December 8, 2022

College Football’s 20 best cornerbacks of 2021

College Football's 20 best cornerbacks of 2021

Indiana's Tiawan Mullen after a 38-31 victory over Nebraska, Saturday October 26, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Coaches put them out on an island because they are the most trusted defenders on the field.

Corners are usually the fastest players on the team and can blanket an entire side of a field. It’s all about reading the quarterback’s eyes and making a play on the ball. The elite ballhawks excel in both zone and man-to-man coverage. There’s nothing like taking away an opposing team’s top receiver and force them to alter their game plan.

These 20 defenders displayed what it takes to be a successful corner in big time College football last season and they’ll be out to get their hands on more balls in 2021.

20. Karon Prunty, N/A: The Virginia native started all nine games as a true freshman last season and broke up 10 passes along the way. Prunty has great range, standing six-foot-one, and weighing 185 pounds. He tallied four solo tackles in the opener against Coastal Carolina. Prunty recorded a career-high, six total tackles against Iowa State. The following week he broke up three passes against Oklahoma. The former three-star prospect played his best game of 2020 in the finale at Texas Tech, when he generated four solo tackles and picked off a pass. Although Prunty is currently in the transfer portal, there’s no denying he was one of the Big 12’s most underrated corners.

19. Chris Steele, USC: He showed promise as a true sophomore for the Trojans last season. Steele tallied 26 tackles and broke up four passes in six games. The California native generated five tackles and picked off a pass in the win at Utah. He followed up that performance with four solo tackles against Washington State. Steele racked up 10 total stops, including six solo and broke up two passes in the win over rival UCLA. The six-foot-one, 190-pounder finished 2020 with second-team All-Pac-12 honors. He’ll have more responsibility this fall, with fellow corner Olaijah Griffin off to the NFL. Steele and Isaac Taylor-Stuart, gives USC a solid duo at corner, plus both were former five-star recruits.

18. Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska: The former three-star prospect is one of the most physical corners in the Big Ten. Standing six-foot and weighing 205 pounds, Taylor-Britt is built more like a safety and he definitely hits like one. He was even ejected for targeting against Minnesota. However, Taylor-Britt is the best playmaker out of the Blackshirts, who also returns kicks and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season. The Alabama native generated five tackles, including three solo in the opener at Ohio State. Taylor-Britt had four solo tackles and an interception in the home win over Penn State. He broke up two passes against Purdue and hauled in an interception in the finale win at Rutgers.

17. Mykael Wright, Oregon: As a true sophomore last season he tallied 25 tackles and broke up nine passes in seven games. Wright also returned kickoffs and finished 2020 with first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He generated four solo tackles and broke up two passes in the opening win over Stanford. The California native racked up seven total tackles, including five solo and broke up a pass at California. He followed up that performance with three solo tackles and three pass breakups in the victory over USC in the Pac-12 Championship. The former four-star prospect broke up at least one pass in six of Oregon’s seven games. The Ducks will have one of the best secondaries in the league this fall.

16. Tre Avery, Rutgers: The former Ohio State recruit broke up a pass in seven of the Scarlet Knights’ first eight games last season. Avery tallied seven tackles, including one for loss and an interception in the opening win over Michigan State. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder recorded seven tackles against Michigan. Avery had four solo tackles apiece against Purdue and Nebraska. The Baltimore native finished 2020 with 37 total stops and broke up seven passes. Avery also earned third-team All-Big Ten honors, which is not too shabby for a former three-star prospect. With Greg Schiano on the sidelines in year two, expect Rutgers to continue improving, especially in the secondary.

15. Andrew Booth, Clemson: The former five-star prospect proved his value to the Tigers’ defense last season and finished with second-team All-ACC honors. Booth hauled in an interception and broke up two passes against Virginia. The Georgia native tallied seven total tackles in the win at Georgia Tech. In back-to-back games against Syracuse and Boston College Booth had five tackles apiece. He recorded his second and last interception of the season against Pittsburgh. Clemson’s defense lost some studs from last year, including linebacker Mike Jones and fellow corner Derion Kendrick. However, Booth is the real deal and will shore up any voids left by the previous regime.

14. Hudson Clark, Arkansas: He had no stars next to his name out of high school and began his collegiate career as a walk-on. Clark didn’t let his scholarship go to waste after he tallied 47 tackles and picked off three passes. The Dallas naive generated seven solo tackles at Auburn. Clark followed up that performance with three interceptions in the win over Ole Miss. The next game Clark recorded nine total tackles against Texas A&M. The six-foot-two, 176-pounder was a tackling machine at Missouri and made 10 stops. The Razorbacks defense should be vastly improved this fall and Clark will be a ballhawk out of the secondary.

13. JaQuan McMillan, East Carolina: The North Carolina native finished last season with second-team All-AAC honors. McMillan is dynamic and tallied 33 tackles and three interceptions. He had five solo tackles in the opener against Central Florida. McMillan followed up that performance with an additional five solo stops and an interception at Georgia State.The 5-foot-10, 161-pounder also picked off a pass against Tulane. McMillan saved his best efforts for last against SMU, when he racked up five solo tackles, to go along with two interceptions. He has been one of the most productive corners in the FBS over the past two seasons, with 71 tackles and seven interceptions during that span.

12. Kei’Trel Clark, Louisville: The former two-star prospect was a one-time Liberty recruit. Last season Clark generated 36 tackles and broke up 10 passes in 10 games. He broke up at least two passes in four different conference clashes. The Virginia native had five solo tackles at Pittsburgh and four on the road at Florida State. Clark’s only interception of the year came in the win over Syracuse. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder followed up that performance with nine total tackles, including six solo, against Boston College. Clark finished 2020 with second-team All-ACC honors and Louisville ranked 17th in the FBS in passing yards allowed.

11. Coby Bryant, Cincinnati: He’s a big reason why the Bearcats’ defense only allowed seven passing touchdowns last season. Bryant picked off two passes and had three solo tackles in the win over South Florida. The Ohio native generated six solo stops at SMU. Bryant also had four solo tackles apiece against Memphis and Tulsa. The six-foot-one, 198-pounder snagged his third interception against East Carolina. Bryant left a lasting impression with three solo tackles and his fourth pick in the Peach Bowl loss to Georgia. The former three-star prospect earned first-team All-AAC and Bryant’s return gives Cincinnati’s secondary instant credibility.

10. D’Jordan Strong, Coastal Carolina: The Mississippi native recorded 30 tackles, broke up seven passes and snagged five interceptions last season. Strong started off on fire, with four solo tackles, including one for loss and forced a fumble in the win over Kansas. He recorded his first interception of the year against Arkansas State. The former junior college transfer picked off two passes apiece in victories over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Strong’s production speaks volumes, considering he’s a former two-star recruit. Not to mention he was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year and earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors.

9. Eli Ricks, LSU: Last season he delivered on all the hype that he arrived with as a five-star recruit. Ricks picked off a pass in each of LSU’s first two games against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. The California native also had an interception in victories over South Carolina and Florida. He tallied four total tackles, including three solo, and broke up two passes against Alabama. The six-foot-two, 196-pounder ended his true freshman campaign with Freshman All-SEC and third-team AP All-America honors. The Bayou Bengals will have arguably the most talented secondary in the SEC this fall, but will need to improve after finishing dead last in the FBS in passing yards allowed.

8. Roger McCreary, Auburn: He played in 10 games last season and finished with 45 tackles, plus three interceptions. McCreary tallied three solo tackles, forced a fumble and picked off a pass in the opening win over Kentucky. In back-to-back games against Arkansas and South Carolina he racked up 10 solo stops. The following week the Alabama native recorded five total tackles, including two for loss and an interception in the win at Ole Miss. McCreary held his own against the Alabama receivers and generated five solo tackles, including one from behind the line of scrimmage. In his last matchup McCreary snagged an interception and broke up two passes in the victory at Mississippi State.

7. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU: Despite the loss of two star players to the NFL, the Horned Frogs will boast one of the best secondaries in the Big 12 this fall. Hodges-Tomlinson, who’s the nephew of TCU legend LaDainian, finished last season with first-team All-Big 12 and second-team AP All-America honors. He broke up three passes apiece against Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. The former three-star prospect racked up six solo tackles, including three solo in the win over Oklahoma State. He also had three solo tackles against Oklahoma. With knowing what he’s capable of, it’ll be interesting to see if opposing Big 12 quarterbacks will take many opportunities at throwing to his side of the field.

6. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU: The former five-star prospect is arguably one of the best cover corners in the SEC. Stingley didn’t put up the numbers he had as a true freshman in 2019, but didn’t suffer a sophomore slump. Opposing Offensive Coordinators avoided his side of the field because he can blanket 50 yards like it’s nothing. The hometown kid can also return kicks. Stingley tallied six total tackles, including five solo in the road win at Vanderbilt. He also broke up three passes against Texas a&M. Not to mention the six-foot-one, 195-pounder had four solo tackles apiece against Missouri and Auburn. With players like Stingley and Ricks back in the Bayou Bengals’ secondary, it’s a reason their dubbed ‘DBU’.

5. Taiwan Mullen, Indiana: The Florida native is a versatile corner, who excels against the run and in pass coverage. Mullen made his presence felt with eight total tackles in the opening win over Penn State. He followed up that performance with seven stops, including five solo and 2.5 sacks in the victory at Rutgers. The former four-star prospect picked off two passes against rival Michigan State. He had seven total tackles, including four solo against Ohio State. The 5-foot-10, 176-pounder snagged an interception the following week against Maryland. Mullen made clutch plays at Wisconsin, with three solo tackles, a forced fumble and a sack. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.

4. Kaiir Elam, Florida: As a true sophomore last season he tallied 39 tackles, broke up 11 passes and hauled in two interceptions. Elam racked up 13 solo tackles and had six pass breakups through the Gators’ first three games. Not to mention he picked off a pass in wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt. The former four-star prospect generated six total tackles, including five solo against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Elam also recovered a fumble in the bowl loss to Oklahoma. The Florida native ended 2020 with first-team All-SEC honors. With Elam back in the lineup again this fall, the Gators will keep their amazing legacy of defensive backs on the gridiron.

3. Derrick Canteen, Georgia Southern: The former two-star prospect tied for first in the FBS, with six interceptions last season. Canteen tallied 34 solo tackles and broke up 10 passes in 13 games. The Georgia native had an interception against Massachusetts and Coastal Carolina. Not to mention Canteen generated four solo tackles and picked off two passes in the win over Troy. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder also had an interception against Army and bowl win over Louisiana Tech. Canteen finished 2020 with first-team All-Sun Belt honors and he’ll be one of the best returning players out the Group of Five this upcoming season.

2. Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State: The former four-star prospect was the Bulldogs top defensive recruit last season. Forbes immediately made an impact with an interception in the opening win over LSU. Forbes also picked off a pass and had four tackles against Texas A&M. He tallied six total stops, including five solo at Alabama. The Mississippi native recorded a season-high, eight total tackles against Auburn. Forbes’ best performance of the season came against Missouri on Senior Day. The six-foot, 180-pounder generated seven total tackles, broke up two passes and snagged two interceptions in the blowout victory. He also took an interception 90 yards to the house in the bowl victory over Tulsa. For his success on the field, Forbes earned Freshman All-SEC honors.

1. Malachi Moore, Alabama: He’s one of the most dynamic players on the Crimson Tides’ defense and makes clutch plays from his STAR position. As a true freshman Moore started the first 11 games of Alabama’s National Championship season and earned second-team All-SEC. The former four-star prospect tallied six total tackles, including four solo and an interception against Texas A&M. The following week Moore had seven total tackles at Ole Miss. The six-foot, 182-pounder picked off a pass against Georgia and Auburn. Moore recorded five solo stops at LSU. The Alabama native racked up eight total tackles and broke up two passes against Mississippi State. He’ll likely be an early favorite for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Honorable Mention

Chase Lucas, Arizona State: He generated 15 tackles and broke up five passes in four games and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors for the Sun Devils last season.

Caesar Williams, Wisconsin: Last season the Texas native tallied 13 tackles in seven games and broke up two passes on his way to earning third-team All-Big Ten.

C.J. Caesar, TCU: The former three-star prospect broke up four passes and snagged three interceptions, including two in the bowl win over Louisiana Tech in 2020.

Joey Porter, Penn State: He broke up two passes and generated a sack last season for the Nittany Lions and earned second-team All Big Ten honors.

Brendan Radley-Hiles, Washington: The one-time Nebraska commit started 32 games over the past three seasons with Oklahoma and racked up 115 tackles and three interceptions during that span. He’ll be a great addition to the Huskies.

Brandon Crossley, SMU: The Dallas native recorded 21 tackles, intercepted four passes and broke up five more for the Mustangs last season.

Jay Ward, LSU: The Georgia native racked up 29 tackles, blocked a kick, intercepted three passes and broke up six more for the Bayou Bengals last season.

Jarron Morris, Texas State: Last season he tied for first on the team with 69 total tackles, to go along with four interceptions and he broke up 11 passes.

Trent McDuffie, Washington: In just four games last season he recorded 14 tackles, forced a fumble, picked off a pass and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors for the Huskies.