On Wednesday, Derek Stingley Jr. had one of the most anticipated pro days among 2022 NFL draft prospects. He had a solid performance, but talent evaluators may have lingering questions that his workouts couldn't answer, making him a tough sell as a top-10 pick.
Stingley didn't participate at the NFL Scouting Combine while on the mend from Lisfranc surgery. Teams probably wanted to see how he would bounce back in terms of physical ability.
After going through the drills at LSU's pro day, Stingley talked to NFL Network's James Palmer about his performance and standing within the draft class:
Palmer asked an important question about the lapses in Stingley's availability, which is arguably the biggest concern about his resume. While the standout cornerback believes the film shows he's been the same playmaker through all three of his collegiate terms, some may disagree with him.
On one hand, Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash listed Stingley as the third overall pick in a recent mock draft, highlighting an exceptional true freshman year, but he didn't go beyond 2019 (in detail) in his analysis.
"Stingley produced the best true freshman season of the PFF College era in 2019 when he posted a 91.7 PFF grade and recorded 21 combined interceptions and pass breakups, all while allowing a catch on just 38% of his targets. He is a top-five talent and the kind of leader Lovie Smith would love to have on his defense."
Treash justifiably points out Stingley's dominant first year on campus. The 2019 consensus All-American recorded six interceptions and 15 pass breakups to put himself on the radar as one of the best in the country.
However, Stingley didn't match those numbers in the following two campaigns, partially because of injury, and draft analysts noted his inconsistencies on the field.
NFL.com's Charles Davis linked Stingley to the New York Jets at No. 10 overall, and he's a little more critical than Treash.
"Plenty of questions about his last two seasons—see: uneven play, injuries—but it's impossible to forget Stingley's freshman campaign," Davis wrote.
Davis isn't alone with his mixed assessment. ESPN's Todd McShay dropped Stingley out of the top 10 because of inconsistencies over the previous two years.
"Stingley is a tough evaluation," McShay wrote. "If Minnesota gets the 2019 version of his game, this is a steal at No. 12. But the injury-plagued uneven play we've seen over the past two years makes this pick risky."
Here's the common thread among all three draft analysts. They acknowledged that Stingley had an impressive 2019 season, which drives the desire to pick him early in the first round.
With that said, we cannot ignore two years in which Stingley didn't look head and shoulders above the top cornerbacks in this class. In their mock drafts, Davis and McShay listed the LSU product as the CB2 behind Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, who stayed healthy and has a steady resume, logging at least three interceptions in all three of his seasons at Cincinnati.
For comparison, Stingley saw a significant drop-off in ball production from his true freshman year, recording just five pass breakups without an interception in the last two seasons.
While looking over post-Senior Bowl week mock drafts, Jeff Risdon of Browns and Lions Wire noted a possible disconnect between outside public projections and team perceptions, which suggests that league talent evaluators may not have Stingley in the top 10 or first among cornerbacks on their big boards.
Risdon's train of thought aligns with McShay's mock draft, raising concerns about Stingley's injury history and less-than-stellar play through the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
While Stingley's solid pro-day may have squashed worries about his surgically repaired foot, teams will question his durability. He missed the last two games of the 2020 campaign against Florida and Ole Miss because of a leg issue before undergoing a procedure on his foot that sidelined him for 10 outings last year.
NFL teams can see that as an unfortunate pattern that could continue into Stingley's pro career.
Perhaps Stingley has top-10 talent, but is he reliable? Will clubs have to prepare for a handful of contests without him every year because of injury? These questions can drop a prospect from the top 10 into the teens or 20s.
General managers with the Houston Texans, New York Jets, New York Giants (depending on what happens with cornerback James Bradberry) and the Seattle Seahawks should think twice about Stingley if they're considering him with their top-10 selections. Gardner is a safer choice and still carries immense potential because of his size (6'3", 190 lbs) and collegiate production.
The Texans would be better off picking Stingley with the No. 13 overall pick rather than third. In a solid cornerback class, the Jets, Giants and Seahawks should attempt to trade back or consider prospects who may be available in the second round: Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), who recently underwent core-muscle surgery, according to NFL Network's Mike Giardi, Kaiir Elam (Florida) and Kyler Gordon (Washington) to avoid a riskier first-round selection.
Though Stingley looks fluid in his movement and has speed, toughness and ability to press at the line of scrimmage or drop off to read the quarterback, he's been trending in the wrong direction leading up to the 2022 draft with his unavailability. While everyone raves about his stellar 2019 season, NFL teams shouldn't bank on his play from two-and-a-half years ago, at least not with a top-10 spot.
Most draft-day discussions about Stingley will start with two big ifs—his health and ability to replicate his freshman play at LSU, which may be enough to scare off teams early on Day 1. With him, the risk isn't worth the reward that high in the draft.
College football statistics provided by cfbstats.com.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.