College Football 2011: Ranking the Top 10 Cornerbacks
As the 2011 college football season inches closer, we'll take a look at who will be the NCAA's 10 best cornerbacks.
Guys like Patrick Peterson of LSU, Prince Amukamara of Nebraska, Brandon Harris of Miami, Aaron Williams of Texas and Jimmy Smith of Colorado topped 2010's list. They all brought an incredible amount of talent to the position and terrorized opposing quarterbacks throughout the season.
With all these players gone in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, it's time for the next batch of elite corners to step into the spotlight.
These rankings are based on 2010 statistics as well as skills each player possesses that may not be shown through numbers.
So who will be every quarterback's worst nightmare in 2011?
Let's find out.
Sources: ESPN.com, YouTube
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Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma-Excellent production with 71 tackles and five picks; steps into the spotlight as OU's top cornerback
Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin-Possibly the best defender for a good Badgers defense—four interceptions in 2010; pick-six against Purdue
Coryell Judie, Texas A&M-Emerged as a solid starter for a surprising Aggies team—57 tackles and four interceptions, including one against Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU-Breakout freshman for the Tigers; proved to be an excellent blitzer with four-and-a half sacks; also recorded two interceptions
Greg Reid, Florida State-Doubles as a dangerous kick and punt returner; three picks in 2010
Johnny Adams, Michigan State-Potential breakout player for Spartans in 2011; recorded interceptions against Notre Dame, Michigan and Illinois
Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama-Once regarded as one of the nation's top three cornerbacks before being kicked off Florida Gators football team
Ciante Evans, Nebraska-A projection pick; recorded two nice pass breakups and a goal line stuff of Blaine Gabbert as a true freshman; 2011 season could resemble Morris Claiborne's 2010
Trevin Wade, Arizona-Arizona's top cornerback; returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown against Iowa
10. Omar Bolden, Arizona State
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Omar Bolden had the best season of his career with the Sun Devils in 2010, recording 52 tackles and interceptions against Oregon's Darron Thomas, Washington's Jake Locker and USC's Matt Barkley (which he took 66 yards to the house).
Bolden has seven career interceptions but would probably have more had he not been out for most of 2009.
Along with ferocious linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the 5'10", 195-pounder will anchor one of the Pac-12's best defenses and will be feared by some of the nation's top quarterbacks.
Arizona State is a popular pick to rebound in a big way this season, and Bolden is a big reason why.
9. Dre' Kirkpatrick, Alabama
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The Crimson Tide's Dre' Kirkpatrick recorded 53 tackles and three interceptions in 2010, making him one tackle better than Omar Bolden. Pretty fitting for this particular list.
In all seriousness, many will think this is too low a ranking for the 6'3", 190-pound junior-to-be. However, Kirkpatrick hasn't shown enough to warrant a higher ranking in my opinion.
That being said, the rangy Kirkpatrick was a former 5-star recruit and might have the most potential out of any of these players. If he can continue his development, he could shoot up the rankings.
Many already think Kirkpatrick will be the first cornerback drafted, and there's no doubt he has Nnamdi Asomugha-esque upside.
8. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
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Stephon Gilmore has been a cornerstone for South Carolina since his arrival in 2009. He recorded 71 tackles, three interceptions and three sacks as a sophomore, building on his breakout freshman campaign.
Although adept in defending the pass, Gilmore's biggest strength is his run support. He has also proven to be a good blitzer, with six career sacks.
The junior-to-be will once again be one of the Gamecocks' best defenders, and quarterbacks will shy away from his side of the field.
Expect him to continue being a force against the run and be an eventual first-round NFL draft pick.
7. Shaun Prater, Iowa
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Senior-to-be Shaun Prater was one of the Hawkeyes' best defenders as a junior, recording 68 tackles and four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown against Penn State.
With the losses of Adrian Clayborn, Tyler Sash and Christian Ballard, Prater returns as Iowa's unquestioned defensive leader. While quarterbacks will do their best to avoid Prater, chances are he'll still make some big plays.
Some think Prater is the B1G's best cornerback, and they might be right.
The Omaha, Nebraska native could end up making his home-state Huskers pay for not going after him earlier and harder. But the Hawkeyes are glad former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan didn't offer, which Prater desribed as a "slap in the face."
Prater will be an early pick in next year's NFL draft.
6. Chase Minnifield, Virginia
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One of the few bright spots for the 4-8 Cavaliers, Chase Minnifield racked up 48 tackles and six interceptions in 2010.
The 6'0", 185-pound senior-to-be will highlight Virginia's defense in 2011.
Minnifield has 10 interceptions in three seasons, establishing himself as a consistent force who is only getting better as his career unfolds. Somewhat overshadowed by Ras-I Dowling last season, 2011 will be Minnifield's year to shine and be an even more highly coveted NFL prospect than Dowling was.
A late October upset of the Miami Hurricanes, in which the junior had four tackles and two interceptions, was a showcase of his potential.
With great vision and solid skills as a both a defensive playmaker and shutdown cover man, expect Minnifield to be one of college football's best cornerbacks on his way to being selected in the top two rounds of the NFL draft.
5. Morris Claiborne, LSU
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Morris Claiborne had a breakout season for LSU in 2010, recording 37 tackles and five interceptions.
However, the junior-to-be was overshadowed by superstar Patrick Peterson, who was drafted fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Peterson was shied away from as much as possible, but one reason he was still able to record stats was because of the play of Claiborne on the other side.
The unproven Claiborne was tested early and often by quarterbacks and almost always passed. With two shutdown corners on the field at the same time, the Tigers defense was able to give opposing gunslingers fits.
With Peterson now gone, Claiborne steps into a leadership role on what figures to be one of the best defenses in the SEC.
Expect him to build on his sophomore season and be considered one of the country's best.
4. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
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Xavier Rhodes emerged as Florida State's top cornerback as a freshman, establishing himself as one of the nation's best defensive backs almost instantly.
With 54 tackles, four interceptions, 11 pass deflections and two sacks, Rhodes played like a veteran and will only get better.
Along with Brandon Jenkins, Rhodes could be the Seminoles' best defender in 2011. The sophomore-to-be should be the ACC's best cornerback in 2011 and strike fear into the the hearts of every conference quarterback.
A big test for Rhodes will be against Ryan Broyles and Oklahoma. Although the Seminoles were crushed by the Sooners last season, Rhodes played well individually and should be up to the task again.
In a year or two, Rhodes might be dubbed the nation's best cornerback.
3. Cliff Harris, Oregon
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Here's where the ranking gets really tough. The top three guys are so close that you could make a case for any of them as the nation's best cornerback.
I have Oregon's Cliff Harris at No. 3. Harris is a speedy, ball-hawking cornerback who doubles as the nation's best punt returner.
With 30 tackles and six interceptions, the former sophomore established himself as the Ducks' best defensive back. The Fresno, California native also returned four punts for touchdowns.
One of the most electrifying athletes in the game, Harris also showed great ability to track down the football and had picks against some of the country's best quarterbacks, including two on Stanford's Andrew Luck and one on USC's Matt Barkley.
One of his best stats, though, is his pass deflection total of 15. Harris will only get better as a shutdown cornerback and could be the first cornerback taken off the board in the 2012 NFL draft—but Ducks fans are hoping he stays for his senior season.
2. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
Although Rashad Carmichael entered 2010 considered Virginia Tech's top cornerback, then-sophomore Jayron Hosley stole the spotlight and never looked back.
It wasn't that Carmichael wasn't good—Hosley was just that much better.
With 39 tackles and nine (!) interceptions, Hosley was the nation's premiere ball hawk. His coming-of-age game was against NC State, in which he had three picks and four pass deflections of highly-regarded quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Florida native enters next season as the nation's second-best cornerback because he not only showed superior ball skills, but was also a solid shutdown corner and was generally a nightmare for all quarterbacks alike.
If Hosley continues his dominance, he could be a top 10 NFL draft pick some day.
1. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
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Perhaps one of the most underrated players in the league, Alfonzo Dennard is my pick for the nation's best cornerback.
Although his numbers may not be as eye-popping as some others on this list, statistics don't tell the whole story.
Nebraska's secondary was so good in 2010 that opposing teams hesitated to pass much at all. But when they did, they continuously threw at Dennard in an attempt to stay away from All-American Prince Amukamara.
Ironically, a case could be made that Dennard was even better than Amukamara. He was more than up to the challenge, recording four spectacular interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and deflecting seven passes.
What makes Dennard the best cornerback in the nation is his unique combination of strength, speed, leaping ability and aggression. These attributes make him equally adept at shutting down the opponent's top receiver, supporting against the run, and making game-changing plays.
Dennard should be an All-American in 2011. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Cliff Harris and Jayron Hosley as the nation's best cornerback.