Top 10 SEC cornerbacks for the 2019 season
Adam Spencer | 19 seconds ago
Some big-name SEC corners went to the NFL this past offseason, but there is still an interesting mix of promising young players and established veterans at the position heading into the 2019 campaign.
Of the 10 players on our list of the best corners, 4 are rising sophomores. That doesn’t include incoming LSU DB Derek Stingley Jr. or any of the other talented freshmen making their way to SEC schools this fall, either.
From 1 through 10, this position is close in talent.
Honorable mentions go to Mississippi State’s Maurice Smitherman, Florida’s Marco Wilson, Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, Georgia’s Tyrique McGhee and LSU’s Kary Vincent Jr., but here are the guys who cracked this year’s top 10 rankings for SEC cornerbacks:
10. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
I’m a bit lower on Surtain than most media members, but he certainly has the talent to prove me wrong this fall. He’s a big, physical corner and he has the benefit of playing alongside Trevon Diggs and Shyheim Carter (two other Alabama corners who made this list).
Surtain struggled against Oklahoma during last year’s Orange Bowl, so he’ll need to develop his game a bit more to move in these rankings. However, when you play every game for Alabama as a true freshman and register 37 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, you definitely have a ton of promise.
He’s a player to watch this fall, and when the 2020 rankings come out next year, I expect him to be a lot higher on this list.
9. Bryce Thompson, Tennessee
As a freshman last year, Thompson recorded 3 interceptions, which puts him (along with DeMarkus Acy and Frank Coppet) as the player with the second-most interceptions returning this fall, behind LSU S Grant Delpit, who had 5.
Based on that promise, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in a bigger role this fall. He and Alontae Taylor form one of the best young cornerback tandems in the SEC, and with Jeremy Pruitt coaching them, they should improve even more this year.
Thompson shows great instincts, with the ability to take calculated risks, like this play where he undercuts a route against Auburn:
Bryce Thompson @thommybry with the INT ???????? pic.twitter.com/qNCSnGJFMv
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 13, 2018
Keep an eye on the Vols this season, because if they make a bowl game in 2019, it’ll be in large part because Thompson and Taylor make it so hard to throw against Tennessee.
8. Javaris Davis, Auburn
Auburn has a very underrated cornerback tandem in Davis and Noah Igbinoghene. I’m giving the edge for this list to Davis, who has unbelievable speed. When he runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, he will challenge to beat the record of 4.22 seconds (set by WR John Ross in 2017).
Davis was clocked at 4.24 seconds at Auburn’s spring testing in 2017, so it stands to reason that he can improve once he has a few months to dedicate to speed training. That speed comes in handy in the defensive backfield, where Davis recorded 41 tackles, 2 interceptions and 8 pass breakups in 2018.
Here he is using that speed to stay with a receiver and jump an underthrown ball. Then, he turns it into a great return (though that return was nullified by a penalty):
Auburn RCB Javaris Davis (#13) vs. Arkansas (09/22/18). #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/0rq8p9TRTi
And here he is putting that speed to use off the edge, sacking the Purdue quarterback in the Music City Bowl:
Auburn CB Javaris Davis (#13) vs. Purdue (12/28/18). #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/v4f5oNIEFv
He needs a little bit more polish with his technique, but that elite speed will help him overcome a lot of mistakes he might make in coverage.
7. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
Horn is the third rising sophomore on this list, alongside Thompson and Surtain, and he might end up being the best. As a freshman last year, Horn had 45 tackles (4 for a loss), 2 sacks and 8 passes defensed.
He hasn’t had an interception, but that should change this year. At 6-1, he’s a big, physical guy who can alter receivers’ routes off the line of scrimmage.
He should get a boost from having other guys stay healthy around him this fall. He’s a rising star, but he’ll be tested this year against schools like Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Clemson.
6. Kelvin Joseph, LSU
Joseph and his fellow LSU corner, Kristian Fulton (see below), are outstanding defenders, but the LSU secondary is so feared heading into 2019 because of S Grant Delpit. Joseph played in only 6 games in 2018, but he showed what he’s capable of in that limited action.
He had a strange flirtation with the NCAA transfer portal last month, but he seems to be back with the Tigers and ready for a breakout year. Fulton and Joseph are joined by Kary Vincent Jr. (who just missed the cut for this list), but Joseph might prove to be the most talented of the bunch if he stays healthy.
Joseph has the athleticism and speed to become something special, so we’ll see if he can put it all together as a sophomore in 2019.
5. Kristian Fulton, LSU
Fulton’s 2018 season was cut short by a foot injury, but he’s back in the mix already this spring. He showed what he can do during the 10 games he did play last year, recording 25 tackles, an interception, 9 passes defended and a forced fumble.
What gives Fulton the edge over Joseph (for now) is his instincts in the run game. Here he is making a great play in the backfield vs. Arkansas:
A big component of why I think Kristian Fulton will be selected higher in the #NFLDraft than his more heralded teammate Greedy Williams is his aggression/instincts playing the run pic.twitter.com/t53xOXXq5q
— Joe Romano (@JoeRomano51) June 18, 2019
He’s no slouch in pass coverage, either. In fact, he allowed only 6 combined touchdowns plus first downs all year:
Kristian Fulton allowed a MERE 6 total first downs plus touchdowns in coverage ALL SEASON. pic.twitter.com/qlHMcMSYoA
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 16, 2019
Keeping opponents from moving the chains and putting points on the board is the name of the game, and Fulton is one of the best when it comes to that.
4. Trevon Diggs, Alabama
Diggs suffered a season-ending foot injury just 6 games into his junior year at Alabama, but during those games, he showed why he’s one of the SEC’s top corners. He had 20 tackles, 6 pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble. Project that over 15 games and he’s one of the best corners in the country.
Can he stay healthy? That’s the big question. The former receiver has the instincts, knowledge of the defense and natural skills to be a big-time player for Nick Saban, but he has to stay on the field.
With Surtain and Diggs manning the outside, the Tide have plenty of size and speed to cover opposing receivers. Then there’s the guy who will spend most of his time in the slot …
3. Shyheim Carter, Alabama
I am a little higher on Carter than most, but I absolutely love what he brings to the Alabama defense. He had a great 2018 campaign, recording 43 tackles (3.5 for a loss), 2 interceptions (both returned for touchdowns), 10 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Here’s one of those pick-6s, which came vs. Arkansas:
Alabama CB Shyheim Carter (#5) vs. Arkansas (10/06/18) #NFLDraft . pic.twitter.com/ATFYT5mgjh
— PFDZ (@PFDZ44) March 20, 2019
His other came in Week 1 against Louisville. Carter is often overlooked, but he’s a great Star player for the Tide. He only allowed 0.52 yards per coverage snap last season, which is incredible:
Alabama also returns Shyheim Carter, who allowed a mere 0.52 yards per cover snap a season ago. pic.twitter.com/9cLmpSlZoZ
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 5, 2019
With Carter, Surtain and Diggs returning to man the corner position, the Tide will be able to overcome the loss of Saivion Smith this fall and stay strong in the secondary.
2. Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
Dantzler was a bit of a forgotten man on the Mississippi State defense through no fault of his own. That’s just what happens when you share a unit with Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram, all first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Now, though, fans across the SEC will learn Dantzler’s name, as he should emerge as the biggest star on the Bulldogs’ defense. He had 43 tackles (2.5 for a loss), a sack, 2 interceptions and 9 pass breakups in 2018, proving he can do it all in the defensive backfield.
Here’s a play against Alabama that shows what he can do:
Really nice throw while staring down pressure. Only gets broken up cause Cam Dantzler is a beast. pic.twitter.com/tOLk1M2sUi
— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) May 16, 2019
That’s Henry Ruggs III that Dantzler is going step-for-step with. Ruggs is one of the fastest players in the country and Dantzler stayed with him and made the play.
It should be a great 2019 season for the rising junior, so we’ll see if he can become the next first-round pick from that Mississippi State defense.
1. CJ Henderson, Florida
I love everything about Henderson’s game. He had 4 interceptions as a freshman in 2017, returning 2 for touchdowns. In 2018, teams stopped throwing his way as much, so he developed other parts of his game while still snagging 2 picks.
Last year, he had 38 tackles (5 for a loss) and 3 sacks, while also forcing 2 fumbles. His coverage skills are elite, too. These plays from the Gators’ loss vs. Mizzou show how good he is at positioning his body and finding the ball while staying with a receiver running at full speed:
CJ Henderson should change his name to Maple Syrup.
Why? Because the man is STICKY. pic.twitter.com/VxV03RmZdv