On Thursday night, the NFL’s closest team to Gainesville made sure he lived up to that hype in their assessment, as the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Henderson with the ninth pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Henderson becomes the first Gator drafted in the top 10 by Jacksonville since the Jaguars selected edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. with the third pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and the team’s first first-round Gator since Taven Bryan was picked at No. 29 in 2018. He will certainly hope for a better fate in Duval County than Fowler and Bryan met: Injuries and off-the-field issues stunted the former’s impact before an eventual trade to the Los Angeles Rams helped revitalize him, while the latter has had a hard time cracking the Jaguars’ defensive line rotation.
Henderson will also, of course, be tasked with replacing another player the Jaguars sent to L.A., as he becomes the team’s first-rounder one year after a disgruntled Jalen Ramsey was shipped off to the Left Coast.
Those are big shoes to fill — Ramsey was an All-Pro selection in 2017, and has made the last three Pro Bowls — but Henderson has the skills to make a go of it. Blessed with blazing speed and fantastic athleticism, Henderson is likely to be able to keep up with even most of the swiftest receivers in the NFL, and has superb man coverage skills that made him a ballhawk for the Gators and could make his transition to starting in the pros a quick one.
While he will need to work on some of his technique in zone coverage and was faulted for not always being a willing tackler as a collegian, Henderson was considered one of this draft’s most pro-ready prospects, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to be a Day 1 starter in Jacksonville, especially given the Jaguars’ personnel at the position.
And if he does succeed, the Miami native is set to be one of the rare football players who thrived at the high school, college, and pro level without ever leaving the Sunshine State.