This offseason it was no secret that the Las Vegas Raiders were in search of some help at cornerback to pair with last year’s second-round pick Trayvon Mullen. They made a run at Byron Jones and Darius Slay, even temporarily agreeing to terms with Eli Apple before a failed physical wiped that deal out.
But in the end, they struck out — taking the money they had committed to Apple and allocating it toward safety with the signing of Damarious Randall. While they still have a bit of cap space remaining, the reality is that the only difference-makers they can honestly count on finding are going to come via the draft.
Atop the list of draft-eligible corners is Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah — a player who is all but guaranteed to be off the board come pick No. 12. Behind Okudah there seems to be a consensus that Florida’s CJ Henderson is in the second tier all by himself, making him a potential target for the Raiders.
Weight: 204 lbs
Bench Press: 20
Vertical jump: 37.5
Broad jump: 127
College stats: 30 games, 93 tackles, 4 sacks, 6 interceptions, 20 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
When you look around the NFL, you realize that some positions seem to carry a higher premium than others — simply because the depth league-wide doesn’t exist. It’s why tackles are so highly paid — there just aren’t enough of them.
Compare that to running backs or wide receivers, and you understand that scarcity drives value. Defensively, the premium positions seem to be edge rusher and cornerback — again, there just aren’t enough high-end guys to go around.
Which brings us to Henderson, the Raiders’ best option if they want to grab a difference-maker at corner. Wherever you look at scouting reports on Henderson, one term that seems to show up everywhere is his ability to mirror receivers effectively.
In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single publication that has anything negative to say about his ability to cover receivers — the only real issue people have with him is his ability to tackle. Of course, that’s no small thing — but if we’re talking about a corner, I’d rather find a guy that could cover at an elite level than one who could tackle flawlessly.
At the combine, Henderson’s coverage ability was augmented with what he displayed in terms of elite athleticism. At 6’1″ and over 200 pounds, Henderson was the second-fastest corner (4.39), fifth on the bench and fifth in the vertical jump. Again, these numbers only serve to confirm what the tape shows: Henderson is perfectly suited for the modern game.
Yes, adding an elite, No. 1 receiver remains a priority — but in a division with Patrick Mahomes, the Raiders must get better in coverage. Henderson would fix a massive need for the Raiders and give them a dynamic set of young corners to build their defense around moving forward. If the Raiders can defend the pass, think of what that would do for guys like Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby from a pass-rush perspective?
Unfortunately, once you move past Henderson you drop down a tier — again, at a position that isn’t deep to begin with. I think the biggest dilemma the Raiders will be faced with is at No. 12: do you grab the last corner with elite potential and risk dropping down a tier when it comes to receivers? Or, do you snag the No. 1 receiver (Jeudy, Lamb, Ruggs, etc.) and trade back from 19 in hopes of striking gold with a different corner? Tough decision.