The Jaguars' ninth overall pick in April's NFL Draft, cornerback CJ Henderson, was thrust into a starting role on the outside the day he stepped foot in building. He has turned in two quality performances and one major dud through the first three weeks of his NFL career.
In week one, Henderson appeared to be a revelation, locking up former Pro Bowl receiver TY Hilton for much of the game. CJ was targeted ten times in coverage and allowed a passer rating of just 28.3. The athletic young cornerback picked off a Philip Rivers pass, broke up three more, and even made his presence felt as a run defender with five tackles, all of which were impressive. His performance helped lead the way for the Jaguars in a shocking (to many) week one victory.
The following week Henderson had another impressive performance against the Titans, allowing two catches (one of them was for a TD) in coverage and again proving his worth as a run defender with another five tackles.
In week three, on Thursday Night Football in front of a national television audience, Henderson looked out of sorts. Early on, he gave up a first down in coverage and seemingly forgot that he needed to tag the receiver down, instead clapping his hands as if the play was over. And that was just the beginning of his long night. In all, Henderson allowed five completions in coverage, leading to four first downs and a touchdown. His play was uninspired, to say the least.
But Henderson isn't the type of player that lets one bad outing evolve into a string of bad games, at least he wasn't at the collegiate level. His defensive coordinator, Todd Wash, believes his young cover man will bounce back in week four. "Well, I think that happens with a lot of rookies (a poor outing)," said Wash. "He (CJ Henderson) came out in the first game versus Indy, had the interception, got his hands on some balls. And the last two weeks, we've kind of been—we haven't been as good, technically, on the line of scrimmage, and he knows that, and we've really seen it come Monday when we watched the tape, in the game. I think him and Tre (Herndon) both realized that for them to excel within the system, we've got to get our hands on people. I think it was an eye-opener for him, and I think you're going to see a totally different type of player this week when he comes to try to get his hands on people."
Wash undoubtedly trusts in CJ Henderson and Tre Herndon, for that matter. But this week, the young corners will face a tough, tough task. Joe Burrow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is up next for the Jaguars. In just three weeks, he's proven that he can lead a potent NFL offense, and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Between AJ Green, Tee Higgins, John Ross, and Tyler Boyd in the slot, the Jaguars' secondary will have their hands full (hopefully not full of their opponent's jerseys in coverage).
But Henderson might be up to the task of slowing down Burrow. He had a stellar performance against Joe less than a year ago when the Gators took on the Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge. He registered three pass breakups and helped the Gators compete with the Tigers well into the fourth quarter of the ball game. Ultimately though, Burrow prevailed. But Joe Burrow doesn't have the same supporting cast that he once did at LSU, as evidenced by Cincy's 0-2-1 record. And he certainly doesn't have the same level of defensive support to help his cause.
Will CJ Henderson rebound from his worst performance as a pro? If the Jaguars hope to leave Ohio with a win on Sunday, he'll need to.
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