Amari Henderson Could Be a Dark Horse Solution In the Secondary

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings recently announced that they signed Amari Henderson. The former Wake Forest cornerback participated in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. He spent part of last season on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent.

Henderson will not immediately fill a need for the Vikings, but don’t sleep on his potential. He received offers from Kentucky, Kansas State, and Penn State but opted to stay close to home. He played four years in Winston-Salem, starting at both left and right CB. He immediately earned a starting role and averaged 10-plus passes defended every season, finishing third all-time in pass breakups.

One of his more notable games was against then-Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, where he intercepted one of Love’s passes. Love threw three picks that day as Wake Forest defeated the Aggies 38-35.

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Despite a productive career as a defensive back in college, garnering seven interceptions, 40 passes deflected, and 169 tackles, Henderson’s name wasn’t called in the 2020 draft. He signed with Jacksonville as a UDFA for $23,400 in guaranteed money. Henderson failed to make the Jags’ 53-man roster but was on the practice squad until he was cut on Sept. 14.

If you look deeper into the type of player he is, it’s clear why the Vikings were determined to sign him. Here’s Dane Brugler’s scouting report on him from the 2020 edition of The Beast:

“[He’s] quick to spy and trigger… his eyes stay dialed in from quarters, [good at] feeling route combinations and tracking the vision of the quarterback… above-average ball skills and attacks the ball like a wide receiver… competitive from press, staying composed with his footwork to attach himself to receivers… willing tackler and doesn’t shy away from contact… experienced with 41 career starts… his height and length translate to football production, compiling 48 career passes defended and seven interceptions… posted a career-best three interceptions as a senior, which ranked second-best in the ACC.”

He has the makeup to be a practice squad player who will work his way onto the field. We have ourselves a cornerback who can also play safety and is a productive special teamer. On top of that, he has hands like a receiver, is highly intelligent when it comes to route combinations, and isn’t afraid to get physical in coverage or run support.

So what’s holding him back? Why wasn’t he drafted? According to Brugler, he’s:

“Thin-boned with very little definition…his body looks the same now as the pictures from five years ago when he enrolled at Wake…under-powered and struggles to reroute receivers or escape perimeter blockers…backpedal shows a slight hitch due to his upright motion…explosive receivers can create separation at the line or out of their breaks…lacks the recovery speed to close the gap…flagged three times on the six game tapes studied (two pass interference, one holding penalty)…missed three games as a junior due to injury and long-term durability is a concern due to his body type.”

In short, his slight build gave scouts and front offices qualms about his NFL potential. But Cam Dantzler had similar concerns from scouts, and his lanky frame hasn’t impacted his play. I know that Henderson wasn’t considered a Day 2 pick by most scouts like Dantzler, but I think the same rule applies here. Rico has all the right traits to succeed in the NFL.

The good thing about Henderson, and why I’m so high on him, is because all of his weaknesses are either fixable or of minimal impact. His lack of strength at the line of scrimmage can improve by adding some bulk during an offseason program. A smaller program like UNC isn’t gonna have the same amenities as an NFL team in terms of resources for training. I also think that having Mike Zimmer as his head coach will really help him reduce some of his holding penalties and allow him to bring out the best version of himself.

His skill set allows him to impact the defense in a multitude of ways. His physicality and tackling prowess bode well for playing on special teams and in certain situations where you need an extra defensive back on the field. Still, you don’t want to sacrifice the defense’s run-stopping ability. Henderson also has experience playing safety, which is important considering our depth this year behind Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods is questionable.

I can definitely see Henderson earning a roster spot in the preseason due to his special-teams prowess. In fact, I honestly think Amari Henderson is a better football player than Kris Boyd and is more deserving of a roster spot because of his versatile skillset.

Henderson is an overlooked signing who could compete for a roster spot this season.

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