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Florida cornerback headlines Week 0 college action

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First round talent looks to rise above loaded class of defensive backs...

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Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Folks, we made it! Despite our best efforts to destroy ourselves and each other, we’ve made it to real football. Granted it’s not the NFL, but “Week 0” of college football is still a momentous occasion.

First up is in the renewal of in-state rivalry between Florida and Miami, followed by late night action between Hawai’i and Arizona. While it’s tempting to highlight the dreadlock gunslinger Cole McDonald of Hawai’i (who literally led his side to 11.1 million points in their spring game), all eyes will be focused on the #8 Gators.

Playing for the Gators is a junior defensive back looking to start his trek to solidify his first round status in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cornerback CJ Henderson is widely regarded as a first round talent, but in what’s viewed as a loaded cornerback class, he still has some work to do. That starts tonight against the Hurricanes.

Listed at 6’1”, Henderson is a tall, long corner with shocking fluidity for his size. With slick hips and quick feet, Henderson is tremendously sticky in coverage. Pair that with his exceptional ball skills and you can understand why scouts are anxious to follow his 2019 campaign.

“His ability to gear down, stay under control and maintain spacing versus top-tier athletes is why so many are optimistic about his NFL future.” - Dane Brugler, The Athletic

Henderson wasn’t targeted much in 2018, but when he was he allowed a stellar 49.4 passer rating. According to PFF, he conceded one or less reception in eight of the Gators’ thirteen games. He also allowed zero touchdowns while grabbing two interceptions, bringing his two-year total to six.

With that résumé, you’d be right for wondering why he isn’t considered the top cornerback in the class by many. For starters, all indications are it’s a loaded position in the upcoming class. Secondly, Henderson has warts in his game to clean up. He gets away with some technique flaws in press due to his patience and at times is overly confident and passive, trusting he can make up ground with his athleticism.

There’s also the issue of Henderson’s play strength and run support, areas that were noticeably deficient in my viewings. For a athlete capable of staying in the hip pocket at all times, he can struggle to hold up when there’s excessive contact.

No prospect is perfect though, and Henderson had a full offseason to get stronger and has a full season to show strides in the technical aspects of the game. It’s of note that Henderson changed his number from No. 5 to No. 1 this year, a privilege bestowed upon players held in high regard by the coaching staff. The last player to dawn No. 1 was former first round pick Vernon Hargreaves. That was back in 2015. Before that players like Percy Harvin, Janoris Jenkins, Reggie Nelson were notable Gators’ to wear the most coveted jersey number in Gainseville.

If you’re going to feast your eyes on some college football tonight, you could do worse than starting with the talented Henderson.