Under normal circumstances, Florida cornerback CJ Henderson would be in Las Vegas tonight, attending the NFL draft along with the other elite prospects from across the nation.
But normal flew out the window weeks ago, so Henderson will be just like everybody else tonight — home, watching on television as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the first-round picks from a set in his basement.
It’s a surreal thing, for sure, but it also promises to be a very happy time for Henderson, who is considered the No. 2 cornerback in the draft and is projected to be a top-15 pick.
Henderson said during a live ESPN Instagram interview earlier this week that he considers himself the No. 1 cornerback in the draft.
“I feel like I’m the best because I go against the best week-in and week-out,” he said. “I stepped on the scene early and played coming out of high school. Throughout college, it was really my first three years playing full-time corner. Me being able to do it at a high level and do it so quickly, I feel like I’m the best in the draft.”
The NFL is looking for lock-down, man-to-man cover corners, and Henderson certainly was one during his three years as a starter for the Gators. During that span, Henderson had 172 snaps in single coverage, was targeted 49 times and gave up only one touchdown pass.
His skills likely will translate nicely to the pro game.
“You have to be smart, you have to have really good technique and you have to be consistent in your game,” Henderson said. “Take all that talent and be ready to learn and compete each and every week.”
Based on all the experts and all the mock drafts, Henderson is a lock to be taken in tonight’s first round. He would be UF’s 10th first-rounder in the last eight drafts, joining defensive tackle Taven Bryan, linebacker Jarrad Davis, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, safety Keanu Neal, defensive end Dante Fowler, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam.
The second Gator off the board could be wide receiver Van Jefferson, who could hear his name called Friday night during the second or third round.
He missed the workout portion of the NFL Combine when a fracture was discovered in his right foot that required surgery. He’s expected to be fully recovered soon.
The NFL coaches and scouts have had plenty of tape to watch on Jefferson, who combined to catch 84 passes for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Gators after transferring from Ole Miss.
“I’m in pretty good shape there,” he said. “I’m confident in my ability, in what I can do. That’s going to translate to the NFL. My route-running ability is going to translate to the NFL.
“I’m just ready for everything that comes with it. My mentality going into it is just being a dog. Whoever gives me an opportunity, I’m just ready for that moment.”
Defensive end/outside linebacker Jon Greenard, defensive end Jabari Zuniga and running back Lamical Perine also could end up going in the second or third round. Where Zuniga falls is a little bit of a mystery because he missed most of his senior season with a nagging high ankle sprain.
All four of last season’s senior wide receivers — Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond — could get drafted. Jefferson, Swain and Cleveland were invited to the Combine, but Hammond was not.
Hammond doesn’t seem deterred by the fact. He said the team that drafts him will be glad they did once they get him in camp.
“They’ll get a guy that would come in and work hard and be willing to do whatever he has to do to help the team be successful,” he said. “That’s probably my biggest attribute.
“And a guy that’s not going to have any off-the-field issues, definitely lead by example and try to help the guys around him be better players and better men.”