The Jaguars landed two defensive phenoms in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. They selected cornerback CJ Henderson at nine and added versatile edge defender K'Lavon Chaisson at 20.
Both players are talented and bursting with upside. But what should you expect from them in 2020? Let's take a look.
CJ Henderson will start at outside cornerback from the jump. You don't select a player in the top-ten at your most significant position of need to put him on the bench. Henderson is immediately the most talented player in the Jaguars' secondary and will cover outside receivers for the Jaguars. The true junior has only been playing the cornerback position for three years but has quickly become a shadow master. Because Henderson has length, athleticism, fluid feet, ball skills, and good instincts, he should play reasonably well from the get-go, but there will be growing pains. Henderson should get the opportunity to play plenty of press-man but will also be tasked with playing in off-man coverage and zone. His work in the film room and on the practice field should serve him well as he learns the nuances of the Jaguars' defensive system. There will likely be some bumps in the road for Henderson in year one. He'll make splash plays regularly, but will need to improve his consistency as a tackler and will be facing some of the top receivers in the NFL on a weekly basis. By season's end, Henderson should be playing at an above-average level with flashes of brilliance game in and game out.
Stat Predictions (are silly): 38 tackles, 14 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 59% completion allowed in coverage
As for K'Lavon Chaisson, he'll likely be thrust into a starting role as well (assuming Yannick Ngakoue doesn't suit up for the Jaguars again). He will play SAM linebacker in the Jaguars' new base 3-4 alignments and will usually be on or close to the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance. From there, Chaisson will be tasked with setting the edge against the run, covering running backs and tight ends in shallow zones or man coverage, and, of course, rushing the passer. Many consider Chaisson "raw" as a pass-rusher, but his tape over the last three games of his sophomore season in 2019 tells a different story. He consistently created pressure on the QB against the best competition college football has to offer. He converts speed to power very well and flashes strong hand usage. His most effective role in terms of getting QBs on the ground last season was on stunts where he's very difficult for interior offensive lineman and backs to account for. I wouldn't expect Chaisson to come in and get double digits sacks in year one, but he'll be able to create plenty of pressure off the edge, especially as the season progresses. He'll be strong against the run, will be reasonably effective in coverage, and will chase down plays with his supreme athleticism and high motor. Thanks to the talent that Chaisson will be surrounded by in the Jaguars' front seven, teams won't be able to double-team him off the edge. Playing a similar role to what he did in at LSU should help accelerate his learning curve. Chaisson should be a versatile and reliable playmaker for the Jaguars before the end of his rookie campaign.
Stat Predictions (are silly): 62 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 68% completion allowed in coverage
As Gus Bradley used to say, it'll be a "race to maturity" for these two young stars. Henderson and Chaisson are 20 and 21 years old, respectively. But with high football intelligence, strong work ethics, and loads of natural ability, these two former SEC defenders should become major assets to the Jaguars' defense sooner rather than later.
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