The Pittsburgh Steelers have an urgent, pressing need for cornerback help in the near future and luckily for them, this 2022 NFL draft class is loaded with options. Cornerback is one of their top needs and I expect them to make a significant investment in the position prior to heading into the 2022 NFL season. After watching more than a couple dozen draft eligible corners, I was able to settle in on a top five that I was comfortable with at this current point in time. Keep in mind, the college football season is young and the landscape will surely change as more info becomes available but this is where guys stand for me, as of right now.
1)Andrew Booth Jr- Clemson
At just a shade over 6 foot, Booth is an exciting, athletic player that has the tool box to one day become one of the best corners in the National Football League. A fantastic athlete that will likely set the combine on fire, if he tests. Change of direction skills are impressive, as are his hips. Feet at the line of scrimmage are light. Click and close ability is elite, triggers downhill in a hurry when necessary. Plus length that helps him in attack throws in the air. Reactive athleticism has led to some jaw-dropping, acrobatic plays when the ball is in the air. Competitive and confident. Constantly stays on top of deep routes. Scheme transcendent player who’s capable of excelling in any defense.
The knock on Booth coming into the year was inexperience, just a handful of starts and still learning the finer points of the position. Snap to snap consistency is something to monitor, inexperience is likely a factor there, too. The 2022 tape is off to a good start from what I have seen, more playing time will lead a more refined profile. Has the traits, needs to continue adding production.
2) Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU)
Truthfully, a freak athlete and a natural at the position with clean technique across the board. Massive expectations from day one after being a highly sought after recruit. Practically dominated SEC competition as a true freshman, can be tasked with covering the opposing teams best player one on one. In a secondary with Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit in 2019, Stingley was arguably the best defensive player on a national championship squad. Tantalizing physical profile at 6’1, 195, will likely run sub 4.4. Feet that mirror and match well at the line of scrimmage. Possesses both deep speed and quick twitch ability to change direction. Very sticky in man coverage, six interceptions in 2019. Rare recovery speed. Scheme versatile but you’re drafting this dude to play man to man in either press or off coverage, otherwise wasting his talent.
Sophomore season was a bit of a let down where he was more good than great. Can be a little bit handsy at times. Not the quickest, most active participant in the run game. Nagging ankle injury contributed to his regression as a sophomore. Now missing time with a foot injury.
3) Kaiir Elam (Florida)
NFL Bloodlines. Big, physical and aggressive boundary corner who loves to use his length to affect receivers. At 6’2, 196, he has the skill set to blanket bigger, number one wide receivers. Attacks the ball when it’s in the air, both good ball skills and ball production with 11 passes broken up in 2020. An overall disruptor at the line of scrimmage when in press coverage, a nuisance to deal with in a phone booth. Love his willingness to get involved in the run game, plus tackler. For a bigger corner, possesses plus change of direction, far from stiff hips. Has some really instinctive reps from off coverage showing his football IQ. Elam has the potential to be a number one corner at the next level in a press heavy scheme.
Good athlete but some real concerns about his long speed, has a tendency to get stacked on deep routes. Has given up a few long touchdowns, too. Pad level can sometimes be too high, still learning how to play off. At times, seemed a little heavy footed in press which may be more noticeable at the next level against better athletes. Inconsistent start to 2021.
4) Garrett Williams (Syracuse)
Will probably be the biggest surprise for some but he was actually very close to overtaking the third spot for me. Most mock simulators have him outside the top 100 but I think he could potentially push himself into day one, early day two territory. 6 foot, 190 pounds, not afraid to mix it up in the run game and be physical. Stood out in a loaded secondary as a redshirt freshman in 2020. Ultra quick feet who’s a smooth mover with a fluid pedal. Really twitched up player who possesses great change of direction ability. Click and close ability is impressive. Smart player who comes off as a student of the game. Excels with the football in the air. Had an incredible one handed interception against Louisville last year. Currently leading the conference in pass breakups with 6. Plays a in Cuse defense that’s pretty multiple, both man and zone coverage. Williams is a pretty versatile boundary corner. If you are looking for a riser in this field, he’s a good one to go with.
Curious on how he runs when he tests, quicker than fast. Recovery speed is fine but saw him stacked and beat deep on a couple of occasions. Should have allowed a deep TD against Wake Forest last year. Has been involved directly/indirectly in some apparent coverage miscommunications. Overall improvement in his consistency.
5) Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
A physical specimen at 6’2, 200 pounds with good movement skills especially for his size. Extremely productive, coverage numbers are off the charts. In his 3 years at Cincinnati, he has never allowed a touchdown in coverage and has added 3 scores, as well. Ridiculous length that he uses to his advantage with the football in the air and at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. Has natural instincts for the cornerback position, not often caught out of position. Seems to take matchups personally and is not frequently targeted. Pretty explosive for his size. Capable of flipping his hips to carry receivers. Really aggressive. Will get involved in the run game and is a mostly reliable tackler when doing so. Personally, think Gardner needs to be in a zone dependent scheme where he’s able to play at the line to disrupt and react.
Plays a bit high at times, some of that could be just due to his size. His hips are fine but he’s occasionally late to flip. Really grabby at the top of routes, often find his hands on the receivers should pads or hip pockets. How much does he trust his speed? Could be a highly penalized corner in the future.
Be sure to let me know what you all think about the rankings whether you agree or disagree. Is there someone you think I am overlooking? Let me know that, as well.