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On to '21: Cornerbacks


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' cornerbacks in this position-by-position look at the '21 offseason …

Position: Cornerbacks.

Position coach: Tim Walton.

2020 starters: CJ Henderson (8), Tre Herndon (12), Chris Claybrooks (4), Sidney Jones IV (6), Luq Barcoo (1), Greg Mabin (4), D.J. Hayden (1).

Others: Nathan Meadors, Quenton Meeks, Josh Nurse, Brandon Rusnak, Josiah Scott.

2020 at a glance: Like multiple positions around the Jaguars' defense, cornerback was defined by injuries and inconsistency in 2020 – with no player at the position starting more than five consecutive games. Henderson and Herndon started the first four games of the season opposite one another with Hayden at nickel, but the rest of the season was a constant rotation with Jones starting five consecutive games at one outside corner in October and November – but no other player starting at the position for a full month. Henderson, the No. 9 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, had six passes defensed and an interception with a forced fumble. Herndon started six games at right corner, four at left corner and two at nickel – and finished the season with five passes defensed. Jones, who joined the Jaguars' practice squad in September, led the team with nine passes defensed and two interceptions. The cornerbacks as a group finished with three interceptions and 25 passes defensed.

Offseason storyline: This is an area to watch this offseason, with the future of two significant contributors – Hayden and Jones – still uncertain. Hayden was one of the NFL's top nickel corners in 2018 and 2019 but he missed 11 games last season with hamstring and knee injuries. Jones, a second-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 NFL Draft, played as well as any player in the Jaguars' secondary when healthy last season – but he played just nine games while missing six of the last seven with an Achilles injury. The Jaguars this past week re-signed Herndon, who has started 26 games since signing as an undrafted rookie shortly after the 2018 NFL Draft; Herndon was scheduled to become a restricted free agent on the March 17 start of the NFL's 2021 League Year.

Free agents as of March 17: Hayden, Jones, Mabin.

Bucky Brooks' top three free-agent cornerbacks: Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers; Troy Hill, Los Angeles Rams; William Jackson III, Cincinnati Bengals

Bucky Brooks' top three cornerbacks: Patrick Surtain, II, Alabama; Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech; Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

Oehser analysis: As is the case with many areas of the Jaguars' defense, cornerback could be addressed early in free agency or early in the draft. It's also a position with multiple questions, with perhaps the most important being whether Henderson will develop into a true No. 1 corner. He flashed at times as a rookie but was inconsistent in eight games; the Jaguars need him to fulfill the potential that made him a Top-10 selection last offseason. If Henderson develops into a take-away-one-side-of-the-field corner – and he absolutely is capable of doing so – then the Jaguars have a major foundation piece of the defense and secondary. A key offseason cornerback question for the Jaguars is the future of Jones; if he can play a full season as well as he played for six games last season, he and Henderson can form a very good cornerback duo. But Jones missed significant time with injury in 2020, which could be a concern moving forward. Claybrooks, originally selected as a return specialist/special teams player, played better than expected at corner as a rookie – and could have a role in passing situations. The cornerback position, like the safety position, also will be greatly helped by an improved run defense; the entire defense has been in far too many difficult down-and-distance situations the past two seasons. Either way, the Jaguars could try to acquire one or two front-line players here this offseason – as is the case at multiple defensive positions.

Brooks analysis: The Jaguars were at their best on defense with a trio of A-plus cover corners in the lineup a few years ago. To get back to playing championship-caliber football, the Jaguars need Henderson to play at an all-star level while finding a couple of playmakers to fill out their nickel defense. The CB2 and CB3 spots are critical positions in the NFL with offenses aligning in three-receiver sets on 70 percent of their snaps. That's why the Jaguars could shop in free agency to add a veteran presence to the defensive backfield while also adding a few promising prospects to form a young nucleus with the potential to grow together over the next few seasons. With a mixture of veterans and youngsters in place, the Jaguars could have the right mix of experience, expertise and explosiveness to challenge the competitive teams in the AFC.

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