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These guys will be asked to shutdown an opponents receiver corps. Today I rank the top five cornerback prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Ahmad Gardner- Cincinnati
Bio: A Michigan All-State cornerback and wide receiver, Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner saw immediate playing time at Cincinnati. In his three seasons with the Bearcats, he was a first team All-AAC selection three times and was the AAC Defensive Player of the year as a junior.
Strengths: Rare height, agility, and burst for the position. Hands like glue. Ideal blend of competitive fire and confidence. Allowed just 117 total yards and 11 receptions as a junior. Hand fighting press corner with strong jabs. Strike and gets in position off the release. An island on the outside release. Instant acceleration to stay locked on routes. Eyes got better in 2021. Route recognition and makes adjustments on the fly. Leaves little room for completion on contested balls. Jumps passing lanes from zone coverage with long, bursting strides. Two career interceptions for touchdowns. Kept Jameson Williams in check during the national semifinal. Didn't allow a touchdown reception in his final season.
Weaknesses: Skinny legs with slimmer overall build. Disregards technique unnecessarily. Large amount of holding and pass interference flags over his three years. Grabs and holds receivers when route mirroring doesn't go as planned. Some hip stiffness when trying to turn and go. Footwork needs coached up. Average reaction quickness off his back pedal. Struggles maintaining balance in pursuit. Shoe string tackler.
Pro Comparison: Richard Sherman
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: New York Jets
2. Derek Stingley Jr- LSU
Bio: The Louisiana Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a senior, Derek Stingley Jr was a true freshman starter for LSU and led the SEC with six interceptions. In three years, he was a two time first team All-SEC selection and a 2019 National Champion.
Strengths: Prototype cornerback, checks every measurable box needed. Maybe the best pure athlete in this year's draft class. Was great the moment he stepped on a college field. Low and fluid backpedal. Long arms and smooth hips for press coverage. Anticipates out breaking routes and looks to jump to the ball. Has the turn and go speed to ride go routes the length of the field. Recovery speed to close the gap if beaten. Bodies up and closes windows downfield. Surprising leaper with quick hands to dominate 50-50 balls. Instant plant and go from the top of coverage. Size to be a more consistent tackler. Father was a player and coach in the Arena Football League and his grand father played wide receiver for the Patriots.
Weaknesses: Looked more good than great over his final two years. Passive in coverage against Auburn as a sophomore. Struggled locating the ball in 2020 and 2021. Must rely more on technique in tight man coverage. Elite competitive is lacking from play to play. Poor tackling and run support occasionally. Played in just 10 games over final two seasons. Underwent surgery on his foot as a junior after three games.
Pro Comparison: Marshon Lattimore
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Minnesota Vikings
3. Andrew Booth Jr- Clemson
Bio: A five star recruit out of high school, Andre Booth Jr committed to Clemson where he played in 13 games as true freshman. In his final two years, he was selected to the All-ACC teams while registering five interceptions.
Strengths: Elite prospect with elite measurables. Feet are extremely quick and nimble. Slides and slows get off from press coverage. Strength to maintain long strikes through get off. Smooth and speedy backpedal. Always urgent and competitive in coverage. Better playmaker than interception numbers would show. Great zone awareness to read and react. Burst and length to force contested catches. Superb ball tracking and judgement. Maintains positioning while adjusting body to defended throws. Strong downhill tackler.
Weaknesses: High cut with some hip stiffness when trying to mirror routes. Needs to work on ceasing hand grabs after five yards in the pros. Some wasted motion in coverage movements. Solid route runners can bait him out of position. Slow build up acceleration when changing direction. Can be too expectant and overreact. Eyes need to improve from both zone and man. Control while tackling is lacking.
Pro Comparison: Kyle Fuller
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Baltimore Ravens
4. Roger McCreary- Auburn
Bio: After playing as a reserve in his first two seasons at Auburn, Roger McCreary was named a starter as a junior. In 2021 he recorded 49 tackles, two interceptions and an SEC best 14 pass breakups while being a first team All-American corner.
Strengths: Compact frame with surprising play strength. Ability to stall out receiver's release. Plays the role of a gnat in press coverage. Physically bullies receivers at the line. Leaves little room to succeed on deep routes. Good recognition and response to combo routes. A pest against Alabama in 2021. Swipes through hands to force incompletions, Strong, heads up tackler that drives through the ball carrier.
Weaknesses: Lacks tackling and playmaking length. Taller receivers could have a field day with him. Feet need to ne more patient when mirroring routes. Slow turn when accelerating. Allows separation after the catch. Eyes must improve from off man formations. Slight hiccup when planting feet and changing direction. Short strides hinder closing and recovery speed.
Pro Comparison: Rock Ya-Sin
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Arizona Cardinals
5. Kaiir Elam- Florida
Bio: The number four overall athlete in his recruiting class, Kaiir Elam played in every game for Florida as a true freshman and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. The following year he was a second team All-SEC selection.
Strengths: Desired size, length and strength as a press corner. Maintains balance and able to stuff receivers at the line. Feet are patient and doesn't really fall for fakes or double moves. Fluid hips to turn and pursue. Basketball agility to mirror complex routes. Allows receiver to close the gap for him in Cover 3 and 4. Physically closes window on sideline throws. Contested balls are his bread and butter. Smooth transition quickness to plant and drive into passing lanes. Improved as a tackler as a junior. His father, Abram, played seven years in the NFL and his uncle, Matt, was a first round pick by the Ravens in 2013 and currently plays in the CFL.
Weaknesses: Unnecessarily loses leverage. Allows a little too much space early in the play. Timing underneath needs improvement when accelerating. Speedy, deep threats can blow by him. Inconsistent understanding of combo routes. A lot of panic and holds as a junior. Improvement in balance between man coverage and ball tracking is needed. Doesn't play to his size against the run. Struggles maintaining balance when tackling in the space.
Pro Comparison: Jimmy Smith
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons
Other Notable Prospects
Coby Bryant- Cincinnati
- Prototype frame, better football player than athlete
Derion Kendrick- Georgia
- Long and athletic, over confident gambler
Trent McDuffie- Washington
- Football savvy corner, lacks ideal traits
Jalyn Armour-Davis- Alabama
- Nice mirroring skill, questionable experience
Martin Emerson- Mississippi State
- Physical corner, Too handsy downfield
Tariq Castro-Fields- Penn State
- Experience in several schemes, fairly raw
Damarri Mathis- Pittsburgh
- Quick footed, Lacks great acceleration
Mario Goodrich- Clemson
- Aggressive tackler, bulky build for a corner
Kyler Gordon- Washington
- Nimble feet, a work in progress
Tariq Woolen- Texas San Antonio
- Athletic frame, relies on physical gifts over technique
Cam Taylor-Britt- Nebraska
- Plays above his size, looks more like a safety
Jaylen Watson- Washington State
- Long and proportioned frame, lacks great speed
Mykael Wright- Oregon
- Fluid footwork, limited to a nickel corner
Josh Jobe- Alabama
- Physical and competitive, average athleticism
Chris Steele- USC
- Idea backpedal, effort isn't always there
Kyler McMichael- North Carolina
- Physical frame, short strider
Alontae Taylor- Tennessee
- Great open field tackler, struggles to follow routes
Ja'Quan McMillian- East Carolina
- Agressive at the catch point, very undersized
Cordale Flott- LSU
- Rare length, extremely lean frame
Jack Jones- Arizona State
- Fluid mover in space, slim build throughout
Akayleb Evans- Missouri
- Good size and speed, stiff in man coverage
Marcus Jones- Houston
- Ideal playmaker, obvious size limitations
Joshua Williams- Fayetteville State
- Long and athletic, weak level of competition
Josh Thompson- Texas
- Impressive speed, still very raw
Vincent Gray- Michigan
- Plenty of experience, not a great athlete
Jermaine Waller- Virginia Tech
- Experienced starter, very thin frame
Kalon Barnes- Baylor
- Good straight line speed, suspect technique