Since Mike Gundy became head coach of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the boys from Stillwater have consistently churned out quality defensive backs.
Perrish Cox, Andre Sexton, Markelle Martin and Broderick Brown are just a few of the names any Cowboys fan will remember fondly when thinking back on Coach Gundy's tenure with the team.
However, one name stands above the rest as one of the best defensive players ever to suit up for Oklahoma State: Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert's blend of prototypical size, track-star speed, otherworldly athleticism and great skill in man coverage made him one of 2013's best cover corners in college football. In fact, his senior campaign was so dominant that the Cleveland Browns decided to make him the eighth pick in the 2014 draft.
Replacing an All-American such as Gilbert is never going to be easy, but the Oklahoma State coaching staff has done an admirable job in building depth at the cornerback position while molding young players into potential stars.
The first option for Oklahoma State is probably either Kevin Peterson or Ashton Lampkin. Both are going to be juniors and have seen significant time in each of the last two years. Peterson has a little more experience, as he started opposite Gilbert last year, but the gap between the two isn't huge.
Further, Peterson and Lampkin possess comparable size to Gilbert, coming in at 5'11" to Gilbert's 6'0". Gilbert does outweigh them both by 15-20 pounds (at 180 pounds, Lampkin is listed as five pounds lighter than Peterson), but both players could easily bulk up a bit over the summer.
Though both basically match up to Gilbert's size, neither has his speed.
Gilbert posted a 4.37 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, per NFL.com, which definitely helped his draft stock. Peterson was able to attain a 4.5 40 during his senior year of high school, per NCSA, and that number would likely be better if he was timed now; however, I doubt he could catch Gilbert in a race.
Lampkin, on the other hand, could only get a 4.83 40 in high school, per ESPN's Recruiting Nation, so there's no way he could compete with Gilbert on the race track.
Peterson and Lampkin do possess solid ball skills and have good instincts. Further, they're improving in man coverage as they get more experience, though they still aren't in Gilbert's league as cover corners.
These two guys will likely be your day-one starters this fall, and both are going to be quality corners in their own right. However, neither is likely to match Gilbert's talent.
So what about the younger guys behind them? Do any of them have that same dynamic talent that made Gilbert a star?
Of the guys behind Peterson and Lampkin, Darius Curry and Jerel Morrow are the most likely candidates given their size. Curry is bigger at 6'1", 190 pounds, but Morrow is right behind him at 6'0", 180 pounds.
We can probably throw Curry out, though, because even though he's bigger, his game differs from Gilbert's. Curry uses that frame well and really throws his weight around. He's a hard hitter and very aggressive, something no one would say about Gilbert.
In fact, it's possible Curry could make a move to safety if the Pokes struggle to replace Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary. He has the size and the mindset to play center field for Oklahoma State.
Morrow is pretty much the opposite of Curry, making him a strong candidate to be the next Justin Gilbert.
Like Gilbert, Morrow has elite athleticism and size. In fact, Morrow is a three-time state champion in the long jump, and a jump from his senior year would have qualified as the longest in the country if the wind had been a fraction of a second slower on the day of the meet.
Additionally, Morrow played wide receiver in high school and excelled out of the slot when he could get in space and use his speed. That means Morrow has good hands and ball skills, so it's not a stretch to assume that he'll probably get his fair share of interceptions.
The one knock on Morrow is probably his technique, given that he spent most of his time in high school on offense. However, Gilbert was a dual-threat quarterback in high school, so the position can be learned.
With that said, I would be remiss not to parse the crop of incoming freshman and JUCO recruits before making a final decision, so let's quickly examine Oklahoma State's 2014 recruiting class.
Chris Hardeman is probably the most field-ready of the young cornerbacks coming in, but he's only 5'8" and could have difficulty being put on an island against taller receivers.
Outside of Hardeman, the Pokes picked up Ramon Richards and Trevion Roberts as cornerback prospects. Both possess great size and speed, per 247Sports. Both played quarterback in high school (just like Gilbert). Both have great ball skills.
And both have minimal experience at the cornerback position. At this point, it's probably too early to tell if either of these players will have what it takes to play corner for the Cowboys; and Roberts, in particular, could easily move to safety.
However, though the potential is there, it's just too early to tell if either of them could become the next big man on campus.
Which brings us back to Jerel Morrow.
If anyone on the roster has the same blend of size, speed, and playmaking ability as the No. 8 overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft, it has to be Morrow. He's a great athlete and developed excellent ball skills as a wide receiver in high school; that said, he has to work on his technique if he wants to take the next step.
If Morrow puts in the time, I would not be surprised at all to see him compared to Gilbert in a year's time. He has all the talent; he just needs to put in the work on the practice field.