Even though these are both secondary positions, these two groups appear to be pretty far apart in makeup. Right now, this cornerback group seems to be very talented at the top and very deep. As far as the safeties go, you have a big-time star at the top of the board with some less attractive depth pieces. Regardless, I like a lot of players in this group, so let’s get started. Previous editions of this series are listed below.
- 2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Quarterbacks
- 2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Running Backs
- 2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
- 2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Offensive Line
- 2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Defensive Line & EDGE
- 2022 NFL Draft Big Board: Linebackers
15. Chase Lucas — Arizona State
Lucas is a dynamic player if he can create turnovers, and he should be able to make an impact on special teams immediately. He’s a great athlete who can disrupt routes in the slot — there’s value to that in today’s NFL. If he can develop as a technician, he can be a high-quality starter.
Relative Athletic Score: 8.9/10
14. Josh Thompson — Texas
Thompson’s value comes from experience; he was a five-year player for the Longhorns and made a ton of plays against the run and on the boundary in a spread-heavy Big 12. Thompson may find himself at safety, but he tested well enough to stick at corner in the NFL. His technique and ability to press in man coverage will be key.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.55/10
13. Coby Bryant — Cincinnati
Bryant played opposite Sauce Gardner for the Bearcats, but he isn’t quite the sought-after prospect his teammate is. Bryant possesses good movement skills for his size; he’s able to sink his hips fluidly and follows receivers tightly when they break. Bryant’s ball skills and competitive mentality pair nicely; he possesses the same drive and work ethic as his namesake, the late Kobe Bryant. Coby knows how to play aggressively but has a short memory following a mistake.
Relative Athletic Score: 5.59/10
12. Derion Kendrick — Georgia
I liked Kendrick as a prospect before Georgia’s playoff run, but Kendrick’s strong play against top talent undoubtedly helped his case going into the draft. Kendrick could use some work with his technique, he can get caught peeking sometimes, but he can develop into a high-quality starting corner. His testing numbers were very disappointing, but his tape is still pretty good.
Relative Athletic Score: 1.54/10
11. Martin Emerson — Mississippi State
Emerson has a great build for the position, and his lanky arms helped him out a lot in a very zone-heavy scheme. He’s a strong run defender and was a very high-quality player at Mississippi State from day one — I love his floor in this class.
Relative Athletic Score: 8.48/10
10. Zyon McCollum — Sam Houston State
McCollum had a good Senior Bowl, and he was a highly productive player for four years at Sam Houston State. He’s a willing tackler in the run game, but until he improves as a pure corner against better competition, teams will be getting a high-quality special teams player to develop. McCollum tested off the charts — he’s a name to watch going into day two.
Relative Athletic Score: 10/10
9. Alontae Taylor — Tennessee
The former receiver gets high praise for his intelligence and character, along with his great testing numbers — Taylor will appeal to a lot of NFL teams. He’s a willing tackler, and he should be able to carve out a special teams role immediately. Taylor is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none on film — there’s still plenty of upside with a smart player who tested well.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.07/10
8. Tariq Woolen — UTSA
Woolen possesses very rare size and athleticism for the position, standing at a hulking 6’4” and 205 pounds while running a 4.26 40-yard dash. The issues with Woolen begin with his hips and agility. He moves well in a straight line and has great size, but that’s not everything when it comes to one of the most challenging positions in the NFL. If he’s adequately developed and can gain some twitch, he will be an absolute monster in this league.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.71/10
7. Roger McCreary — Auburn
He wasn’t a big name going into the season, but McCreary showed his chops and good athleticism at Auburn, and he was a menace on the boundary for the Tigers. He covers short routes very well and can press inside or out. He is always around the ball and looks to turn it over, which I love in a defensive back.
Relative Athletic Score: 5.48/10
6. Kaiir Elam — Florida
Although Elam has slid down many rankings, I’m still very high on his talent and physical gifts. He’s a big and fast corner, and he uses his hands very well and rarely commits bad penalties, at least from what I have watched. He’s a consistent presence in the secondary, and there’s a lot of upside with him.
Relative Athletic Score: 8.63/10
5. Trent McDuffie — Washington
As is the trend with this class, McDuffie is a very agile and sticky man corner that presses very well at the line of scrimmage. He’s a guy you can play inside at the slot or on the boundary, and his versatility and athletic gifts should appeal to many teams on draft day.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.49/10
4. Kyler Gordon — Washington
As is the case with many corners in this class, Gordon is an athletic freak who is a pesky defender in man coverage. Gordon has a nose for the football and always flies to the play on tape. He can get a little overaggressive at times, but if he can play within his bounds, he will be a stud corner on the inside or outside.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.69/10
3. Andrew Booth Jr. — Cincinnati
In a lot of other classes, Andrew Booth Jr. is the clear-cut CB1. Booth has immaculate ball skills, and I apologize if you’re tired of hearing this — he’s a physical outside corner that can press guys much bigger than he is. Throw in the fact that he has elite ball skills and instincts, and you’re talking about a true potential franchise cornerback for many years.
Relative Athletic Score: N/A
2. Sauce Gardner — Cincinnati
I was really tempted to put Gardner at CB1. Since last season, I’ve been a massive fan of his, but the number two spot isn’t a knock. He’s one of the best players in this whole class. His resumé speaks for itself; he didn’t allow more than 13 yards to any receiver in 2021 and hasn’t allowed a touchdown over his entire college career. He is fantastic when pressing at the line of scrimmage using his 6’3” frame, and Gardner truly looks to beat up his opponent. He has the body, athleticism, and instincts you want in a prospect. He has all of the makeup of a franchise cornerback on the boundary.
Relative Athletic Score: N/A
1. Derek Stingley Jr. — LSU
Deciding the top three spots was difficult, and you can really place them in almost any order, but I can’t deny the physical traits and mental gifts that Derek Stingley Jr. has. He has the best ball skills in all of college football, and his athletic traits are nothing to ignore. His makeup reminds me of former LSU Tiger Patrick Peterson, and I absolutely think he will reach that potential in the NFL.
Relative Athletic Score: 8.98/10
7. Kerby Joseph — Illinois
Although Joseph only has one big year of production at Illinois, he looked fantastic on tape and has high upside as a developmental project. He’s someone you’ll want to rotate in, but he’s a big riser up draft boards.
Relative Athletic Score: N/A
6. Nick Cross — Maryland
Cross is a little more sizzle than steak right now, but he has excellent athletic traits and flies all around the football field. He can move down to linebacker and make plays in coverage or support against the run. Cross has sky-high potential, and in a weak safety class, someone will snag him pretty early.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.87/10
5. Jalen Pitre — Baylor
Pitre was a swiss army knife in Baylor’s defense, and his strong testing numbers have launched him up in a top-heavy safety class. He’s a very willing tackler, and it’s clear he was a leader on a good Baylor defense. If the right defensive coordinator gets ahold of him, he could be a valuable chess piece that makes plays all over the field.
Relative Athletic Score: 8.47/10
4. Jaquan Brisker — Penn State
This is really where the cream of the crop of this group begins. I think all four of these names have the potential to be quality starters in the NFL almost immediately. Brisker is an athletic freak who can play in the box or as a high safety, and his versatility will make him a valuable chess piece if he lands in the right situation.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.14/10
3. Daxton Hill — Michigan
Hill is a brilliant player, and it’s a big reason why Michigan deployed him in multiple roles during his time with the Wolverines. He can support against the run, but he understands route concepts very well and can handle some man coverage. He should be able to make an impact from day one.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.06/10
2. Lewis Cine — Georgia
Cine is a high-quality safety; he’s a downhill thumper that can deliver violent punishment, especially on the boundary. His coverage skills could use some polish, but he’s an immediate contributor in an obvious run situation and should be able to erase running backs and some tight ends with ease in the passing game.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.92/10
1. Kyle Hamilton — Notre Dame
If I were ranking players overall in this draft, Kyle Hamilton would probably take the top spot. He can truly do it all — has impeccable instincts and ball skills but can blitz and support against the run better than a lot of linebackers in this class can. Not only is Hamilton one of the safest picks in this draft, but he’s absolutely one of the most talented.
Relative Athletic Score: 9.33/10
Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
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