Toughness and leadership made John Henderson Tom Coughlin's choice as the Jaguars' first-round draft choice.
It's believed that decision had come down to a choice between Henderson and Tennessee defensive tackle mate Albert Haynesworth, since Coughlin was intent on addressing his team's desperate need on the defensive line. Haynesworth is thought to be a player with more physical ability and greater upside, but Haynesworth had also come under strong criticism for being immature and unreliable. Henderson's reputation is the exact opposite.
"John Henderson had 70 percent playing time with a high-ankle sprain. I take my hat off to his toughness," Coughlin told reporters following the selection of Henderson as the ninth player chosen in today's NFL draft.
"Our need was obviously on the defensive line," said Coughlin, who described Henderson as a player who has "the heart and dedication to become an impact player right away."
Henderson, 6-7, 306, was a preseason projection to become the first overall pick of the draft, but he spent his senior season battling an ankle injury that reduced his production dramatically from his junior season when he led the Southeastern Conference with 12 sacks.
His draft stock was thought to have fallen even more this winter, as a result of rumors Henderson was nursing a back injury. Coughlin put those concerns to rest.
"We did a very thorough medical analysis and Dr. Carlos Tandron said the back was not an issue," Coughlin said.
Miami offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie would've probably been the Jaguars' first-round choice, had he been available. He was selected by Minnesota with the seventh pick, following a trade between Dallas and Kansas City that sent defensive tackle Ryan Sims to the Chiefs. Initially, Dallas' allotted selection time was thought to have expired, which would've canceled the trade and have allowed Minnesota to select Sims.
"If Minnesota had the Sims card filled out, they may have gotten Sims because the clock had run out," Coughlin said.
When asked if Henderson was the highest-rated available player on the Jaguars' board when the selection was made, Coughlin said, "Yes.
Coughlin added he was looking for a player "who we could depend on to bring leadership to our locker room. That player became John Henderson.
"McKinnie, had he fallen to us, would've created a real critical decision," Coughlin admitted.
At Tennessee, Henderson was ultra-productive in the last two seasons. He's a player about whom the Tennessee coaching staff raved to NFL scouts. In the final analysis, Henderson's dedication to football may have been the deciding factor in his selection.