CJ Henderson’s NFL debut has been better than expected. The rookie cornerback and ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft had five tackles and three assists, including an interception and a fourth down stroke in the last minute that sealed Jacksonville’s only victory last season.
Henderson looked like an aspiring star, a sure-fire upgrade from veteran AJ Bouye and quite possibly a suitable replacement for Jalen Ramsey.
It turned out that it was just an oversight.
Henderson injured his shoulder three weeks later and hasn’t been the same since. He performed despite the pain, but landed in the injured reserve in mid-November with groin strain. He missed half the year and had to have labrum surgery in the offseason.
Coach Urban Meyer praised Henderson’s rehab in March, saying “we’re counting on him.”
Now, however, it appears Meyer’s faith in Henderson is waning.
Henderson tested positive for COVID-19 when he showed up to training camp last month and was absent for 10 days. He returned briefly last week before missing Sunday’s open scrum in front of more than 15,000 fans at TIAA Bank Field. Meyer said Henderson’s absence was for “personal reasons” and replied “I don’t know” when asked if the second-year pro would be able to get over his current predicament.
ESPN later reported on Sunday that several NFL executives believed Henderson was on the trading block, fueling speculation about the former Florida star’s future in Jacksonville.
The only thing clear about Henderson’s situation is that the Jaguars had concerns months ago despite what Meyer has said publicly. Jacksonville awarded cornerback Shaquill Griffin a three-year, $ 40 million free agency contract, re-signed former starters Tre Herndon and Sidney Jones, then drafted Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell with the first choice in the second round.
The Jags had more urgent needs (security, passers, offensive line, tight end) but instead took out an insurance policy for Henderson.
“Tyson Campbell is a very quick guy,” Meyer said on Sunday. “He never panics because he has elite speed and he’s been really good. … We are happy to have had it.
Henderson was one of the fastest guys in the NFL combine in 2020. He covered the 40-yard scoreboard in 4.39 seconds and was ranked higher on some selection charts than the running back. corner of Ohio State Jeff Okudah.
The Jaguars had no red flags on Henderson, a three-year incumbent in nearby Gainesville who ended his college career with 93 tackles, 22 broken passes and four sacks. And Jacksonville coaches have raved about his work ethic as a rookie.
But Henderson raised his eyebrows as he launched a late-night Twitter rant from a McDonald’s at the start of 2020 training camp – he missed a few practices afterwards due to “illness” – and didn’t did not speak to the media until his performance in the opener.
It hasn’t been made available since either.
Meyer appeared to be trying to motivate Henderson on his camp debut last week. Henderson peddled a stationary bike near the end zone and directly in front of his teammates, an unusual setup, then performed conditioning drills with strength trainer Anthony Schlegel watching his every move.
Henderson missed practice two days later, showed up on Saturday, then was out again on Sunday. When and if it returns – and for how long – remains to be seen.
“It’s tough when you miss so many days,” said assistant head and linebacker coach Charlie Strong. “Now you’ve got to get out here and once we get him out here… he’s been in the meetings and he’s in the meetings.” But it’s not now that he missed the fieldwork, so this is where he needs to catch up.