The Jacksonville Jaguars used the first round of the NFL draft to land replacements for two of their best — and most disgruntled — defenders.
The Jaguars chose speedy Florida cornerback CJ Henderson with the ninth pick and versatile LSU pass-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson with the 20th selection. Henderson is expected to fill a void created when the Jaguars traded Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams last October, and Chaisson could allow Jacksonville to move on from defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Or it might force Ngakoue to reconsider his trade demands.
“We weren't really even able to get an offer,” general manager Dave Caldwell said of Ngakoue. “I think his options are very limited at this point in time. We’ll welcome him back with open arms when he's ready to come back, and we look forward to it.”
Ngakoue has been vocal about his displeasure with the franchise since the end of last season. The Jaguars placed the franchise tag on him last month, a move that would guarantee him about $18 million next season. But Ngakoue has refused to sign the tender in hopes of forcing a trade.
He made disparaging comments about team executive and minority owner Tony Khan, the son of majority owner Shad Khan, on Twitter earlier this week.
“Obviously he feels like things have not gone the way he wanted," Caldwell said. "In some aspects, he may have a point. But we put our best foot forward not only once but twice. I hope he sees the light that Jacksonville is a good spot, and it could, at the end of the day, be his only option.”
Jacksonville certainly feels like it improved its defense for next season, with or without Ngakoue.
Henderson and Chaisson also make it four consecutive years that Jacksonville used its top two picks on players from the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, joining Leonard Fournette/Cam Robinson (2017), Taven Bryan/DJ Chark (2018) and Josh Allen/Jawaan Taylor (2019).
Henderson fills arguably Jacksonville's biggest need. Caldwell traded Ramsey last season and fellow cornerback A.J. Bouye last month. The team tried to sign Cincinnati cornerback Darqueze Dennard in free agency, but he failed his physical and prompted the sides to part ways.
Those moves left the Jags with former undrafted free agent Tre Herndon and journeyman Rashaan Melvin as the team’s projected starters at the position.
Caldwell believes Henderson has a chance to be as good as, maybe even better than, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah. Detroit selected Okudah with the third overall pick.
“He really fit the mold with what we look for in corners,” Caldwell said. “We believe he can take a team's No. 1 receiver because of his athleticism and his speed, and he's a great kid. He's all about football.”
Translation: the Jaguars also don't expect the headlines and headaches that Ramsey provided for three-plus years.
“He's more of a talker, trying to get in guys' heads," Henderson said. “I'm very different. I play my style of game.”
Added Florida coach Dan Mullen, who crashed Henderson's Zoom conference call with the media: “He’s not an in-your-face guy. He’s quiet and reserved. ... He’s a pro. He plays football and goes home.”
Henderson was a three-year starter at Florida and led the team with 11 pass breakups last season despite three several games with an ankle injury. He also skipped the team’s bowl game to prepare for the draft.
“He’s the best corner I’ve ever coached, college or pro," Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
Chaisson was one of LSU's top defenders last season. He had a team-high 13 1/2 tackles for loss, including 6 1/2 sacks, last season while still recovering from a 2018 knee injury. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Chaisson will line up opposite Allen, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season.
“We feel like he can bring a presence off the edge, set the edge as a very good run defender," Caldwell said. "We'll play him probably in a two-point stance, and he'll be our rusher opposite Josh and Yannick.”
The Jaguars have two picks in the second and third round Friday and still have numerous needs, including at receiver. They released oft-injured wideout Marqise Lee earlier this week to create nearly $5 million in cap space. The move left them with budding standout DJ Chark and three other receivers entering the final year of their contracts: Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole.
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