Cornerback Prospects Birds Should Be Eyeing
With training camp rapidly approaching, and the next college football season around the corner, I’ve zeroed-in on a number of key positions the Eagles must address in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight some of the top players at those positions and explore their outlook heading into the 2021 college football season.
For the first part of this series, we look at the cornerback group.
Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
A consensus five-star recruit out of The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, La., Stingley made an immediate impact for the LSU Tigers in 2019. Appearing in 15 games as a freshman, Stingley notched 38 tackles, 21 passes defended, six interceptions and a fumble recovery, drawing many of the premier pass-catchers in college football on a weekly basis. As a result, Stingley was rewarded with 2019 first-team All America and SEC Newcomer of the Year honors.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound defender totaled 27 tackles (2.5 for loss), five passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 7 games last season.
Stingley is unanimously considered to be the nation’s top cornerback entering the 2021 season. The junior cornerback provides the requisite length and wingspan to narrow throwing windows, the physicality and urgency to consistently affect the catch point, and the fluidity to flip his hips and run with receivers of all shapes and sizes. Should he continue his impressive trajectory, he’ll cement his status as a blue-chip talent next April.
Kaiir Elam, Florida
The nephew of Florida alum and former first-round pick Matt Elam, Kaiir Elam landed at Florida as a highly heralded four-star recruit intent on carving out a legacy of his own.
Playing behind C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson, Elam appeared in 13 games (5 starts) for the Gators as a freshman, racking up 11 tackles, 7.0 passes defended, and three interceptions. He was named to the Coaches Freshman All-SEC team.
An ascending sophomore, Elam would appear, and start in, all 12 games in 2020. Sporting a prototypical build of 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, the physical perimeter defender compiled 39 tackles, 12 passes defended and two interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter. After bursting onto the scene as one of the nation’s premier cover men, Elam’s play earned him Coaches first-team All-SEC honors and the distinction of being a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist.
Elam moves exceptionally well for being a bigger-than-average cornerback, demonstrating innate closing speed, terrific short-area quickness, and the fluidity to defend the full gamut of routes. Elam is a particularly enticing prospect, as he hasn’t yet scratched the surface of his capabilities.
Andrew Booth, Clemson
Perhaps my favorite cornerback prospect of this class, Booth arrived at Clemson as a five-star prospect and No. 8 overall player ranking from Rivals.com in 2019.
The six-foot, 195-pound cornerback didn’t become a mainstay in the secondary until his sophomore season, however, recording 30 tackles (2.5 for loss), four passes defended, two interceptions, a sack, and a touchdown over 11 games (4 starts) in 2020.
Some may view Booth’s limited sample size with skepticism, but I came away enticed with what he put on tape in 2020. Booth transitions out of his backpedal with fluidity and with little wasted movement. He demonstrates the smooth hips and agility to turn and run with anyone. Despite his limited sample size, Booth has also flashed ball skills, coming away with four interceptions.
Booth will be a player to watch this season, as he figures to draw many of the premier pass catchers in college football and play a more prominent role in Clemson’s secondary. When the dust settles, I envision him challenging Elam for the No. 2 spot behind Stingley.
Sevyn Banks, Ohio State
The elder statesmen of this year’s top-tier cornerback group, Banks boasts the athletic traits to become the Buckeyes’ next blue-chip cover man.
Banks, another big-bodied cornerback at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as his peers, but has shown flashes of dominance over his first three seasons. Known for his long arms, fluid movement, and competitiveness, Banks concluded an abbreviated junior campaign with 23 tackles, eight passes defended and an interception.
While it’s hard to peg Banks as a surefire early first-rounder at this stage, the arrow is pointing up on his pro prospects. Squaring up against Chris Olave in practice should prepare Banks for his tussles with Jahan Dotson, Ty Fryfogle, and other top receivers in his path, so I suspect Banks will fulfill his potential and become a premium shutdown defender.
Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Gardner, perhaps better known as “Sauce,” could feasibly make the biggest leap of this group with a stellar junior season.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound cornerback introduced himself to the college football world as a freshman in 2019, amassing 31 tackles, 11 passes defended, three interceptions – returning two for touchdowns – in 14 games. For his efforts, Gardner was recognized as a first-team All-Athletic Conference selection.
No longer a secret, the Detroit native appeared on the Bednarik and Thorpe Award watch lists entering the 2020 season. He proved his consistency in a tremendous follow-up effort, notching 28 tackles, nine passes defended, three interceptions, and a half-sack in just nine games.
Gardner is a long, rangy, and instinctive defender with an inherent nose for the football. Expect his draft stock to soar in the coming months.
Small school standouts
Shaun Jolly, Appalachian State: Despite sporting a diminutive 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame, opposing receivers haven’t been able to get a bead on Shaun Jolly for two seasons. Jolly has compiled 86 tackles (5.5 for loss), 19 passes defended, five interceptions, a half-sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery over that span. His slight stature indicates a likely-permanent move to the inside at the next level, but Jolly boasts tremendous short-area quickness and click-and-close ability. Jolly has continuously improved throughout his career, and I anticipate a pre-draft process reminiscent of former Sun Belt standout and current Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor.
D’Jordan Strong, Coastal Carolina: A fast-rising prospect, Strong made waves in his first season with the Chanticleers. He registered 30 tackles (2.0 for loss), 12 passes defended, five interceptions, and a forced fumble in 2020. The hard-nosed 5-foot-11, 175-pound defender earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors and was named the 2020 Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year. His five interceptions were third-most in college football. Strong must develop his play strength, add some size to his frame, and become more of a technician for sustained success, but he landed on my radar early-on as a tough, instinctive cornerback with solid ball skills. Should become a household name in 2021.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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