Even though these are both secondary positions, these two groups appear to be pretty far apart in makeup. Right now, this cornerback group seems to be very talented at the top and very deep. As far as the safeties go, you have a big-time star at the top of the boards with some quality depth pieces after. Regardless, I like a lot of players in this group, so let’s get started. Previous editions of this series are listed below, and I’ll be revisiting all of these rankings after the combine and closer to the draft.
9. Martin Emerson — Mississippi State
Emerson has a great build for the position, and his lanky arms helped him out a lot in a very zone-heavy scheme. He’s a strong run defender and was a very high-quality player at Mississippi State from day one — I love his floor in this class.
8. Derion Kendrick — Georgia
I liked Kendrick as a prospect before Georgia’s playoff run, but Kendrick’s strong play against top talent undoubtedly helped his case going into the draft. Kendrick could use some work with his technique, he can get caught peeking sometimes, but he can develop into a high-quality starting corner.
7. Kyler Gordon — Washington State
As is the case with many corners in this class, Gordon is an athletic freak who is a pesky defender in man coverage. Gordon has a nose for the football and always flies to the play on tape. He can get a little overaggressive at times, but if he can play within his bounds, he will be a stud corner on the inside or outside.
6. Kaiir Elam — Florida
Although Elam has slid down a lot of rankings, I’m still very high on his talent and physical gifts. He’s a big and fast corner, and he uses his hands very well and rarely commits bad penalties, at least from what I have watched. He’s a consistent presence in the secondary, and there’s a lot of upside and value with him.
5. Roger McCreary — Auburn
He wasn’t a big name going into the season, but McCreary showed his chops and freak athleticism at Auburn, and he was a menace on the boundary for the Tigers. He covers short routes very well and can press inside or out. He is always around the ball and looks to turn it over, which I love in a defensive back.
4. Trent McDuffie — Washington
As is the trend with this class, McDuffie is a very agile and sticky man corner that presses very well at the line of scrimmage. He’s a guy you can play inside out at the slot or on the boundary, and his versatility and athletic gifts should appeal to many teams on draft day.
3. Andrew Booth Jr. — Cincinnati
In a lot of other classes, Andrew Booth Jr. is the clear-cut CB1. Booth has immaculate ball skills, and as is the case with many guys on this list — he’s a physical outside corner that can press guys much bigger than he is. Throw in the fact that he has elite ball skills and instincts, and you’re talking about a true potential franchise cornerback for many years.
2. Sauce Gardner — Cincinnati
I was really tempted to put Gardner at CB1. Since last season, I’ve been a massive fan of his, but the number two spot isn’t a knock. He’s one of the best players in this whole class. His resumé speaks for itself; he didn’t allow more than 13 yards to any receiver in 2021 and hasn’t allowed a touchdown over his entire college career. He is fantastic when pressing at the line of scrimmage using his 6’3 frame, and Gardner truly looks to beat up his opponent. He has the body, athleticism, and instincts you want in a prospect. He has all of the makeup of a franchise cornerback on the boundary.
1. Derek Stingley Jr. — LSU
Deciding the top three spots was difficult, and you can really place them in almost any order, but I can’t deny the physical traits and mental gifts that Derek Stingley Jr. has. Stingley has some of the best ball skills in all of college football, and his athletic traits are nothing to ignore. His makeup reminds me of former LSU Tiger Patrick Peterson, and I absolutely think he will reach that potential in the NFL.
4. Lewis Cine — Georgia
Although Cine is a high-quality safety, he’s a downhill thumper that can deliver violent punishment, especially on the boundary. His coverage skills could use some polish, but he’s an immediate contributor in an obvious run situation and should be able to erase running backs and some tight ends with ease after the catch.
3. Daxton Hill — Michigan
Hill is a brilliant player, and it’s a big reason why Michigan deployed him in multiple roles during his time with the Wolverines. He can support against the run, but he understands route concepts very well and can handle some man coverage. He should be able to make an impact from day one.
2. Jaquan Brisker — Penn State
I understand this is a pretty short list, unlike in 2021, but I think all four of these names have the potential to be quality starters in the NFL almost immediately. Brisker is an athletic freak who can play in the box or as a high safety, and his versatility will make him a valuable chess piece if he lands in the right situation.
1. Kyle Hamilton — Notre Dame
If I were ranking players overall in this draft (which I may do), Kyle Hamilton would take the top spot. Hamilton can truly do it all — he has impeccable instincts and ball skills, but he can blitz and support against the run better than a lot of linebackers in this class can. Not only is he one of the safest picks in this draft, but he’s absolutely one of the most talented.
The Falcons are in an interesting spot when it comes to their secondary going into 2022. They got encouraging play from Isaiah Oliver in a nickel role before a season-ending injury, and Fabian Moreau...