The 22-year old Henderson is listed at 5’8” and 190 pounds and was undrafted out of Pitt last season. Henderson played in five game for the Giants last year in a special teams role. He caught three passes in preseason with the Steelers.
Henderson was regarded as one of the best high school recruits out of Delaware which led to him being recruited to Pitt.
During his first season in 2015, Henderson only had four offensive touches for three yards but averaged 28 yards per kick return, scoring a 100-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff of the Military Bowl at the end of the year.
2016 saw Henderson selected as an All-American kick returner after he was 6th in the nation in kick return average and 5th in punt return average. He had four touchdown returns, including three on kickoffs.
He also started to contribute on offense, earning an honorable mention all-ACC selection as a receiver. Henderson caught 26 passes and carried the ball 60 times, racking up over 900 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
In 2017, Henderson wasn’t as productive but still had two punt return touchdowns. He caught 17 passes and rushed for 250 yards on 36 carries, while averaging 21.3 yards per kickoff return and 11.6 yards per punt return.
Having attended the scouting combine, Henderson was disappointed not to be drafted, but signed as an undrafted free agent with the Steelers. In preseason, he caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown and returned three kickoffs for 73 yards and two punts for 14 yards, but was unable to make a Steelers roster with a deep receiving corps.
Henderson was added to the Giants practice squad in October and had two stints on the active roster. The first ended when he was released back to the practice squad and the second saw him place on injured reserve due to injury. In total, he played five games, returning five kickoffs for 112 yards and nine punts for 68 yards. He did not play any offensive snaps.
The Giants decided to waive Henderson last week and the Jets claimed him.
Now let’s take a look at what Henderson brings to the table, divided into categories.
Henderson’s burst and acceleration are extremely impressive on film, but his combine numbers were disappointing. His three-cone drill, broad jump and 40-yard dash were all about average and his bench press, short shuttle and vertical were all poor.
However, he reportedly improved upon his 40 time at his pro day, as he was clocked at 4.38 to 4.40 by scouts in attendance.
Henderson is obviously very small and also has short arms, although - contrary to what it says in his NFL.com scouting report - his hands are actually quite big.
Henderson’s lack of size probably limits him to a slot-based role at the NFL level, although interestingly when he saw limited preseason action with the Steelers, he primarily lined up on the outside.
At Pitt, they ran an unconventional offensive system which saw Henderson constantly going in motion and often reversing back and motioning in the opposite direction to confuse the defense. From that set, he carried the ball a lot on jet sweeps and end arounds.
He would line up wide or in the slot from time to time, but wasn’t employed as a conventional receiver very often. He sometimes lined up in the backfield though.
Special teams are obviously the main reason for the Jets bringing Henderson in, as they look to find a younger and cheaper replacement for the departing pro bowler Andre Roberts. Henderson has an excellent history as a big-play return man with his school record seven return touchdowns.
Henderson’s ability to build up speed quickly is what makes him especially effective in this role. He displays that here.
Due to his lack of size, Henderson won’t break many tackles, but showcases some good elusiveness.
He will run laterally and lose yardage from time to time, although when he does, he’s often close to breaking it.
Henderson does not contribute on special teams other than when he’s returning kicks.
Henderson has never really showed himself to be any kind of deep threat in college or in his limited preseason reps. He made a few downfield catches, but never by blowing past a defender in man coverage.
Henderson has limited experience of running a pro-style route tree. Scouting reports indicate that he will round off his routes and doesn’t make crisp breaks. He would probably be most effective on crossing route type plays where he can rely on his speed to uncover.
This was basically the only example of route running he displayed in preseason action, as the defender made it easy for him by playing too far off.
Henderson caught all three of his targets in preseason action and had a solid 69 percent catch rate in college, although that’s rendered less impressive by the fact that a lot of these were simple dump-offs. He only had two drops at Pitt, though.
Henderson has not had many spectacular catches on his highlight reel, but showed nice concentration on this play.
Ball security was a bit of an issue in college, as he had five fumbles in three years. However, only one of these was a muffed punt and he didn’t have any fumbles with the Steelers or Giants.
Henderson isn’t really a red zone threat as a receiver. In fact, he only caught one touchdown pass in his college career.
He did run for five touchdowns, though, all of them in 2016. However, most of these were on big plays.
Yards after the catch
Here’s one of Henderson’s catches from preseason. As you can see, it’s little more than a running play but underlines how Henderson can be a useful player if you can find ways to get him the ball in space.
As noted above, he can be elusive and accelerate away from defenders, but doesn’t really break out of tackles or drive a pile.
As you’d expect, Henderson doesn’t contribute much as a blocker. This was especially true in college, where his main contributions to running plays were usually by creating misdirection as a decoy.
A review of his preseason footage predictably doesn’t show him making any kind of impact as a blocker, although he also didn’t really make any obvious errors.
Henderson will battle for yardage on returns and when he gets the ball on offense, but will often go down on first contact. He doesn’t display much physicality as a blocker or route runner either.
Henderson’s scouting reports also suggest he doesn’t really like to go over the middle as a receiver.
Henderson shows good open field running instincts as a return man and follows his blockers well.
As a receiver, his lack of experience may be an issue but he’s shown some ability to find an open spot in the defense as he did on this play, on which he also made a great catch.
Henderson doesn’t appear to have any off-field concerns and is regarded as a hard worker with good maturity.
Injuries weren’t really an issue for Henderson in college, as he played in 25 out of 25 games in his last two years. With the Giants, he landed on injured reserve after fracturing his shoulder in his fifth game.
While Henderson could potentially develop into a slot receiver, he’s probably too raw and inexperienced in that role to beat out some of the other candidates to contribute there at this time. However, he could be useful for special packages, maybe in some similar plays to those he saw success with at Pitt. Is this not earmarked as Trenton Cannon’s role though?
Henderson is unlikely to contribute much, if at all, on offense with the Jets - at least in the short term. However, he is a dynamic return man and could establish himself as a fan favorite if he’s able to showcase his potential.
At the moment, Henderson is arguably ahead of the pack in terms of return experience with guys like Tim White and JJ Jones considered bigger long-shots to make the final roster.
The Jets may yet bring in more options in the draft or via free agency, but Henderson’s college credentials and his solid, if unspectacular, performances with the Giants last year could make him the favorite to be Roberts’ successor as the return specialist.
Of course it goes without saying that he needs to make the most of whatever opportunities he gets and catch the ball consistently - especially on punts - in camp and preseason, so that the team is comfortable putting him out there.