Prospect of the Week: EJ Henderson
Since breaking into the starting line-up as a red-shirt freshman, Maryland linebacker EJ Henderson has been a force in the middle of the Terrapin defense and a high-flying, intense competitor that leaves opponents shaking in their cleats or lying on the field with thanks to his bone crushing hits.
Leading the Maryland defense as both a sophomore and junior, Henderson tallied more than 250 tackles the past two seasons, which included an impressive 28 tackles for loss last year and 13 during his sophomore campaign. Add into the mix game impacting plays on special teams and Henderson looks like the complete package.
Considered a top 20 pick by many had he left college after his junior season, Henderson gave up any serious thought of entering last April's draft when a back injury required off season surgery; an injury that may have removed him from the draft boards of several teams in 2001 and a surgery that almost kept him on the sidelines for the first game of the 2002 season.
Even with that Henderson is a force to be reckoned with and a defender that could be selected very high in next April's draft, assuming he gets a passing grade on his physical during February's combine.
A powerful and hard-hitting defender, Henderson relies on more than just brute force to get the job done as he plays with a large degree of intelligence in the middle, reading and anticipating the action rather then getting caught out of position or just running around mindlessly in pursuit of the ball carrier. Strong at the point of attack, Henderson takes on and defeats blocks firing through the gaps in run defense but also scraping laterally and making plays out to the flanks. He does an adequate job in pass defense covering well in the short field and Henderson would not be classified as the dreaded "two-down" defender.
For all his strengths Henderson cannot quickly alter his angle of attack nor does he possess a fluid change of direction and to the eyeball one would say he plays a bit "stiff", all of which turns scouts off. And though explosive he does not have the long speed or show the great range one likes to have in a middle level defender.
Then there's the question of his injury; one scout we recently spoke with at the Kickoff Classic (when Maryland lost to Notre Dame) told us if the x-ray results for Henderson are positive prior to next April's draft it could force him late into the drafts first day rather then early in the initial frame as some are predicting.
The early results for Henderson this season have been a little mixed; he started slow against Notre Dame but picked up the tempo as the contest progressed and showed sings of being the EJ Henderson we've come to know and appreciate by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
This week he'll have his work cut out for him as Florida State comes calling to College Park and brings with them a newfound ground attack featuring Greg Jones, who's riding a four game streak of topping the century mark carrying the ball. Already this season Jones has run roughshod over a pair of teams with defensive minded coaches opening the 2002 campaign by first rushing for 113-yards against the Dan McCarney coached Iowa State Cyclones then pounding Al Gorh's Virginia Cavalier's for 178-yards. Factor in an offensive game plan that likes to throw the ball to its' running backs and Henderson will have his hands full against the only ACC opponent Maryland has not defeated during his playing tenure with the Terrapins.
Should all pan out this Saturday, this season and early in 2003, many a team drafting in the middle of the first round will look to acquire his services, otherwise Henderson could be one of those players that slips through the cracks.