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Previewing 2020: Cornerbacks

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon (37) celebrates after an interception during a week 16 NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019 in Atlanta. (Michael Zarrilli/AP Images for Panini, via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon (37) celebrates after an interception during a week 16 NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019 in Atlanta. (Michael Zarrilli/AP Images for Panini, via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' cornerbacks as the 2020 season approaches

Position: Cornerback.

Projected starters: CJ Henderson, Tre Herndon.

Others: D.J. Hayden, Josiah Scott, Tramaine Brock, Chris Claybrooks, Parry Nickerson, Luq Barcoo, Amari Henderson, Brandon Watson.

2020 offseason additions: CJ Henderson (first-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Brock (free agent), Scott (fourth-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Claybrooks (seventh-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Barcoo (collegiate free agent), Amari Henderson (collegiate free agent).

2020 offseason losses: A.J. Bouye (traded for fourth-round selection in 2020 NFL Draft, Denver Broncos).

Offseason overview: The Jaguars executed a major overhaul at cornerback position, essentially finishing a total transition that began with last season's midseason trade of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams. The team got good value for Bouye, a Pro Bowl selection for the Jaguars in 2017 who likely would have been released for cap reasons had he not been traded. Henderson was considered one of the draft's top two cornerbacks. The Jaguars also focused on adding veteran depth, first signing Rashaan Melvin as an unrestricted free agent. After he opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, the Jaguars this past weekend signed 11-year veteran Brock. He has spent time with six NFL organizations, including Arizona and Tennessee last season.

Oehser analysis: Another defensive position, another offseason of major change for the Jaguars. It's stunning to realize how different cornerback – and indeed, the entire secondary – is compared to 2017, but the good news for the Jaguars is the reloading has a chance to result in a very good cornerback situation. Henderson was considered the draft's best pure coverage cornerback, and he has the physical skill to be a true No. 1 corner. He also reportedly has a tireless work ethic and intense drive to be great. Herndon played as well as any starter in the Jaguars' secondary last season, and he and Henderson have the potential to be a very good starting tandem. A somewhat hidden strength of this group? Hayden, who since joining the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in the 2018 offseason has continued to develop into one of the NFL's best nickel cornerbacks. Key for the Jaguars here will be how the depth develops. Brock is an experienced veteran, and Scott has the potential to be a nickel corner moving forward. Look for Claybrooks to make a push to be the team's kickoff returner.

Sexton analysis: You have to feel for Henderson. The Jaguars' first first-round selection in April won't be able to shake the comparisons to Ramsey – and like life, that isn't fair. Henderson isn't the physical presence that Ramsey was (no one really is), but he's a terrific athlete and has above average size, length and speed. He's a top competitor who was known to be the first guy on the practice field and the last guy to leave while at the University of Florida, so the expectation that he will be a true No. 1 corner is fair. Herndon will take over for Bouye, which is unsurprising to the Jaguars – who were adamant when he showed up as an undrafted rookie in 2018 that he had a future as a starter. There's plenty to like about Herndon physically if he can take the next step in his mental approach. Brock brings a reliable veteran presence. Hayden's steadiness last season was often overlooked; he was terrific in coverage and held the room together after Ramsey's antics threated to tear it apart early in the season. Scott is the Jaguars' future nickel, having earned the nickname "the gnat" during his career at Michigan State; he is quick, smart and tenacious. Nickerson and Watson both saw action last season and will get a chance to win a spot on special teams – or perhaps on the newly expanded practice squad; the Jaguars worked to get both on the roster in 2019 because of their abilities.

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