B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Cornerbacks in College Football
Editor's note: This is the eighth installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.
When it comes to cornerbacks, who is the best of 2013?
The state of the position in college football has been one of consistent decline. Players who would star at corner a decade ago are now plugged in as offensive weapons. The rules have been changed to make it harder than ever before to play the position.
Yet this season has seen cornerbacks rise to the occasion from schools all over the country. Guys are playing press man, zone and combo coverage and generating quality results. After watching the candidates operate, we’ve arrived at our ranking based on three criteria: run defense, pass defense and tackling. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.
Keep in mind, these cornerbacks are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player slide.
20. Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Waynes, like teammate Darqueze Dennard, is not pushed into action against the run very often. The sophomore is still working to diagnose where he fits in the run game, and at times he's late to turn the run back inside or shoot inside to impact the play.
Waynes is growing into the exact type of player head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi are looking for at the position. He’s comfortable being all alone, and he is at his best playing press man. He is still developing the awareness of other players on this list, but the technique and skills are there.
The sophomore is a quality tackler. He secures the tackle in coverage and works to limit gains. However, when approaching tackles either in zone or secondary-run fits, he leaves air in space that allows ball-carriers to pick up yardage.
Waynes is overshadowed by Dennard, but the younger corner is not a free pass for opponents. He gets tested and responds to the challenges through good technique and pushing to battle for the ball.
First Round. An impact player in his first year, Waynes has prototypical NFL cornerback tools.
19. Jacoby Glenn, UCF
Glenn is still learning how to make run fits out of zone coverage and operates primarily as a secondary run defender. As a freshman, Glenn is making his biggest impact in the passing game.
Glenn sees the ball well and, thanks to his coaches, is allowed to make plays as he understands what is happening in front of him. He plays a lot of zone coverage where he drives on the ball, and his reaction time allows him to break up passes that would usually go for completions.
He’s another player who will give up his body to try to get players down on the ground. He’s still learning to work angles and leverage, but with his length he is growing into a sound tackler.
As a player who came in, sat a season and exploded on the scene, Glenn is a surprise at the position. There’s a high ceiling here. Glenn has shown to be great in coverage, and as he grows the confidence needed to be left on an island, he'll continue to improve.
First Round. Get ready to hear his name a lot. NFL teams love his speed and size combination.
18. Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
Johnson will mix it up in the run game, and that is a plus because he comes from the inside out for Wake Forest, a team that uses plenty of swarming to stop the run. Johnson is a good piece in a Demon Deacons defense that uses all of its bodies to stop the run.
The junior is sound in both man and zone coverage. He does the little things right, and that leads to him being in great position to make plays more often than not. He understands how receivers are looking to hurt him and uses positioning and technique to take things away.
Johnson is a good tackler who is willing to give up his body to help his team make a play. He takes on bigger targets with reckless abandon and is a fighter when it comes to getting ball-carriers on the ground.
Johnson is a good, physical corner who the Demon Deacons rely on to make plays in the run and pass game. He’s a player who reads the quarterback in zone coverage and finds a way to insert himself into the play.
Fourth Round. Ideal NFL size, but quickness and speed are questionable.
17. Blake Countess, Michigan
Countess, even when he’s moved inside to play some nickel, is not a stout run defender. He is at his best cleaning up the mess after the front seven makes the initial hit.
The Michigan corner is at his best in zone coverage. He sees the quarterback well, has a great ability to break on the ball and recognizes threats in his area. He matches patterns to take away quick hits, and on deeper drops, if he's asked to defend two vertical routes, he can come off one to get to two and still make a play, if the interior receiver doesn't bend it inside enough.
Countess is not a great tackler, but the Wolverine will get ball-carriers down on the ground. That’s a testament to him working to make plays after runs break the line of scrimmage and making sure he secures opponents after completions.
After missing 2012 with a torn ACL, Countess rebounded strong in 2013. It’s not just the interception numbers, but rather his reads to make plays that make him an asset. He does a good job of seeing the whole field through his coverage area.
Third Round. A little small for NFL standards, but he has room to grow.
16. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
The first Nebraska corner on the list is a guy who, although physically larger, is not as influential against the run as his teammate, Ciante Evans. Jean-Baptiste is not often the primary run defender for the Cornhuskers.
He’s another corner capable of moving between both zone and man coverages. Jean-Baptiste is more comfortable playing from off coverage to see through his area to the quarterback. He is one of the best at recognizing drop depth and shoulder turns to transition into breaking on the ball.
He has missed tackles on the edge coming up on receivers, but he has worked to come under control when his team needs a stop. He will fight to push receivers toward the inside, giving linebackers and safeties time to flow for help.
He’s another very good corner for Nebraska. He is a guy who shows folks that playing off coverage does not mean playing soft coverage because he understands how to see through his man to the football so he can make plays.
Second Round. A physical boundary cornerback with prototypical size, speed and length.
15. Desmond King, Iowa
King plays for a team that requires its players to be run defenders, and King answered the bell for the Hawkeyes. He is a player who wants to mix it up in the run game and has shown an ability to shed blocks and make plays.
In the passing game, King is still growing into a quality cover corner. He’s good in man because of his instincts. As the season progressed, he picked up his play in zone coverage.
It is rare that freshmen step in and are very good tacklers at the cornerback position, but King certainly bucks that trend. He has shown a continuous knack for forcing the issue and winning battles with ball-carriers.
Because he plays at Iowa, the nation does not know his name, but King is one of the better corners in college football. He’s made some big plays for Iowa, has shown great ability down the field and is just scratching the surface.
Second Round. Impressive instincts, but speed questions are legit.
14. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Roby is one of the best run defenders at the corner position in the nation. He recognizes how to fill in space and where his defense needs him to get stops in the run. The junior comes off the pass quickly to alley-fill on runs that break the line of scrimmage.
Roby really struggled in coverage scenarios in 2013. When he was isolated on edge receivers, they were able to take advantage of him by creating space and catching balls over the top. In zone coverages, he, like the rest of Ohio State's secondary, struggled to make good fits to keep teams out of the intermediate areas.
Roby can certainly tackle. He takes good pursuit angles, wants to get physical at the point of impact and, if given a shot, will knock an opponent’s block off. He is also willing to run from distance to ensure a ball-carrier goes to the ground.
Despite a tough year in coverage, Roby has excelled at other facets and certainly belongs among the better corners thanks to the total package he brings to the game. While other corners disappear as they struggle in coverage, Roby was able to improve in other areas of his game.
Late First Round. Has to prove his consistency, but size and speed are NFL-caliber.
13. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
Hargreaves is a good tackler, but he is not a solid run defender. He’s far more valuable for the Gators in coverage than as a help defender.
The freshman is a quality pass defender. He has been overly aggressive at times, but that’s a plus as he fights in coverage to challenge receivers for balls in the air. When he gets beat, it is due to some inexperience and an overzealous mistake.
He is a sound tackler. When Hargreaves does give up yards in coverage, he pushes to make tackles to minimize gains. He’s another player who secures the tackle, wraps up the receiver and makes sure that a catch doesn’t turn into a touchdown.
One of the best young corners in college football, Hargreaves came in as advertised for the Gators. He is a player who wants to make an impact and has no problem getting physical with receivers.
First Round. A future stud at the position and projected first-round pick.
12. Tim Bennett, Indiana
Bennett is one of the few corners who seem to genuinely enjoy getting active against the run. He is not afraid to mix it up on the goal line between the tackles. And in cloud coverage, he’s quick to come off in run support.
Indiana’s junior corner is a player who can travel between man and zone with relative ease. He matches patterns well, breaks on the ball quickly and has a very strong one-step-and-go reaction to get downhill on comeback routes.
He’s not the best tackler at the position, but he will get ball-carriers down on the ground. He flies around on the field, and when he is in coverage he works hard to minimize the gain after catches.
Bennett is likely the most underrated player on this list. He is not a household name, but in 2013 he showed he belongs among the elite at his position. He is strong in both man and zone coverage, and his reaction times are very good.
First Round. Smooth athlete who loves to attack the ball in flight.
11. Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame
Jackson is still figuring out the best run fits for the scheme, but he is one of the more active corners against the run. He will come up hard, stick his nose into the mix and help the front seven make plays.
Although he is not a lockdown corner, Jackson has had good success out on his own against some quality receivers. He has a good understanding of body control and is developing a reliable ability to play hands against receivers down the field.
Jackson’s a good, sound tackler. In coverage, he closes well and gets ball-carriers to the ground. In the run game, he recognizes help and engages opponents to help get stops.
One of the bigger surprises in a less-than-stellar year for Notre Dame. Jackson was challenged by teams and he rose to the occasion many times, fighting off deep balls thrown in his direction.
5th Round— A technically sound cornerback, but a limited athlete.
10. Quandre Diggs, Texas
Diggs is very active in the run game. His ability to work from both the corner and inside spot is a testament to his skills. He understands leverage, how to get runs filtered back inside and when to slip blockers to make a play in the backfield.
Diggs is not the lockdown corner that many folks are looking for, but in zone coverage he is able to see the quarterback through the receiver. He also has good acceleration, which helps him close on the football.
Even though Diggs is influential in every facet of the game, he does miss some tackles. However, because he understands where he fits on defense, his misses still help the rest of the Longhorns defense make tackles.
Diggs is a player. He’s another guy who is a football player playing the cornerback position. He’s not a shutdown corner but is active in blitz packages, against the run and can make big plays on the football.
Second Round. Versatile, fluid athlete who can play cornerback, nickelback or safety in the NFL.
9. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
An unlikely run defender, Purifoy has shown that when his number is called he knows what to do in the run game. He does not want to be a cloud corner tasked with mixing it up every play, but when asked he does not hesitate to get active at the line of scrimmage.
Plenty will point out Purifoy’s few mistakes, made mainly because of his aggression. But the fact is Purifoy plays shutdown coverage for the bulk of games. It takes a lot to get open on him, and he makes receivers work. For quarterbacks to have success against him, the ball has to be extremely well thrown.
Purifoy will make a tackle, especially when he is in pass coverage and gives up a completion. The cornerback is also a quality pursuit guy on plays down the field, squeezing the sideline to try to minimize gains.
The Florida cornerback is a good player who plays on a team that had a tough season. Through it all, he was tough to beat, fighting off bigger receivers more often than not. There was no hiding the physicality that he brings to the position.
Second Round. An impressive athlete, but too often he gambles and misses in coverage.
8. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
Colvin is active against the run in many of the Sooners’ zone schemes. He is a reliable defender who understands how to make run fits. He also knows when to gamble on taking the inside versus when to hold on the edge and wait for the cavalry.
One of the better pattern-matching defenders in college football, Colvin understands how to make zone feel like man coverage, and that’s a valuable asset for a defender. He takes away a lot of plays by early reaction and coverage, closing down throwing lanes.
Another solid tackler at the position, Colvin uses his teammates and the sidelines for help. In coverage, because he works technique well, he often hits receivers moments after they make the catch.
Colvin did not have the season many expected him to have, but he was a solid corner for the Sooners. He is not a true lockdown corner, but he is capable of being a valuable asset in zone coverage.
Second Round. His speed isn't always great, but Colvin has ideal size and toughness for the NFL.
7. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Gilbert is not a run defender, but he’ll come up and make a tackle when he has to. He’s a secondary guy who, after the run crosses the line of scrimmage, will help, rather than being the primary run defender.
The senior is exceptional in coverage. He has great hip fluidity, changes directions well and at times, when running with receivers, it seems as though he is the player running the route. His reaction times are among the best in the nation.
Although Gilbert is not a great force defender against the run, he does make solid open-field tackles. He corrals ball-carriers and uses his speed, help defense and the sidelines to limit completions from turning into big plays.
Gilbert is a high-level cornerback who can be left on an island to make plays by himself. This year he has truly emerged as a top-level corner after being more of a return guy in the eyes of many.
Early First Round. The total package at cornerback. He'll be a high-level starter from Day 1.
6. Jason Verrett, TCU
Verrett is a pass-first defender who can, if asked, come up and help in run defense. He’s not a primary run defender, but he is capable of coming up and being a factor in the run game.
Verrett is an elite corner on the edge for TCU. The senior is a player who wants to be out on an island, faced up in one-on-one situations, daring the opponent to challenge him. His fluidity in coverage is solid, transitioning from pure defender to a guy looking to make a play on the ball with relative ease.
The defender will miss tackles at times coming up in run support, but in the pass game he makes sound tackles. The senior secures tackles in coverage very well.
Verrett’s a quality corner who pushes receivers on most plays. He fights on every snap, challenging balls thrown in his direction, and that is exactly what coaches are looking for out of corners.
First Round. A little small, but tenacious and quick in space.
5. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Joyner often slides into the nickel spot and plays the run support very well. Although he does not hold the edge, he works leverage to help get runs turned back inside to his linebackers. Joyner is not afraid to work run-through lanes if given an opportunity to make a play in the backfield.
Joyner spent a lot of time at the safety position and has made a solid transition to the corner and nickel spot. He is the best underneath interior defender at the position in college football. Joyner both passes off and carries routes well, and he is adept at reading the quarterback to make a play on a receiver.
The senior Seminole is an aggressive tackler who pushes to contact and runs his feet well. He overruns at times but is largely excellent in getting ball-carriers to the ground.
A true leader at the position, Joyner is a fluid athlete who can transition between run defense and coverage very well. He’s a big asset in the interior of the defense because he is capable of being active behind the line and can cover teams' elusive slot receivers with little help.
Second Round. Smaller than you'd like, but able to dominate from the slot.
4. Ciante Evans, Nebraska
Evans is one of the best run defenders at the corner position, and possibly the best. His team trusts him to be the primary run defender, and he delivers, even making tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Nebraska corner is good in coverage, although he is not the guy to leave on an island for the entire game. He works well in zone coverage because he’s at his best reacting to the quarterback and breaking on the football.
A great tackler, Evans is a guy the Huskers want around the football. He makes sure tackles in the open field, secures tackles in coverage and uses his help defenders and the sideline to close the gate on ball-carriers.
Evans is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the nation. He is a tremendous football player who happens to play the corner position. Nebraska uses him as the force man in the run game, as a blitzer and trusts him in coverage to make big plays.
Sixth Round. A versatile athlete who projects best to a nickel corner or safety spot in the pros.
3. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
In Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks have one of those corners who will do anything they ask of him, including getting active against the run. The corner is comfortable being a force player against the run, and that’s not always common at the cornerback spot.
Whether it is zone or man, Ekpre-Olomu gets the job done. He is as comfortable working out of press man as he is playing off coverage and breaking on the ball to make plays.
Oregon has a good tackler in its premier cornerback. He approaches the ball under control, understands how to use the sideline and does a good job of stopping ball-carriers from advancing.
Ekpre-Olomu is another quality corner in the mix. He is one of those players who is always around the ball. He’s an aggressive player who is as sound in coverage as he is in coming up in run support.
Late First Round. Fast and physical, Ekpre-Olomu is one of the best cornerback prospects in college.
2. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
The Hokies mix zone and man coverage very well, and they ask corners to make plays against the run at times, something Fuller is capable of doing. He was not forced to be as active in the run game this season as a year ago, but, when healthy, the ability is there.
Fuller is an excellent coverage guy. He can float between zone and man and has the ability to see the quarterback through his assignment. That ability helps Fuller break on the ball, get hands on the ball and be a threat to come off his receiver to make a play on another man.
As with most Bud Foster defenders, Fuller is a good tackler. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in on a play and is capable of getting the ball-carrier down on the ground.
Fuller does not make mistakes. That’s a big positive for his game. He’s a seasoned vet who, when healthy, belongs among the nation’s best.
Early Second Round. Looks the part, but has to answer numerous injury questions pre-draft.
1. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Although he is not asked to be a primary run defender very often, Dennard is quite capable of handling himself against the run. He can get off blocks by receivers and is capable of getting to the edge to turn runs back inside.
Dennard is phenomenal in coverage. He’s a player who can be left out on an island and is comfortable operating with no help. As one of the best corners playing press man in college, Dennard is a bear for receivers to handle.
Unlike many corners, Dennard tackles. He tackles in the run game and in the pass game. He makes sure to secure the tackle whether he gets a hand on the ball or not.
Dennard has consistently been the nation’s best corner. He shows up every week and plays his own game on the edge against the best the opposition has to offer. And he wins that one-on-one battle each weekend.
Mid-First Round. A do-it-all cornerback with Day 1 starting ability.
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