NFL draft: Florida Gators’ CJ Henderson picked by Jaguars

CJ Henderson became the Florida Gators’ ninth first-round defensive back since 1970.
Florida Gators cornerback CJ Henderson (5) blocks a pass intended for Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Trent Sherfield (10) during a 2017 game in Gainesville.
Florida Gators cornerback CJ Henderson (5) blocks a pass intended for Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Trent Sherfield (10) during a 2017 game in Gainesville. [ Times (2017) ]
Published April 24, 2020|Updated April 24, 2020

CJ Henderson became the latest sign of the Jaguars’ growing pipeline from Gainesville to Jacksonville.

The Jaguars selected the former Florida cornerback Thursday night with the ninth overall pick in the NFL draft. It’s the third year in a row Jacksonville has used a high pick on someone from the Gators, after taking offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor in the second round last year and defensive tackle Taven Bryan in the first round the year before.

Henderson was the first player from a state school selected this year and the only one expected to go in the first round. He was also the highest-ranked Florida draftee since former Lakewood High pass rusher Dante Fowler went third overall in 2015 to ... the Jaguars.

Henderson has long been regarded as one of the top cornerback prospects, which is why he skipped his senior season to enter the draft. Most analysts projected him to go in the top 10, or just outside it.

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

He burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2017, returning interceptions for touchdowns in both of his first two games, against Michigan and Tennessee. No other Gator had a pick-six in back-to-back games since at least 1965.

In 34 games over three seasons at Florida, Henderson recorded 92 tackles and six interceptions with 22 pass breakups and seven tackles for a loss. At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, Henderson has good size, and he was tied for the seventh fastest player at the scouting combine with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. But there are legitimate concerns about his tackling at the next level.

“He’s just really explosive,” NFL network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said before the draft. “He can play press. He can play off. He's real loose and fluid. He shows the ability to play the ball down the field.”

He’ll also fill a need for Jacksonville, which is lacking at defensive back after trading former Florida State star Jalen Ramsey to the Rams in October.

Henderson continues the line of former Gators defensive backs heading to the league. It’s the ninth time in 11 years that Florida has had a defensive back drafted. Henderson became the Gators’ ninth first-round defensive back since 1970 and its first since Keanu Neal and Vernon Hargreaves in 2016; Neal is still with the Falcons, while the Bucs cut Hargreaves — a Wharton High alumnus — last season.

“Your focus, hard work, and commitment to being the best at Florida made everyone around you better,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said in his congratulatory note to Henderson on Twitter. “We are excited about your future.”

Florida’s first-round DBs

2020: CJ Henderson (ninth, Jaguars)

2016: Vernon Hargreaves (11th, Bucs)

2016: Keanu Neal (17th, Falcons)

2013: Matt Elam (32nd, Ravens)

2010: Joe Haden (seventh, Browns)

2007: Reggie Nelson (21st, Jaguars)

2002: Lito Sheppard (26th, Eagles)

1989: Louis Oliver (25th, Dolphins)

1970: Steve Tannen (20th, Jets)

Related: State of Florida usually owns the NFL draft. Not this year.