2022 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings
This year's draft is deep at the corner position. Sauce Gardner has ascended to the likely CB1 spot, but there are multiple options later on day one and two who could become starters at the next level. Today we look at the definitive 2022 NFL Draft cornerback rankings.
By Ben Matthews.
1. Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner — Cincinnati
6’2—190lbs—Overall prospect rank: 5th
Sauce Gardner never gave up a touchdown during his time in college. Let that sit for a minute. He doesn’t plan on giving one up in the NFL, either. Whilst this is a ridiculous statement on paper, it highlights the mentality and down right confidence that the former Bearcat has in spades — a mindset that will be needed at the next level as he looks to slide into a starting role in year one.
He has every trait needed to fit into any scheme, and play at a high level right away; thriving in zone coverage and possessing the length, fluid hips and speed to match up in man, too.
His ball skills are excellent and this is where his length serves him well as he is able to compete at the catch point and create turnovers by displaying an awareness with his pre snaps reads and route recognition.
For a taller, wiry corner Gardner is extremely fluid in transition and he has the explosiveness to drive on the ball, combining his body control and top-tier sense of positioning to stand him in good stead to be able to attack ball carriers and/or break up passes in his area. He can sometimes be inconsistent when making a tackle, but generally takes the right angle and has good timing.
At the next level, Gardner could do with developing his hands to operate in a more efficient manner. He has the length and strength to be able to jam effectively at the line of scrimmage, but does not display it as much as he may need to in order to disrupt the timing of the man he is guarding. In college, he could get away with this, having the knowledge and confidence that he is the superior athlete, but giving up an easy cushion and having to recover against NFL receivers could lead to him needing to resort to unnecessary holds and penalties.
This isn’t a major concern though as he is a capable, disciplined defender in regards to the other aspects of his play and should have no trouble adapting thanks to his alpha-dog, competitive nature. Some have concerns about his experience versus top end competition, but after allowing only 14 yards on four targets in the CFP semi final, he proved that he can handle a step up. With NFL coaching, Gardner could blossom into a true CB1.
2. Andrew Booth Jr — Clemson
Booth seems to have been overlooked in many quarters, but he is certainly a top five cornerback in this class. His natural instincts, raw tools, timing and body control are all exceptional. He is physical, of a great size, and doesn’t shy away from contact in the run game.
Booth plays with a controlled abandon that is rare from such a prospect still learning the game. The risks that he takes are due to a high level of intelligence in terms of dissecting the play and being quick to react on the snap of the ball. You often see him cheating down hill against the run and dropping ball carriers at the line of scrimmage. He attacks with real explosion and desire, but does occasionally mistime his take downs.
He’s ideal in any scheme, but I can see him specifically in one that leans towards cover-3 tendencies where he’ll be able to take away a third of the field and press receivers at the line of scrimmage. He back pedals effortlessly and can match up chest-to-chest with receivers, mirroring them extremely well in transition which leaves him positioned well to impact any play.
Booth isn’t often fooled on double-moves, but has the recovery ability to make up for it when he is. His feet are fast and he moves with a suddenness that allows him to match shifty receivers in and out of their breaks. He never gives an inch.
Overall, he is a dynamic mover who plays with a competitive edge. He has experience on special teams and can play any coverage technique asked of him. He may be over reliant right now on his physical tools, but he can be sculpted into something special.
Check out his one-handed interception against Virginia below, just a taste of what’s to come regarding this prospect.
3. Derek Stingley Jr — LSU
Stingley has seemingly been on course to crack the top ten, if not the top five of the 2022 NFL Draft since the day he stepped foot onto the field at LSU as a true freshman. Speed, length and freakish athletic ability, he was the de facto number one corner up until an uneven 2020 season and a 2021 curtailed by a worrying Lisfranc injury.
The Lisfranc injury has meant that scouts do not have too much recent film to go off relating to Stingley, but it is a concerning injury for a cornerback due to the nature of the position where fleet-footedness and quick-twitch explosion are key. Hopefully he can shake it off and move on into the NFL without it lingering, because if so, some lucky team could find themselves a true lockdown corner if developed in the right way.
Like Gardner he is a taller corner, but he moves his feet and hips in a way that is more natural than anyone in this class, including his Cincinnati peer. His change of direction, agility and speed are exceptional and exactly what is needed to play man coverage in the NFL. He has the potential to be the type of player who can be left on an island against the game’s best.
Injury aside, there are also slight concerns about Stingley’s drive. This isn’t an attempt at any psycho analysis, or snippet from an NFL ‘insider’, just a humble impression from his tape in 2020 and 2021. He appears to take his foot off the gas and sometimes it feels as though his effort is lacking. This is evident when attempting to make a tackle. He missed almost 18% of his tackles in college and that is much higher than any team would be willing to accept.
His lack of ball production also took a downswing over the past two seasons, and he does occasionally show a lack of awareness in zone coverage.
All-in-all, this is a prospect who has the world at his feet thanks to his elite physical tools. If he can prove to teams that he is locked in as he enters the NFL, then despite the concerns, he could still warrant a look inside the top ten picks based on his on ceiling alone.
4. Kyler Gordon — Washington
Kyler Gordon is an exciting player to watch. He’s a ball of energy waiting to be unfurled on any given play and is explosive with an alpha mentality.
He has improved every year across his collegiate career and has aligned at numerous different positions throughout the Huskies’ secondary excelling inside, outside, in the box, on the line of scrimmage and even a few snaps at deep safety.
His excellent short area burst and agility complement his skillset and highlight his versatility in that he can play the slot role to a high level in the NFL at the very least. Some view this as his permanent home at the next level, but I believe that he can thrive on the outside as well.
He certainly has the fluid movement through his hips and ability in both man and zone coverage to excel wherever a team decides he should line up.
It would be nice for Gordon to have greater statistical output, but this is a prospect dripping with athleticism and twitch. He looks like he wants to get his hands on the ball on every play and I believe that this production will come as he has excellent closing speed and is a competitor at the catch point, using his long frame well.
Sometimes his decision making does seem slow, and he is too reactive rather than showing anticipatory skills but he makes up for this with his explosiveness. This need to be refined at the next level, as he sometimes looks a little uncontrolled and may be easily fooled by NFL quarterbacks, but the tools and year-on-year improvement tell me that he can clear up any shortcomings he currently has.
5. Trent McDuffie — Washington
Polished. That’s a way to summarise who Trent McDuffie is. He is patient in coverage, doesn’t panic or flip his hips too early and is very sticky when man on man with his receiver.
McDuffie’s route recognition is excellent and he is rarely fooled. He has light feet and can mirror with his hips extremely well. His instincts and awareness are amongst the best in the class and closes extremely quickly on underneath throws, showing fast processing power.
He is physical in press man and holds his ground well against larger receivers but a lack of length (29” arms), is still a worry at the next level. This is due to the issue that he may not be able to get hands on his man as easily when on the line. Bigger, more experienced receivers could get the better of him when guarding the perimeter in the NFL and so these concerns perhaps limit him to slot corner duties as his primary role.
McDuffie is a tough and willing tackler — he’s quick to diagnose in the run game and explosive in pursuit of ball carriers. He thrives when asked to play downhill and he is feisty and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. He will instantly make any secondary better thanks to his professional and competitive approach and complete skillset. He also has special teams experience and will be a leader of an ST crew.
It is almost unfair that McDuffie is likely to be drafted to an already very good team towards the back of the first frame. He will make a rich team even richer!
6. Roger McCreary — Auburn
McCreary disappointingly measured in with 28 7/8 inch arms at the NFL Combine, which is surprising as he plays press man so well. He’s a tenacious corner who tackles well for his size and is a corner who is always looking to play the ball.
You don’t see him sleeping at the top of routes and he has excellent short area burst to close in on receivers and make life difficult at the catch point. As described, his reactive athleticism and toughness is impressive which means that even if teams are put off by his lack of length, then he could seamlessly move inside.
Similar to Trent McDuffie, he is a high floor prospect with excellent technique, ability to mirror his man and one whom would be a lock for the first round with a slightly longer and bigger physical profile.
7. Cam Taylor-Britt — Nebraska
Wham! Bam! Thank You, Cam! Want a physical, fearless corner who isn’t afraid of contact? More-so, one who thrives off contact? Cam Taylor-Britt is your man.
The 5’11, 196 pounder out of Nebraska packs a punch and is a tone setter on defense. He displayed his tenacity during Senior Bowl week where he suffered a quad injury and a chipped tooth that was pulled out midway through the week; both injuries he played through as if they didn’t happen.
He blew many away by running a 4.38 at the NFL Combine and looked fluid during the on field drills, displaying a smooth back pedal and whilst I wouldn’t describe his hips as ‘oily’, he did show a fluidity of movement required for the position.
Taylor-Britt shows great instincts when the ball is in the air, knowing when to break on passes and competing through the catch point to not only break up passes (11 in 2021 alone), but to come away with balls that he perhaps shouldn’t.
As mentioned, Taylor-Britt hits like a hammer and is decisive and knows when to close on the ball carrier. He has a nose for the ball and will often be the one forces a fumble or likely to be the prime candidate who emerges from the bottom of a pile with it. Four forced fumbles attest to that.
He has aligned at safety, at outside corner as well as in the slot and could develop into a movable piece for an NFL secondary. He’s an exciting name to watch that could be available on day two, but only so low because of a lack of length.
8. Montaric Brown — Arkansas
Currently an underrated prospect in this class. Listening to “Busta” Brown speak, he appears to be a measured, competitive and gritty individual, and this is what comes across on film.
His competitive mindset comes across at all times in that he is a real playmaker; Brown had five interceptions in 2021 and plays with an edge. He is not afraid to tackle or hit and will be an asset in run support as someone who plays downhill with an impressive violence and aggression.
Brown has a long and lanky frame that he uses well in press. He doesn’t get too grabby and is patient throughout the play. When the ball is in the air, he plays through the catch point with his arms that appear longer on tape than they actually measured at the NFL Combine (31 1/4”). This is because his timing and anticipation are excellent. He reads the quarterback well and knows when to break back towards the ball.
Has good speed. Brown returned punts in high school and runs well (4.55 forty) for a man of his size. This speed will be important as he enters the NFL as he is not the finished product from a technique standpoint. It will enable him to recover well whenever he finds himself slightly out of position.
Brown was third in the nation for lowest passer rating allowed (17.5) per PFF grading in man coverage behind Gardner (12.0) and Gordon (12.8) in 2021 which further hints at his potential. Currently projected in the third or fourth round. I say spend a second on him and be rewarded: it wouldn’t be the reach that some may believe.
9. Kaiir Elam — Florida
Five interceptions and 20 pass breakups in 30 career games hint at what is to come from an emerging corner with great size and length. Elam looks good in coverage and has the potential to flourish into a shutdown corner on the outside.
Twelve months ago, he was a name to watch that could challenge Derek Stingley's supremacy at the top of the defensive back class in 2022. Things have changed since then and Stingley and Elam will not be the number one and two corners in the class but like Stingley, Elam has the potential to develop into a quality starter.
Elam jams receivers well at the line of scrimmage, for his length comfortably allows this. He is susceptible to quick releases, but does anticipate breaks well and that aforementioned length allows him to recover.
Elam has demonstrated good balls skills throughout his career thus far, possessing an innate ability to locate the ball in the air and has a good feel for routes. He isn’t quite as polished as the tops guys in coverage and does panic and get grabby. This is possibly because he isn’t the most fluid athlete in the class and his footwork is not as good as the likes of Stingley, Gardner or Booth. His tackling is decent, but he can whiff, get caught in traffic and isn’t the most physical despite his size. When compared to the likes of Andrew Booth, there is a noticeable drop off regarding this area of Elam’s game as I feel as though the awareness isn’t quite there yet.
Elam should be a prototypical press man corner thanks to his size, but he does sometimes cede control of plays to receivers who knock him off balance too easily.
Having said all this, he probably would be considered a first rounder in any other draft that didn’t consist of so much depth at the position. Don’t be surprised if it happened in 2022 though, some teams may fall in love with his frame and upside.
10. Akayleb Evans — Missouri
A slightly raw, but underrated prospect in the class. Evans is physical at the beginning of routes, is able to reroute receivers and is calm and considered in press coverage.
Evans plays loose and always looks relaxed, knowing that he has the length and quicks to win against most pass catchers before the ball is snapped. He uses his hands well off the snap with a well timed punch and is able to take control of his man, sticking close to him shoulder-to-shoulder downfield on longer developing routes.
He does sometimes use his hands excessively during and at the top of routes though, which is something that is likely to be called in the NFL. This can be coached out of him at the next level, as his athleticism, anticipation and positioning often mean that he doesn’t need to get grabby. He should trust his coverage skills more as he would be able to make more turnover worthy plays as a result.
For all of his ability to play tight in man coverage, he does sometimes appear hesitant when playing off. He appears slow to read routes and can bite on double moves quite easily which makes me think he remains a developmental prospect and not someone who is likely to come in and start right away.
He is a capable tackler, but I’d also like to see him become more consistent in this regard. He is sometimes slow to plant his feet and deliver a hit, which is curious when he carries such an ideal frame. He doesn’t always drive through his man and can allow them to wriggle free. His length should mean that he can wrap up ball carriers without issue, but his aforementioned hesitancy means that he has room to improve in this area.
Take him in round three or four and give him time; the potential and tools are there.
11. Tariq Woolen — UTSA
Woolen displayed exceptional testing numbers at the combine. He is 6’4, 205lbs, with 33 5/8 arms. He ran a 4.26 second forty-yard dash and produced a 42” vertical jump; Woolen is one hell of an athlete.
The UTSA alum looked a bit stiff during drills, which echoes his movement on the field somewhat, but this is a player who only transitioned to the position in 2020. Woolen has all the raw ingredients to become an impressive perimeter corner.
His size/speed/length combination allow him to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and recover well whenever he is beaten initially by smaller, shiftier players.
You are sometimes left wanting more from Woolen; for a man of his size he allows receivers to out muscle him too often and he allows them to win with their hands when it should be him who is jolting and man handling people at the line of scrimmage. His speed allows him to maintain sticky coverage downfield, but he doesn’t have the oily hips at present early in routes, so can get beat early which leads to big gains.
I’d like to see a bit more patience from Woolen as he develops his technique. At the college level, he can get away with being the better athlete more often than not, but in the NFL, where opponents are far more technically refined, he will not.
The former Roadrunner is an enticing, but raw NFL prospect with rare physical traits, who many teams will be willing to bet on. With time and a bit of patience as he develops his anticipatory and technical skills, Woolen could become something special, but don’t expect lockdown status in year one: there will be some growing pains!
12. Jalyn Armour-Davis — Alabama
4.39 second forty time at the NFL Combine. Faster than expected and a smooth athlete. This fluidity really shows up on film and he is a prospect who just looks comfortable on every snap. He’s not the most flashy in the class, but he has everything in his toolkit to be a success.
Armour-Davis has an NFL ready frame with decent length. This allows him to play tough and be disruptive in press. He mirrors receivers well with tidy footwork and is able to match them stride-for-stride on deeper routes.
This is a more than capable tackler who attacks the ball carrier from good angles, wrapping up well with good reactive discipline.
As stated, his natural frame is good, but he may need a bit more bulk when he reaches the NFL and he does have a history of injuries. If teams are confident that this won’t be an issue, he could be an unexpected riser in the lead up to draft night.
13. Alontae Taylor — Tennessee
Taylor is another underrated cornerback in this class. He has the requisite size and length to play the position and is an impressive athlete. He ran a 4.36 second forty at the NFL Combine and had generally good testing numbers.
He displays the necessary instincts and anticipation when reading the quarterback and with regards to his route recognition. Is able to break quickly on the ball and reacts decisively both in coverage and in run support.
Whilst fast, he isn’t the quickest over short areas and this can show up when he is unable to disrupt receivers early in their routes. Overall though, he is still learning the position as a wide receiver convert and he has a chance to start at the next level in year two or three.
14. Martin Emerson — Mississippi State
33 1/2” arms, over 10” hands, great frame allows him to blanket his man in press, means that receivers struggle to get a clean release against him. Great in zone when the play is in front of him. Understands his responsibility and diagnoses plays efficiently. Solid in the run game and is a willing tackler.
Is a bit grabby, will get called in the NFL. Doesn’t have the quick twitch of some of the similar sized corners above him. May struggle to contain shifty wideouts if they have a clean release. Not much versatility, will be an outside perimeter corner who will hope to become a starter in time.
15. Coby Bryant — Cincinnati
Bryant formed the most impressive cornerback duo in the country in 2021 paired with Ahmad Gardner opposite him, winning the Jim Thorpe award as a result as the nation’s best defensive back. He is a corner who has good footwork, mirrors his man well and displays an innate feel for the position.
He has a frame built for the position and has an aggressive mindset, willing to play through traffic and put his body on the line. He tackles will and is an effective blitzer when asked to do so.
Bryant does not have the quick twitch of some of those ranked above him though. He sometimes bites too easily, or breaks too early and his change of direction and hips movements can suffer as a result. This means that he can be caught out of position and agile receivers can get the better of him.