Welcome inside the third installment of our 2021 Jaguars position group breakdowns! Throughout the next couple of weeks, we'll take a deeeep dive into every single position group on the Jaguars roster. Our subject today? The cornerback room!
Check out the positions we've already been through:
Now, let's cover these cover men.
Shaquill Griffin, 6'0", 198 lbs., 25 years old
CJ Henderson, 6'1", 204 lbs., 22 years old
Tyson Campbell, 6'1", 195 lbs., 21 years old
Sidney Jones IV, 6'0", 181 lbs., 25 years old
Tre Herndon, 5'11", 185 lbs., 25 years old
Luq Barcoo, 6'1", 175 lbs., 22 years old
Chris Claybrooks, 5'9", 179 lbs., 23 years old
DJ Daniel, 6'0", 185 lbs., 22 years old
Brandon Rusnak, 5'11", 198 lbs., 25 years old
James Houston, 5'11", 200 lbs., 25 years old
Corey Straughter, 5'10", 183 lbs., 22 years old
Where to begin? Like many position groups across the Jaguars' 90-man roster, there are several new faces and plenty of familiar ones.
According to the coaching staff and players we've talked to so far, The unquestioned leader of this group is Shaquill Griffin. The 25-year-old (soon to be 26) from St. Petersburg, Florida, signed a three-year, $40 million deal (a team out after two seasons) with the Jaguars this offseason. Since arriving in Duval, Griffin has brought over a winning mindset and has wholly bought into Urban Meyer's message and Joe Cullen's defensive philosophy. He'll be one of the most critical players on the roster in 2021 if the Jaguars are to make a big jump from 2020. During his four seasons in Seattle, Griffin started 53 games. During that span, he broke up 48 passes, recorded six interceptions, and registered 249 tackles. Griffin excelled in press-man coverage, allowing a completion percentage under 47 during his time in the NFL. But he's also well versed in zone. The Jaguars will require their cornerbacks to be versatile and line up at multiple spots across the defense, assuming different responsibilities and roles throughout a given game.
CJ Henderson was drafted ninth overall by former Jaguars' GM Dave Caldwell in 2020. The young cornerback has prototypical size, speed, length, and ball skills. Nagging injuries slowed Henderson down in 2020, and there were some incredible performances turned in throughout the campaign, but his overall consistency and play demeanor left a bit to be desired. He played in eight games, recording six pass breakups, 36 tackles, and one interception. Four of his six PBUs came in the first two weeks of the season. Henderson finished the season on injured reserve with a groin that ultimately required surgery. For a major jump to occur in 2021, Henderson will need to find better health and more consistency from game to game.
With the first pick on day two of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jaguars selected cornerback Tyson Campbell from Georgia. The attributes that Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke coveted in this young cover corner are plain to see. He's got excellent length, speed, and versatility. Unfortunately, his impressive attributes rarely lead to ball production in college. In three collegiate seasons, Campbell recorded just nine pass breakups and one interception. It's clear that he has the ability to be sticky in coverage, but Campbell's issues came when the ball was in the air. Locating and getting a hand on passes was a struggle. Investing such a high pick in a prospect suggests the Jaguars will want him to find the field early, but he'll need to show he can be more reliable at the catch point than he was at Georgia.
After his best season as a pro in 2020, Sidney Jones re-signed with the Jaguars this offseason on a one-year deal. There's really no doubting Jones' ability to lock down one side of the field, as evidenced by his 51% completion rate allowed in coverage last season. The issue with Jones is his ability to stay healthy. He's been battling with his Achilles since tearing it at his pro day in 2017. Jones has played in just 31 games during his four-year career and played in only seven last season. The Jaguars saw his ability and decided it was worth the obvious risk that comes with it. He's got length, speed, quick feet, and ball skills. When healthy, Jones is deserving of a starting job on the outside, but he's too injury-prone to go all-in on.
The Jaguars also re-signed Tre Herndon to a one-year deal this offseason. He's received rave reviews out of OTA's and minicamp from teammates and coaches. He's a tireless worker who always figured to be more of a slot cover corner than a true outside guy. But with the way the roster took shape in 2019 and 2020, Herndon was forced into action on the outside quite a bit. He had some impressive flashes but overall looked like a player who would find more success focusing on locking down the slot.
The five corners we just ran through appear to be locked in with roster spots. But there are six more cornerbacks on the roster right now that will be battling it out for a couple of spots. The Jaguars drafted Chris Claybrooks and made Luq Barcoo a priority UDFA signing in 2020. Both saw some action at corner as rookies due to attrition, but neither made a major impact. Claybrooks' best shot at the roster would be as returner, but with Jamal Agnew joining the squad this offseason, Claybrooks has his work cut out for him. But Barcoo could play his way into being one of the final depth pieces on the roster at cornerback. He made a ton of plays last summer, has length, and showed off his ball skills at San Diego State with nine interceptions in 2019.
The Jags signed DJ Daniel and Corey Straughter in undrafted free agency just after the 2021 NFL Draft ended. Daniel was very productive at Georgia. He missed some time due to injury in 2020, but allowed a completion percentage in primary coverage of under 47. While he possesses excellent length, Daniel isn't the fastest guy on the field. His experience in press-man should serve him well in Joe Cullen's defense. Straughter played in just three games at Louisiana-Monroe in 2020. But his 2019 tape was fantastic. He locked down receivers week in and week out, allowing a completion percentage of just 27.9 (not a typo), and picked off five passes in 2019.
Brandon Rusnak and James Houston both have little chance to make the final roster, but they've shown the ability to compete at a high enough level to make some plays on the practice field. Rusnak has experience playing safety, which might be appealing to the Jaguars' defensive staff.
The cornerback group is always one of the critical areas of a team. With the pass-heavy offenses we're seeing in the NFL today, cornerbacks have never been more important. The Jaguars clearly value the position, with a high-priced free agent, a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick, and a 2017 second-round pick set to lead their group. But this is a young bunch. Anytime a 25 year old is the most experienced player and leader at a position, there's a risk that consistency could become an issue. I'd wager this could be a top ten unit ... in a year or two. But with CJ Henderson and Tyson Campbell seemingly set to take on prominent roles this season, there figures to be some peaks and valleys. Joe Cullen's blitz-heavy defense could help these young corners, but if they struggle to stick with receivers early, it could also expose them. If the Jaguars' new look safety group plays better in 2021, that could also help raise the level of these corners. Griffin's leadership and play on the field will be the most critical factor for the Jaguars' cornerback group in 2021. While Griffin is the most important puzzle piece, Jones could be the x-factor. If he can remain healthy for a large chunk of games in 2021, this unit might find early and sustained success.
These corners earn a C+ grade for me as a group. Griffin is the only one that has proven to play at a consistently high level. While Henderson is immensely talented and Campbell has desirable traits, neither has shown they can be an asset to a team for the duration of an entire season. Jones is excellent but can't stay healthy. Herndon should be fine as long as he primarily plays from the slot. If Henderson finds a bit more consistency or Campbell wows as a rookie, this room could reach the ceiling of a B+ in 2021. Long term, there's plenty of promise, but I'm not convinced they're ready to take that leap this year.
What grade would you give the Jaguars' cornerbacks? Let me know on Twitter @jordandelugo
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