CJ Henderson is “The best player I’ve coached, college or pro”

Todd Grantham has been coaching organized football since 1990, a full eight years before cornerback CJ Henderson was born. Grantham has coached more than 30 players at the collegiate level that have gone on to play in the NFL. He also spent a decade coaching professional football players in the NFL with four teams.

So when Todd Grantham speaks about the talent of a player he’s coaching or has coached it holds weight. He’s coached a lot of talented players but, in his own words, none more talented than Henderson.

“He’s the best play I’ve coached, college or pro,” Grantham said.

I responded by telling Grantham he’s coached a lot of talented players only to be cut off mid-sentence.

“Mmm-hmm. I have,” Grantham said. “And he’s good.”

Henderson was the lone Florida Gator picked as an All-American and many NFL Draft experts projected him as a sure-fire first-round pick. With that comes scrutiny and every play, every move you make will be dissected with a scalpel. Henderson was injured against UT-Martin, the Gators’ second game and he missed most of that game and the subsequent three games after that. Still, he has nine pass breakups and 16 tackles. The latter stat is one that some in the fan base have started to call into question.

Henderson isn’t a linebacker. He’s not going to tackle like Ventrell Miller or David Reese. It’s not what he does best and not what he’s going to be asked to do at this level or the next. He’s a lockdown corner and one of the best in the country doing what he does.

“I think CJ’s having a very good year. I mean any time you miss a few games you’ve got to knock the rust off a little bit,” Grantham said. “But he had the big sack there when he came on the corner pressure, caused a fumble there. He’s made some plays, particularly like he’s been a force in the Auburn game in the run game. I thought he did a really good job there. I think his tackling has really improved as we’ve gone through the season.”

Henderson was recently named one of 14 finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given out annually to the nation’s best defensive back. Florida has only had one player (Lawrence Wright, 1996) win the award.

Henderson has a real shot to win the award given the production he’s put forth in just five games. He’s still a first-round pick in the minds of a lot of NFL draft writers and with that comes the scrutiny. Grantham knows that but he gruffly brushed off any notion that Henderson is looking ahead to what promises to be a bright career getting paid to play football. This is the same kid that lobbied to play against Kentucky on a sprained ankle only to be shot down by the training and coaching staff.

“I think any time you’re a high-profile player, making a lot of plays. People have a certain standard and then they’re always going to look for things to critique on you, “ Grantham said. “He’s a guy that has improved his tackling from game one to now. He’s going to make plays for us moving forward. And I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC