Rob Rank’s Top 5 Cornerbacks
While there is certainly some boom or bust factor with this year’s cornerback class, its raw speed and athleticism was put on display at the Combine a few weeks ago, when 10 players at this one position were electronically timed in the 4.2s and 4.3s in the 40-yard dash – and those did not even include two of the most accomplished corners in this class, like top-ranked Derek Stingley, Jr. Given last year’s well-documented struggles in coverage, one might assume the Seahawks would invest heavily in this group. And while that may still be the case, it is worth noting that the earliest the Seahawks have used a pick on a cornerback during the Carroll/Schneider era was the 90th overall selection it used on future Pro Bowler Shaquill Griffin back in 2017. Just like Griffin a year earlier, DJ Reed was awarded a big contract in free agency and Seattle must replace his tenacity and buttery smooth coverage. Seahawks targeted cornerbacks in free agency, adding Sean Desai’s protégé Artie Burns from Chicago, as well as bringing back both Sidney Jones IV and Justin Coleman, who had previously starred at nickel for the club in 2017-2018.
1. Derek Stingley, Jr., LSU, 6-0, 190, 4.40 (est.), First Round
Stingley was right there with fellow future first rounders Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the primary stars during LSU’s national title run three years ago but he’s seen little playing time the past two years, raising all sorts of red flags. Assuming he receives a clean bill of health at the Combine, teams should ignore that he essentially preserved his body for the NFL and instead focus on the fact that Micah Parsons, Ja’Marr Chase and Penei Sewell all dominated as rookies after taking off the 2020 season, themselves. Fluid, physical and possessing the kind of ball skills that could realistically have him earning snaps on offense, Stingley is a true blue chip talent.
2. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati, 6-3, 190, 4.41 (est.), First Round
It is easy to venture into hyperbole with Gardner, who did not allow a single touchdown reception in three seasons as a starter for the Bearcats – a team that went undefeated in the regular season last year and became the first Non-Power Five school to be represented in the College Football playoff. It remains to be seen if Carroll and Co. will revert back to the height and arm length thresholds this club adhered to for years, but if they do, Gardner and his 33 ½” arms will certainly be tough to pass up.
3. Trent McDuffie, Washington, 5-11, 193, 4.44, First Round
What McDuffie lacks in arm length (29 ¾”) he more than makes up with agility, acceleration, instincts and toughness. McDuffie, in fact, may be the cleanest all-around cornerback in this class, showing terrific fluidity for coverage, as well as reliable open-field tackling skills to support the run. He even played all four special teams units with the Huskies. Joining a long list of former Husky defensive backs already starting at a high level in the NFL (like Seattle’s own Sidney Jones), McDuffie is pro ready.
4. Andrew Booth, Jr., Clemson, 6-0, 194, 4.40 (est.), First/Second Round
A thumper who seems to enjoy opportunities to come up and tackle as much as he does cover receivers down the field, Booth is a lot like McDuffie in that he’s been overshadowed by some of the twitchier athletes in this class but is quietly a better all- around player. What Booth lacks to this point, however, is experience, having only started 15 of the 31 games in which he played for the supremely-talented Tigers. The flashes are bright as Clemson orange, though.
5. Tariq Woolen, UT-San Antonio, 6-4, 205, 4.26, Second Round
When talking upside, one must be sure to include the Roadrunners’ Woolen, who lived up to his prominent placement in Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks” article by torching the Combine, posting not only a 4.26 second time in the 40-yard dash but leading all participants with a 42″ vertical jump. Woolen was starting at receiver for the UTSA just three years ago, so he remains understandably raw. He’ll need to improve his awareness and physicality against the run, for example. But the traits are worthy of a gamble in the top 50.
One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. Rang’s opinions and evaluations are his own and do not reflect those of the Seahawks.