NFL Draft 2020: How CJ Henderson's reported rise could benefit Raiders

NFL Draft 2020: How CJ Henderson's reported rise could benefit Raiders

It's NFL draft season, which also means it's rumors/smokescreen season. Every year as the draft nears, rumors, reports and whispers emerge as teams try to throw other franchises off the scent of their plans.

It appears the latest potential smokescreen involves the draft's top two cornerback prospects -- Ohio State's Jeff Okudah and Florida's CJ Henderson. Both are players the Raiders would love to add to their secondary. Okudah is expected to be long gone by the time the Raiders go on the clock, and the Silver and Black might have to choose between Henderson and a top wide receiver at No. 12.

Unless ... Henderson also is gone by No. 12, perhaps even before Okudah?

In his latest Football Morning in America column, NBC's Peter King has an interesting note about the cornerback class.

“I bet 40 percent of the teams in the league have C.J. Henderson higher on their boards than Okudah. Better cover guy," one GM told King.

Okudah is an elite cover corner with zero question marks. Henderson, while a great press-cover corner, has a tendency not to get physical with receivers in routes and give up catches due to mental lapses. I digress.

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If, say, 12 teams do have Henderson rated above Okudah, how could that affect the Raiders, who sit at No. 12 and No. 19 with massive needs at cornerback and wide receiver? The obvious point is that this is a smokescreen by a GM hoping a team in the Raiders' range (11-19) will make a trade up into the top 10, where the anonymous GM's team likely sits, to grab Henderson.

Like I said, smokescreen season.

But, let's say 40 percent of the league does have Henderson rated higher than Okudah. Given the number of quarterbacks and tackles expected to go in the top 10, along with edge rusher Chase Young, a rise up the draft boards by Henderson could see the Raiders get lucky.

Let's play this out with Henderson as the top corner off the board:
1. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
2. Chase Young, Washington
3. Tua Tagovailoa (Detroit Lions trade pick to Miami Dolphins)
4. Tristan Wirfs or Mekhi Becton, New York Giants
5. CJ Henderson, Detriot Lions
6. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
7. Isaiah Simmons, Derrick Brown or Jeff Okudah, Carolina Panthers
8. Becton or Wirfs, Arizona Cardinals
9. Okudah, Simmons or Derrick Brown, Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Jedrick Wills, Cleveland Browns

So based on that very rough sketch, the New York Jets will go on the clock at No. 11 with all three elite wide receivers still on the board and one of either Okudah, Simmons or Brown still available. The Jets, while in need of a playmaker, also need a left tackle and Georgia's Andrew Thomas still is on the board.

All this tells us is that a rise by Henderson could allow the Raiders to sit back and have a star fall into their lap, or make a trade up into the Nos. 7 to No. 9 range and snag a guy like Okudah or Simmons who has dropped due to Henderson's late surge.

Once again, the smart money is on Okudah being the first cornerback selected and possibly going at No. 3 overall if the Detroit Lions keep the pick.

But every year there is one or two draft prospects who shoot up the boards late, knocking projected top-10 players down a peg.

The Raiders like Henderson, of that there is no doubt. But they'd be willing to see him get snatched up if it meant a player of Okudah, Simmons or Brown's caliber fell to them.

I've advocated for the Raiders to take the top wide receiver at No. 12. A guy like Alabama's Henry Ruggs or Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb would be a game-changer for an offense that desperately needs a home-run threat.

But the Raiders can't turn down the chance to select a possible future All-Pro in Okudah, a defensive Swiss Army Knife tailor-made for today's NFL in Simmons or a dominant defensive tackle in Brown. Either of those three players would take an improving defense up a notch.

[RELATED: Five bold Raiders predictions for draft that could happen]

There have been whispers of the Raiders wanting to add a dominant defensive tackle in the first round and Brown fits the bill. Okudah filling the corner spot opposite Trayvon Mullen would set the Raiders' secondary up for the long haul. Simmons long has been my favorite prospect in this class, and while the Raiders filled their linebacker void in free agency, Simmons can fill a variety of roles.

The Henderson over Okudah whispers could be just noise, but if it's real, the Raiders could benefit.

Tim Brown rips Bill Callahan as 'worst thing' to happen to Raiders

Tim Brown rips Bill Callahan as 'worst thing' to happen to Raiders

Tim Brown and Bill Callahan probably won't be making plans to go out the brunch anytime soon.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer has been a vocal critic of his former coach for a long time. He blames Callahan and his last-second game plan change as the reason Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins disappeared prior to Super Bowl XXXVII. As far as Brown is concerned, the Raiders would have been better off if Callahan never coached the Silver and Black.

"I think this guy was probably the worst thing that ever happened to the Raiders organization," Brown said on NBC Sports' Sports Uncovered podcast, which details Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Callahan's attitude and the way he dealt with players rubbed a number of Raiders the wrong way.

"The way he handled his guys, the way he talked to men, the way he approached, and the lack of respect that he had for men, people had an issue with him," Anthony Dorsett said.

It wasn't just the struggles of a first-year coach, though. Brown says he and other Raiders tried to get Jon Gruden to cut Callahan loose while the latter was offensive coordinator.

"We tried to get Callahan fired in '98 and '99," Brown recalled. "He walked off the field twice. At the middle fourth quarter of games that we should've won, we weren't winning. 'You guys don't want to win here. I don't know why I came here.' Walked off the field. Went to Gruden, Gruden went, 'Hey, guy's emotional, whatever.' Did the same thing in '99. and we went to him again. We said, 'You got to fire this guy. We can't have a coach walk off in the middle of the game on us.' And Gruden wouldn't fire him. So from that standpoint on, we understood that Callahan was in a seperate category."

When Gruden was traded prior to the 2002 season, a number of players went to owner Al Davis to ask him to hire Callahan, believing they were on the cusp of greatness following the heartbreaking loss in the "Tuck Rule Game" the year before.

But the differences between Gruden and Callahan were stark, and things with the Raiders changed.

"Dudes would play for Gru," Dorsett said. "Dudes would play for Gru. They love him, you know what I'm saying? When Callahan became the coach we played for each other.

"When he addressed the team as head coach, he was like, 'I don't need any more friends. So, that's not what I'm worried about here."

It was clear almost immediately to Brown that this wasn't the right call.

"Callahan didn't care about us," Brown said. "He could care less about us. It was a job for him. WIth Gruden, there were relationships there."

[RELATED: Would Raiders have won Super Bowl if Robbins played?]

Despite the lack of connection with Callahan, the Raiders steamrolled through the regular season and into the Super Bowl, where Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were waiting.

The Raiders, filled with swagger, thought the title was theirs. But a confluence of events, including Robbins' disappearance and Callahan's decision to change the game plan on Friday, left them shellshocked entering Qualcomm Stadium.

The Bucs were ready for everything the Raiders threw at them, and some members of the Silver and Black swear Gruden knew what plays were coming.

The 48-21 demolition by the Bucs led some to charge Callahan with purposefully handing his former boss a title.

"We have guys on the sideline at the Super Bowl, who are trying to get the head coach," Brown said. "Guys who want to fight him, at the Super Bowl. On the sideline. In the locker room. That's all anybody was talking about. 'This is sabotage, Callahan. You did this for Gruden!' "

Callahan has denied the accusations. He was fired after the following season when the Raiders posted a 4-12 record.

Was it sabotage? Doubtful. But it's clear Callahan was in over his head from Day 1 as the leader of the Silver and Black.

Raiders claim Jon Gruden, Buccaneers knew their plays in Super Bowl XXXVII

Raiders claim Jon Gruden, Buccaneers knew their plays in Super Bowl XXXVII

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

The Raiders arrived at Super Bowl XXXVII prepared to reclaim their rightful place atop the NFL. Only their old coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccanneers stood in their way.

The Silver and Black were confident in a victory. They were armed with the No. 1 offense in the NFL, and weren't scared of the Bucs. By now you're aware of the story. Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins went missing the night before the game and the Raiders were trounced 48-21.

After the thrashing, the excuses started flowing from the Raiders. The fingers were pointed at Robbins for going missing and at coach Bill Callahan for his drastic last-minute game plan alteration. But while Robbins' disappearance -- which is the focus of NBC Sports' latest episode of their Sports Uncovered podcast series -- had a big impact, many Raiders believe the Gruden effect played a bigger role, believing the Bucs knew what plays they were running.

"Every level of the defense knew what we were doing," former right tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "They knew what to look for when we checked versus a blitz. They knew where we were going with the ball. They knew Rich's rotation."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

"You have never played a football game where 95 percent of the plays, the other team, they can guess what plays you are running based on scheme," Mo Collins recalled in 2011. "But these guys, we was breaking the huddle, and they was calling out our formation, and bossing over to our formations." (Mo Collins died in 2014. He was 38.)

If the Bucs did know the Raiders' plays, the blame should fall on Callahan for not switching up the checks from when Gruden coached the Raiders the year prior.

"I played with some of them after the fact," former defensive tackle Sam Adams said. " And they're like, 'We cannot believe you're using the same checks, and the same terminology.' We -- I mean Gruden ran practice saying, 'He's using the same stuff that he put in.' Come on. How can that be?"

To members of the Bucs, though, all this talk are just excuses for the beating they laid on the Raiders.

"It's the same offense that Jon Gruden ran when he was there," former Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland said. So, we practiced against the same offense for a year. So, if you're not going to change any of the same audibles that Gruden uses in Tampa, that's on you."

[RELATED: Al Davis never got over Super Bowl loss to Bucs]

The Raiders walked into Qualcomm Stadium without their Pro Bowl center, and with a game plan that was barely 48 hours old. They left with their tail between their legs.

Looking back on the loss, none of that mattered. The Raiders were instilled as four-point favorites, but that line was off.

That was always Gruden and the Bucs' Super Bowl to win.