pair of No. 1s

Here’s a look at how Henderson compares to some of the Gators’ most recent defensive back draftees and how they fared after leaving Gainesville:

First-rounders

Former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves didn't have the career he wanted in his hometown.
Former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves didn't have the career he wanted in his hometown.

Vernon Hargreaves (11th pick, 2016)

Sorry, Bucs fans. The Wharton High alumnus started 35 games for Tampa Bay before being cut in November. He resurfaced with the Texans and re-signed with them earlier this month. Hargreaves had a better college career than Henderson, but Henderson is three inches taller and quicker.

Related: Why the Bucs released Vernon Hargreaves

Keanu Neal (17th pick, 2016)

The hard-hitting safety from Bushnell’s South Sumter High has had an up-and-down NFL career with the Falcons; he made the Pro Bowl in 2017, but back-to-back season-ending injuries have limited him to four games over the past two years.

Matt Elam (32nd pick, 2013)

He started 26 games for the Ravens but flamed out. Not even an appearance at UF’s pro day in 2018 could resurrect his pro career.

Joe Haden (seventh pick, 2010)

Joe Haden has been a star cornerback in the NFL after leaving the Gators.
Joe Haden has been a star cornerback in the NFL after leaving the Gators. [ St. Petersburg Times ]

The best-case scenario for Henderson, although Henderson can’t touch Haden’s college accolades or production. Haden made the Pro Bowl for the third time last year, and only eight active players have more career interceptions (27).

Reggie Nelson (21st pick, 2007)

Henderson had comparable statistics but played one more year at Florida than Nelson did and, unlike Nelson, was never a Jim Thorpe Award finalist or national champion. Nelson made two Pro Bowls over his 12 years in the league.

Lito Sheppard (26th pick, 2002)

He had two more college interceptions (eight) than Henderson (six) but not as many pass breakups, tackles or sacks. His 10-year NFL career included an All-Pro season with the Eagles in 2004.

Other recent notables

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had a strong career at Florida (including an Outback Bowl MVP performance) before getting drafted by the Saints.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had a strong career at Florida (including an Outback Bowl MVP performance) before getting drafted by the Saints. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (fourth round, 2019)

The former Florida STAR and safety was more versatile than Henderson but wasn’t the lock-down cornerback Henderson was. Gardner-Johnson started seven games as a rookie for the Saints.

Duke Dawson (second round, 2018)

Henderson’s four interceptions as a freshman tied Dawson for the team lead in 2017. Dawson doesn’t have a pick yet in the NFL; he never played for the Patriots (who drafted him) and broke up two passes in three starts for the Broncos last season.

Quincy Wilson (second round, 2017)

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Quincy Wilson, here facing Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Breshad Perriman, saw action last season but never started a game.
Indianapolis Colts cornerback Quincy Wilson, here facing Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Breshad Perriman, saw action last season but never started a game. [ Times ]

They’re comparably sized (both are 6-foot-1), but Henderson is quicker and had a more decorated college career. Wilson started 10 games in his first two seasons with the Colts but none last year.

Jalen “Teez” Tabor (second round, 2017)

Tabor was more accomplished at UF than Henderson and even outplayed Hargreaves at times. It hasn’t translated to the league; Tabor spent last season on the 49ers’ practice squad after being cut by the Lions.

Ahmad Black (fifth round, 2011) and Major Wright (third round, 2010)

Former Gators safety Major Wright spent three seasons with the Bucs.
Former Gators safety Major Wright spent three seasons with the Bucs. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

It’s hard to compare safeties with cornerbacks, but they’re worth including here because of their Bucs ties. Black appeared in 24 games with Tampa Bay over his only three NFL seasons, and Wright totaled 77 tackles in his three years with the Bucs.