CB1 | Ahmad Gardner
6’3″ 190 lbs | Cincinnati
Ahmad Gardner has everything it takes to become one of the top lockdown corners in the NFL. Size? Check. Length? Check. Speed? Check. Technical skill? Check. The long and lean lockdown cornerback out of Cincinnati took the draft world by storm this season and has climb up to CB1 on most reputable big boards. Not only did he produce at an extremely high level and lockdown every receiver throughout his career, but he has some of the cleaning and most explosive tape. Despite being light at 190 lbs, Gardner utilizes his power and 33.5” arms efficiently and was one of the best press corners in the NCAA. When drafting a CB, you want length, potential, and versatility. Ahmad Gardner is a top prospect in all those categories and is likely top 10 lock.
The downside that comes with being a lankier corner is pretty obvious. How does it affect his tackling and strength? On film, Gardner is a willing tackler, but also lacks the power required to be among the exceptional run defending corners. Most times he relies on catch and drag tackling, but he will likely be in a shadow-lockdown role rather than a reliable run stopper, so this isn’t a cause for concern. It is also worth noting that he isn’t the most agile or smooth mover in the group but possesses some of the best catch-up speed and trailing abilities.
The bottom line is that Ahmad Gardner is a 1st round lock who has the potential to be a longtime star in the NFL. Gardner did play most of his games against AAC competition, he rose to the occasion in big games against Notre Dame and Alabama. You could not build a more ideal frame in a lab, which is even more impressive considering his ball skills, instinct, and athleticism. Gardner will thrive in a press heavy, shadow role and will contribute right away and likely develop into the next “island” CB in the NFL.
CB2 | Derek Stingley, Jr.
6’0” 190 lbs | LSU
Following his 2019 freshman campaign, Stingley has been synonymous with the term “future NFL Super Star”. He broke the PFF grading scale with an all-time high grade of 91.7, but since has struggled to stay on the field and produce. LSU’s program has taken a fall from fame and Stingley’s team was significantly downgraded in the following years, but the injuries and inconsistencies are concerning enough to think twice before taking a swing in the early first. In terms of upside, Stingley is one of the most complete athletes in the class and has elite speed and agility. What is even more impressive is the fact that he also dominated in press coverage as well, especially as an 18-year-old freshman.
His measurements at the combine were underwhelming and even more concerning, he is nursing a significant Lisfranc injury that held him out of a portion of 2021 and fought through a knee injury in 2020. We see the same story of elite prospects “taking it easy” through college to prep for the NFL, but a Lisfranc (foot) injury is as scary as it gets for a cornerback prospect. The best case scenario for Stingley is that he is 100% by the LSU Pro Day and he can showcase his health in front of scouts, first hand.
When drafting Stingley, you are taking a swing on a high-risk/high-reward prospect that brings you the floor of being one of the top athletes in the entire draft class. He’s not overly big or long, but his footwork, speed and overall athleticism is not something that you see come out at such a young age. Stingley held his own in a conference filled with 1st round receivers and constantly battled against Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall in practice situations. Stingley brings an elite corner pedigree, with insane traits and an exceptionally high ceiling, but you can’t help to worry about a concerning injury past.
CB3 | Trent McDuffie
5’11” 193 lbs | Washington
McDuffie isn’t the most physically overwhelming cornerbacks, but in today’s age teams prioritize movement and speed over size. Fortunately for McDuffie, he is one of the smoothest movers in the class, which showed up on tape (0 TDs allowed) and at the combine (4.44 40 yd). His acceleration and agility is elite and top of the class, which pairs well with some of the oiliest hips I have seen in a while. He smoothly transitions in and out of breaks, which comes in handy due to his underwhelming height and length (29 ¾ inch arms). Don’t mix up height and size, as he is a sturdy 193 lbs and is one of the most willing and technical tacklers out of this group.
Length is an obvious detractor, which could also limit his role as a press corner as soon as he arrives. I will be interested to see how his strength transitions at the next level, as guys will be a lot bigger, faster and stronger than any of the Pac12 talent he faced. Lastly, the ball skills are significantly holding him back from being an elite tier defensive prospect, which will need to be focused on in his early career.
The versatility and athleticism will keep McDuffie inside the 1st round, but don’t expect him to be pressing and shadowing receivers anytime in his early career. His speed, agility and tackling abilities could also thrust him into an early nickel role to get his feet wet in the NFL.
CB4| Roger McCreary
5’11” 190 lbs | Auburn
It’s not often that a guy that comes in small, short, and slow ranks this highly, but I am addicted to watching McCreary’s expectational technique on tape. He held his own throughout his career at Auburn and faced 180+ targets throughout his tenure at Auburn. The former in-state 3 Star has had a chip on his shoulder since HS but plays up to his size better than any prospect in this class.
The first detractor for McCreary is rather evident on film. He lacks the ideal length and size for an outside CB1. You’d think this would impact him negatively in man coverage, but he performed exceptionally and locked down some of the most elite WR prospects from the SEC. Along with the less than exceptional frame (28-inch arm), he at times gets baited and caught up by play action or late developing routes.
Regardless of size, there is not much to dislike about McCreary. I’m not sure if he can play the same role as he did at Auburn, but he can surely be an exceptional slot corner due to his agility and feistiness. It is also worth noting that NFL teams now look for solid movers, rather than oversized corners, so don’t be surprised if a team reaches to bring in the insanely talented prospect from Auburn. As of now, the production, tape and technical skillset keeps McCreary as an attractive fringe-1st rounder.
CB5 | Andrew Booth, Jr.
6’0” 195 lbs | Clemson
Both is another prototypical cornerback with a 5-star pedigree and elite background. Clemson played a ton of zone and shell coverages, but Booth was one of the few bright and shining stars of their 2021 team. Booth is a high IQ cover corner that has the potential to have success in a versatile defense and doesn’t have many weaknesses in his well-rounded game. He is a great athlete and swift mover with great reach and strength.
In terms of speed, both is very agile but not the purest sideline-to-sideline sprinter. We will have to wait until the Clemson Pro Day to see his 40 time and other testing metric, as he sat at during the combine due to an insignificant quad injury. It is also worth mentioning that Booth was just a one-year full time starter, as he was behind other players like Derion Kendrick and A.J. Terrell at Clemson.
Booth is an all-around, versatile cornerback that will appeal to many different schemes and fronts. He has great size and length but will need to work on his tackling and technical coverage skills. He is a high IQ prospect with a lot of natural abilities to love that will likely keep him in the tail end of the 1st round or a high priority in the 2nd.
CB6 | Kyler Gordon
5’11” 194 lbs | Washington
Gordon is one of the purest athletes in the class but is an absolute project with his technical skills. His diverse skillset allowed for him to fill in a variety of roles and the elite tangible skills elevate his stock into the 1st round discussion. He possesses the elite burst that you’d want to see from an RB, but his 4.51 forty-yard dash was a bit disappointing, however, it is enough to not negatively affect his stock too much.
The biggest area for improvement is his instincts and play recognition/reaction, but that will come with time. Where he loses is when he jumps routes and gets left hanging out to dry. However, the strength, versatility and athleticism are enough to keep Gordon as a very intriguing late 1st/early 2nd round prospect.
CB7 | Zyon McCollum
6’2” 200 lbs | Sam Houston State
McCollum may be downgraded a bit due to his small school production, but the former-FCS CB has what it takes to make it at the next level. Not only does he bring exception size, speed and athleticism to the table, but he is the type of player that coaches will love to have on their roster. A multi-year starter, he is a high-IQ player with great leadership skills, among other exceptional intangible traits. McCollum moves exceptionally well for his size and in coverage, but also showcased 4.3 speed at the Combine. Not only does he have the athleticism to be a freakish press corner, but also has the size and strength to play center fielder or line up in the box. Versatility, technique and athleticism will all overshadow his small school production, but he will still be very much drafted as a project with plenty of room to develop at the next level. I don’t love player comps, but he reminds me of James Bradberry with 4.3 speed.
CB8 | Kaiir Elam
6’1” 190 lbs | Florida
Elam enjoyed a lot of early praise in the fall and was frequently featured as a 1st round prospect but had a tough 2021 season that has led to a bit of a dip. Florida has been an absolute factory for producing NFL DBs, but there are some glaring technical flaws that will need to be cleaned up at the next level. Elam also had a great combine, as he measured in above 6’1” with roughly 31-inch arms and ran a 4.39. This combination of speed, length and size will lead scouts to overlook some of the inconsistencies and focus on his true potential.
In 2021, Elam allowed 53% of his targets to be completed in his 359 coverage snaps. This is not horrible but was a major dip in production from his first two seasons at Florida. He has the ideal frame and size to be a press corner at the next level and there is a lot to love there, but his struggles in both man and zone coverage leads to his stock falling a bit. There is plenty of athleticism to go along with his prototypical frame, which should keep him with a Day 2 floor.
CB9 | Coby Bryant
6’1” 193 lbs | Cincinnati
It’s rare that we see two AAC CBs in the top 10 of the rankings, nevertheless, two from the same school, but Ahmad Gardner and Colby Bryant are as real as it gets. The Jim Thorpe Award recipient was a four-year starter at Cincinnati who showed steady improvement year-over-year. Bryant is nowhere close to the prospect that his teammate is, which is primarily due to the lack of exceptional athleticism or speed. He is a great, high IQ corner with a solid frame, but he is not going to be able to match feet with many above-average WR1s in the NFL.
Despite being 6’1”, his arms came in below 31 inches, so the frame isn’t exactly perfect. To go along with that, his footwork, agility, and movement is average at best. Bryant has the potential to be a solid contributor in some schemes but lacks the overall athleticism and speed to be a true NFL lockdown. However, any team would be happy to have Bryant at the right price due to his high IQ playstyle and overall leadership abilities.
CB10 | Derion Kendrick
6’0″ 195 lbs | Georgia
Derion Kendrick is an intriguing prospect that I thought we may see in this range at this time last year, but made the somewhat surprising decision to return to school. The multi-year starter from Clemson muddied the waters even further when he was dismissed from the program over the spring. Kendrick transferred to Kirby Smart’s electric defense and had a huge season where he allowed zero TDs and picked off the ball 4 times. A former WR prospect, Kendrick has natural ball skills that are at par with some of the best prospects in this class. He is also a solid mover for his size, despite lacking overall elite athleticism.
Along with some of the upside that comes with a WR background, there are also flaws that naturally come with the skillset. For starters, he lacks aggression and tenacity in press coverage. You’d hope to see steady improvement from a guy with as much experience as Kendrick, but he is definitely towards the bottom of the class in that aspect. He also has anything but a clear off the field record, as he was arrested in 2021, which was the precursor to being kicked off the Clemson team.
Kendrick is an experienced veteran who has played on the biggest stage, but also has benefitted from being surrounded by elite defensive units. He doesn’t bring the most to the table in terms of speed or athleticism, but he does has exceptional ball skills that have helped make up for his detractors. He is a rock solid day 2 prospect with the potential of becoming a longterm started in a zone heavy scheme.
CB11 | Tariq Woolen
6’4” 200 lbs | UTSA
Tariq Woolen was a prospect that caught my eye at the Senior Bowl, not just because of several strong practices, but also because of his insane combination of size and speed. When first standing next to him, I think he must be an undersized edge rusher and was a bit surprised to piece together that he was a CB that was clocked at the highest speed ever recorded at the event. The athletic traits are legitimately unreal, and he moves with such low effort and exceptional grace.
The downside of Woolen is that he is 100% dependent on traits, as his tape is littered with inconsistencies and raw, undeveloped traits. That is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, he physically upside keeps his ceiling exceptionally high, but can he develop and how long will it take? The upside cannot be ignored, but he will be as much of a project as anyone in this class.
CB12 | Martin Emerson
6’2” 201 lbs | Mississippi State
The Mississippi State prospect has become a bit of a sleeper due to this deep class, but there’s a lot to love with his tremendous size and finesse tendencies. Emerson rarely out-athletes SEC WRs but is a very technically sound corner with exceptional body skills and patience. He was most successful in zone coverage and likely will need to be in a scheme dependent defense, as athletic WRs will toast him in a variety of ways. He clocked a 4.53 at the combine, which is more than enough to be a role-playing cornerback, but his greatest strength is his initial punch in press coverage. He can add depth and hold his own against some of the bigger NFL WRs, but don’t expect him to be an every-down corner right away.