June 16, 2024
College Football's 20 best cornerbacks of 2023

Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean prepares to line up before a play during the first quarter of the Music City Bowl against Kentucky Saturday December 31, 2022 at Nissan Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Although they sit out on an island and wait for the for the action to come their way, corners are the most trusted defenders on the field.

Having the sole responsibility of covering a team’s top receiver is a difficult task. However, these corners made it look easy. They excel in both man-to-man, and zone coverage. Some are even staples against the run.

Speed and athleticism is vital, but being able to read a quarterback’s eyes, and make a play on the ball, is what coaches love. It’s what separates the elite ballhawks from the rest, and these 20 defenders proved they have what it takes to be successful.

20. Keni-H Lovely, Western Michigan: The Florida native proved he was one of the best corners in the MAC last season. Lovely racked up 48 tackles, picked off four passes, and earned third-team, All-MAC honors. He tallied four tackles and had an interception against Michigan State. The former three-star prospect recorded six tackles apiece against New Hampshire and Ohio. Lovely generated a season-high, seven stops, a sack and forced and recovered a fumble at Bowling Green. The 5-foot-10, 176-pounder caught fire down the stretch too. Lovely picked off a pass in each of the Broncos’ final three games, and returned one 36 yards to house in the season-finale victory over Toledo.

19. Quincy Riley, Louisville: The South Carolina native delivered a promising campaign, and led the Cardinals in interceptions last season. Riley often came through when his number was called. He tallied two solo stops and a sack against South Florida. Riley also generated two solo tackles apiece against Syracuse, Florida State and Cincinnati. Not to mention he recorded four solo tackles each in victories over Virginia and Pittsburgh. The former three-star prospect picked off two passes, and returned one 90 yards for a touchdown in the win over Wake Forest. Riley had three stops and picked off a pass against NC State. Now the talented corner is poised for an All-ACC caliber season this fall.

18. Justin Walley, Minnesota: The former three-star prospect was one of the most active members in the Golden Gophers’ secondary last season. Walley recorded three solo tackles, and picked off a pass in the victory at Michigan State. He generated six tackles apiece against Purdue and Iowa. The Mississippi native racked up a season-high, 13 stops, including nine solo at Illinois. Walley tallied four solo tackles, and an interception in the win at Wisconsin. Not to mention he also picked off a pass at Penn State. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder left a lasting impression with six stops, including four solo in the bowl win over Syracuse. Walley and Tyler Nubin will be a deadly combo in the secondary.

17. T.J. Tampa, Iowa State: The Florida native led the Cyclones in tackles for loss, and broke up nine passes last season. Tampa capped off the year with second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He tallied four tackles, including three solo against Texas. Tampa also registered four stops, including three solo against West Virginia. Not to mention he racked up seven solo tackles, including one for loss, and broke up four passes against Oklahoma. The former three-star prospect recorded a season-high, eight stops, including five solo against Baylor. Tampa picked off a pass at Oklahoma State. With Anthony Johnson off to the NFL, look for Tampa to become the general of the Cyclones’ secondary.

16. Cobee Bryant, Kansas: The Alabama native was a staple in the Jayhawks’ secondary, and broke up nine passes last season. Bryant tallied four tackles, including three solo, and returned an interception 86 yards to the house in the victory at West Virginia. He generated six stops, including five solo, and picked off a pass against Iowa State. Not to mention Bryant recorded six tackles, including four solo, and picked off another pass in the victory over Oklahoma State. The six-foot, 175-pounder registered three solo tackles apiece against Houston, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Bryant left a lasting impression with four tackles, including three solo in the Liberty Bowl against Arkansas.

15. Jarius Monroe, Tulane: The former three-star prospect helped the Green Wave finish 37th in the FBS against the pass last season. Monroe also capped off the year with first-team, All-AAC honors. He picked off a pass in the season-opener against Massachusetts. Monroe tallied six tackles, including four solo in the win over East Carolina. The Louisiana native generated six stops, including five solo, and an interception against Memphis. Monroe recorded a season-high, nine tackles, including five solo at Tulsa. The six-foot-one, 200-pounder had a memorable performance in the Cotton Bowl victory over USC, with  seven stops, including five solo, and an interception.

14. Mike Sainristil, Michigan: The former three-star prospect finished fourth on the team in tackles last year. Sainristil tallied three tackles, including one for loss and put the quarterback to the turf against Colorado State. He generated five stops apiece against Nebraska and Illinois. The Massachusetts native racked up a season-high, eight tackles, including six solo and a sack in the victory over Maryland. Sainristil recorded seven stops, including six solo, and broke up two passes in the victory at Ohio State. The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder registered seven tackles, and picked off a pass against TCU. With DJ Turner off to the NFL, Sainristil will be the next stud to shine in the secondary.

13. Cameron Lockridge, Fresno State: The Florida native established himself as a true ballhawk last season. Lockridge generated five tackles, including four solo at USC. He also registered five stops at UNLV. Lockridge returned an interception 31 yards to the house in the victory over Hawaii. The six-foot, 183-pounder tallied four stops and picked off a pass against San Diego State. Lockridge recorded four additional tackles and an interception against Wyoming. Not to mention he had a season-high, two interceptions in the Mountain West Championship Game. The former two-star prospect tallied two solo tackles, and put the quarterback to the turf in the bowl win over Washington State.

12. Trikweze Bridges, Oregon: The Atlanta native finished second on the Ducks in interceptions, and passes defended in 2022. Bridges tallied six tackles in the season-opener against Georgia. The following week he hauled in an interception against Eastern Washington. Bridges recorded five stops, including three solo and picked off a pass against Washington State. Not to mention he had an interception against California. Bridges had a season-high, seven tackles, including three solo against Utah. The former four-star prospect registered three tackles apiece in victories over Arizona and UCLA. Bridges delivered a stellar outing against Oregon State, with five tackles and an interception.

11. Kalen King, Penn State: The former four-star prospect broke up a jaw-dropping, 18 passes last season. King always blanketed receivers, and earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors. He generated four tackles, forced and recovered a fumble, and broke up four passes against Central Michigan. King hauled in an interception against Indiana, and broke up three passes against Northwestern. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder tallied four stops, including one for loss against Ohio State. King registered four solo tackles, picked off a pass, and broke up five others against Michigan State. Not to mention King left a lasting impression with three stops and an interception in the Rose Bowl victory over Utah.

10. Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo: The former three-star prospect is a true ball hawk, who broke up a jaw-dropping, 20 passes last season. Mitchell also capped off his phenomenal campaign with first-team, All-MAC honors. He tallied six tackles, including one for loss at San Diego State. The Florida native had a season-high, seven stops, including five solo and one for loss in the victory over Kent State. Not to mention Mitchell tallied six tackles and broke up five passes against Buffalo. The six-foot, 200-pounder raised several eyebrows in the win at Northern Illinois, with four interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. Mitchell also picked off a pass against Western Michigan.

9. Josh Newton, TCU: The Louisiana native broke up 12 passes, which ranked second on the Horned Frogs last season. Newton finished his memorable campaign with first-team, All-Big 12 honors. He tallied two solo tackles, including one for loss and hauled in an interception against SMU. The six-foot, 195-pounder also picked off a pass against Tarleton State. Newton recorded four stops, including three solo, and broke up three passes against Texas Tech. Not to mention he generated four tackles, broke up two passes and returned an interception 57 yards to the house against Iowa State. With Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson off to the NFL, Newton will hold down TCU’s secondary this fall.

8. Micah Abraham, Marshall: The former three-star prospect is arguably the best returning cover corner out the Group of Five. Abraham is coming off a magnificent season, in which he hauled in a jaw-dropping, six interceptions. He also broke up 10 passes and earned first-team, All-Sun Belt honors. The Florida native recorded three tackles, and picked off a pass in the victory at Notre Dame. Abraham also generated an interception at Troy, and stockpiled six stops apiece against Coastal Carolina and Louisiana. Not to mention registered four tackles, and picked off a pass at James Madison. Abraham posted an interception against Appalachian State and the bowl win over Connecticut.

7. Storm Duck, Penn State: The former three-star prospect broke up nine passes last season, which led North Carolina. Duck also led the Tar Heels in interceptions, and capped off his stellar campaign with second-team, All-ACC honors. He recorded four solo tackles, and picked off a pass in the opener against Florida A&M. Duck generated six stops apiece against Georgia State and Pittsburgh. Not to mention he racked up a season-high eight stops, and broke up two passes in the victory at Wake Forest. Duck tallied four stops, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble against Georgia Tech. The South Carolina native broke up two passes and hauled in an interception in the win at Virginia.

6. Marcellus Dial, South Carolina: The former Juco has blossomed into one of the best corners in the almighty SEC. Last season Dial broke up a jaw-dropping, 12 passes. He even tied for 24th in the FBS in passes defended per game. The South Carolina native generated three solo tackles, and picked off a pass against Georgia State. Dial recorded five stops, including four solo against Georgia. His nine tackles, including six solo in the victory over Tennessee were a season-high. Dial had two stops and hauled in an interception in the win over Clemson. Not to mention Dial picked off a pass against South Carolina State, and delivered three solo stops against Notre Dame.

5. Aydan White, NC State: The former three-star prospect is coming off a magnificent campaign with the Wolfpack. White racked up 46 tackles and broke up nine passes, which led the team. Not to mention he capped off the year with first-team, All-ACC honors. White generated a season-high, six tackles, including four solo, and picked off a pass at Syracuse. He also had four solo stops and hauled in an interception in the victory over Wake Forest. The North Carolina native put the quarterback to the turf, and picked off two passes, including one he returned 84 yards for a score in the win over Texas Tech. White left a lasting impression with five tackles in the bowl game against Maryland.

4. Dwight McGlothern, Arkansas: The Houston native led the Razorbacks in interceptions, and ranked second on the team in passes defended last season. McClothern also earned second-team, All-SEC honors for his heroics. Over the first two games against Cincinnati and South Carolina, McGlothern combined for eight tackles, including six solo, and picked off two passes. He hauled in an interception against Alabama and stockpiled seven solo stops against Auburn. The former four-star prospect recorded eight tackles, forced and recovered a fumble against Ole Miss. Not to mention McClothern posted a season-high, 10 tackles, including six solo, and picked off a pass in the bowl win over Kansas.

3. Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame: The Phoenix native made an immediate impact as a true freshman, and established himself as a lockdown corner in 2022. Not only did Morrison lead the Fighting Irish with six interceptions, but he also broke up four passes. He posted three tackles apiece against Ohio State, Syracuse, Navy and USC. Morrison tallied a season-high, seven stops, and two interceptions, including one he returned 96 yards for a touchdown in the victory over Clemson. Not to mention he picked off a jaw-dropping, three passes against Boston College. The former four-star prospect left a lasting impression with three tackles, and an interception in the bowl win over South Carolina.

2. Cooper DeJean, Iowa: He’s one of the most productive corners in the country. DeJean was a natural at returning punts, posted 75 tackles, and capped off the 2022 season with first-team, All-Big Ten honors. The former four-star prospect recorded seven tackles, including five solo, and returned an interception 45 yards to the house in the road victory over Rutgers. DeJean also generated seven stops apiece against Michigan and Minnesota. He had a season-high, 11 tackles, and an interception against Iowa State. Not to mention he picked off a pass against Wisconsin. DeJean was the MVP of the Music City Bowl, after he posted six solo tackles and returned an interception 14 yards for a score.

1. Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama: The former five-star prospect lived up to his billing last season. Not only does McKinstry have the speed and instincts to blanket an entire side of a field, but he’s also one of the best return specialists in the country. He broke up a jaw-dropping, 15 passes, which ranked first on the team. Not to mention McKinstry defended 1.2 pasess per game, which was No. 2 in the SEC, and 17th in the FBS. The Alabama tallied seven tackles, including one for loss and a sack against Texas. McKinstry hauled in an interception against Austin Peay, and broke up four passes against Mississippi State. The lockdown corner even earned third-team, AP All-America honors.

Honorable Mention

Will Johnson, Michigan: The former five-star prospect had a promising campaign as a true freshman last season. Johnson tallied eight tackles, including seven solo against Ohio State. The Detroit native picked off two passes in the Big Ten Championship Game. Johnson recorded 14 solo tackles over the Wolverines’ final four games.