May 25, 2024

College football’s 20 best cornerbacks of 2024

College football's 20 best cornerbacks of 2024

Kansas cornerback Mello Dotson celebrates after returning an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter against Oklahoma Saturday October 28, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They sit out on an island waiting for the action to come their way.

Cornerbacks are the most trusted defenders on defense, with the sole responsibility of covering a team’s top receiver. Some are aggressive ball hawks out of the secondary, with speed and athleticism to shut down an entire side of a field. These defenders excel in man-to-man and zone coverages.

Some are even deadlier in the nickel and have great instincts. It’s all about reading the quarterback’s eyes and making a play on the ball. Which is why these 20 players are poised for greatness this fall.

20. Caden Jenkins, Baylor: The former three-star prospect started seven games as a true freshman in 2023. Jenkins led the Bears in interceptions, and was their fourth-leading tackler. He began to perform at an All-Big 12 caliber level midway through the season. Jenkins tallied a season-high, seven tackles, including six solo against Texas. Not to mention he posted two solo stops, and picked off a pass in the victory at UCF. Jenkins also hauled in an interception against Texas Tech. The six-foot-one, 176-pounder recorded six stops at TCU. Jenkins made four solo tackles at Kansas State. The Texas native remained consistent, and also generated four stops against West Virginia.

19. Gentry Williams, Oklahoma: The former four-star prospect battled injuries throughout last season, and still finished with decent numbers. Williams started 10 games, and racked up 30 tackles. He played his hometown team Tulsa, and ended up with six stops, including five solo and an interception. Williams tallied two tackles, and picked off a pass against Iowa State. Not to mention he hauled in an interception in the victory over Texas. Williams posted a season-high, seven tackles, including five solo in the win over TCU. The six foot, 180-pounder generated four stops in Bedlam. Williams missed spring ball due to labrum surgery, but has four total interceptions over the past two years.

18. Kobe Singleton, Oregon State: The Florida native put together a stellar campaign at Liberty last season. Singleton racked up 40 tackles, broke up 12 passes and earned first-team, All-CUSA honors. He got off to a hot start with four tackles, and returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown in the opener against Bowling Green. Singleton made five stops, including four solo at Buffalo. The former three-star prospect tallied four tackles, including three solo, and picked off a pass at Jacksonville State. Singleton posted a season-high, seven stops, and hauled in an interception at Western Kentucky. He left a lasting impression with six solo tackles in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon.

17. Myles Purchase, Iowa State: The Denver native has started 24 games over the past two seasons. Purchase finished 13th in the FBS last year after he broke up 15 passes. He was also the Cyclones’ third-leading tackler, with 56 stops. Purchase got off to a hot start with a season-high, seven tackles, including six solo in the opening victory over Northern Iowa. The following week he tallied five stops against Iowa. The former three-star prospect posted six tackles apiece, including four solo against Ohio, TCU, Texas and Memphis. Purchase also generated four solo stops at Oklahoma. Beau Freyler, Jeremiah Cooper and Purchase in the secondary will make Iowa State elite against the pass.

16. Tacario Davis, Arizona: The Californian started 11 games last season, and proved himself as a consistent ball hawk. Davis broke up a jaw-dropping, 15 passes, which was eighth-best in the FBS. He also capped off his campaign with second-team, AP All-Pac-12 honors. Davis tallied three tackles apiece in victories over UTEP and Stanford. The former three-star prospect made four stops against Washington. Davis posted two tackles, and had an interception in the win at Washington State. Not to mention he recorded four solo tackles against Oregon State. Davis flirted with the transfer portal this off-season, but remained with the Wildcats through spring ball, so he should be ready for the Big 12.

15. Jacob Parrish, Kansas State: The former three-star prospect started 12 games last season, was the Wildcats’ sixth-leading tackler and led the team in interceptions. Parrish was a staple against the run, and a ball hawk out in coverage. He posted four stops, including three solo at Missouri. Parrish hauled in an interception against UCF. Not to mention he tallied six tackles apiece, including five solo in wins over Texas Tech and TCU. The Kansas native recorded six stops, including four solo and two interceptions at Texas. Parrish left a lasting impression with six tackles, an interception, plus he contributed on a sack in the bowl victory over NC State. Now he’s due for an All-Big 12 campaign.

14. Kam Alexander, Oregon: Although he had no stars behind his name out of high school, he made a lot of noise at UTSA last season. Alexander broke up 15 passes, which was fifth-best in the FBS. He also capped off his campaign with first-team, All-AAC honors. Alexander posted six solo stops in the opener at Houston. The Texas native also had six tackles at Temple. Alexander hauled in an interception against UAB. Not to mention he made five solo stops in the victory at North Texas. Alexander left a lasting impression after he picked off a pass in the bowl win over Marshall. Now he’ll be playing alongside Jabbar Muhammad at Oregon, and they’ll form the best cornerback tandem in the Big Ten.

13. Cameron Oliver, UNLV: The Texas native has two years worth of starting experience, and was the Rebels’ seventh-leading tackler in 2023. Oliver tied for first on UNLV with five interceptions, and capped off his campaign with second-team, All-MWC honors. He made nine solo tackles at Michigan. Oliver tallied seven tackles, including six solo and a sack against Vanderbilt. The former three-star prospect posted two stops, and hauled in an interception at UTEP. Oliver had a season-high, 12 tackles, including seven solo, a sack and an interception at Fresno State. Not to mention he picked off a pass against Wyoming. Oliver even generated two interceptions in the bowl game against Kansas.

12. Isaiah Hamilton, Houston: The hometown kid started all 12 games, led the Cougars in interceptions, and was their fourth-leading tackler last season. Hamilton tallied four tackles, including three solo and an interception at Rice. He also had three solo stops, to go along with an interception in the victory over Sam Houston. Not to mention he picked off a pass in the win over West Virginia. Hamilton made four solo tackles against Texas, and five against Baylor. The six-foot-one, 180-pounder generated six stops, and returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. Hamilton left a lasting impression with a season-high, nine tackles, including seven solo at UCF.

11. Jakob Robinson, BYU: The former three-star prospect has made 50-plus stops in each of the past two seasons. Robinson recorded a jaw-dropping, seven interceptions during that span. He was the Cougars’ fourth-leading tackler in 2023. Robinson recorded five tackles, and picked off two passes against Sam Houston. His 10 stops in the victory at Arkansas were a season-high. Robinson also had 10 tackles, and an interception against Texas Tech. Not to mention he tallied six stops, and returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati. Robinson posted five solo tackles at Texas, and four apiece at TCU and Oklahoma State. He’s bound to be an All-Big 12 performer this fall.

10. Quincy Riley, Louisville: The former three-star prospect was the Cardinals’ sixth-leading tackler, with 49 stops last season. Riley remained consistent throughout the year, and broke up a team-best, 12 passes. He tallied three solo tackles apiece against Georgia Tech and Boston College. Riley posted a season-high, seven stops, including five solo at Indiana. Not to mention he recorded five tackles, and an interception in the victory at NC State. Riley generated four tackles, and picked off a pass in the win over Notre Dame. The South Carolina native had six stops at Miami. Riley left a lasting impression with four solo tackles, and hauled in an interception in the Holiday Bowl against USC.

9. Denzel Burke, Ohio State: The former four-star prospect is a two-time, All-Big Ten performer, who has 93 tackles over the past three seasons. Burke also broke up 26 passes during that span, including nine in 2023. Everyone knows what Burke is capable of, with his ability to blanket receivers, so opposing quarterbacks try to avoid throwing his direction. He hauled in an interception against Youngstown State. Burke posted three tackles apiece against Purdue, Maryland and Minnesota. The Phoenix native recorded a season-high, five total tackles at Michigan, and five solo against Missouri. Burke and Caleb Downs will make Ohio State’s secondary one of the most dangerous in the nation.

8. Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame: The 20-year old has a jaw-dropping, nine interceptions over the past two seasons, including three in 2023. Morrison started 11 games last year, and broke up 10 passes. He tallied three solo tackles, and an interception at NC State. Morrison posted five solo stops at Louisville. The Phoenix native recorded four tackles, including three solo, and an interception in the victory over USC. Morrison generated four tackles, including three solo at Clemson. The six-foot, 186-pounder left a lasting impression after he picked off a pass in the Sun Bowl win over Oregon State. Morrison alongside Xavier Watts again will make Notre Dame’s secondary one of the nation’s elite.

7. Cobee Bryant, Kansas: The Alabama native is one of the best ball hawks in the country, with seven interceptions over the past two seasons. Bryant also capped off last year with first-team, All-Big 12 honors for his heroics. He posted three solo stops, and an interception in the victory over BYU. Bryant tallied five solo tackles at Texas. His seven solo tackles against UCF were a season-high. Not to mention he recorded three stops, and picked off a pass at Cincinnati. Bryant left a lasting impression with two solo tackles, and an interception in the bowl win over UNLV. The former three-star prospect will be playing alongside Mello Dotson again, and they form the best cornerback duo in the FBS.

6. Ricardo Hallman, Wisconsin: The Miami native tied for first in the FBS in interceptions last year. Hallman picked off a jaw-dropping, seven passes, which were the most in a single-season by a Badger since 2007. He also capped off the year with third-team, AP All-America honors. Hallman tallied seven tackles, including four solo and an interception against Georgia Southern. The former four-star prospect recorded three stops, and picked off two passes in the victory at Purdue. Not to mention he generated two solo tackles, and returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown in the win over Rutgers. Hallman also hauled in an interception against Ohio State and Minnesota.

5. Jabbar Muhammad, Oregon: The Texas native is a very versatile defender, who broke up 16 passes at Washington last season, which was seventh-best in the country. Muhammad tied for first on the Huskies in intercerceptions, and third in tackles for loss. Not to mention he capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. Muhammad posted four solo tackles, and a sack against Tulsa. He tallied seven stops, including six solo against Arizona State. The former three-star prospect recorded a season-high, eight tackles, including seven solo, and put the quarterback to the turf at Stanford. Muhammad even picked off a season-high, two passes at Oregon State.

4. Mello Dotson, Kansas: The former three-star prospect had a breakout campaign in 2023, and proved he was one of the best ball hawks in the Big 12. Dotson was the Jayhawks’ seventh-leading tackler, who broke up 11 passes, which tied for 13th in the FBS. He tallied three tackles, and an interception against Illinois. Dotson posted seven stops at Oklahoma State, and six solo at Texas. The Florida native recorded eight solo tackles, and a sack against Texas Tech. Dotson returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the victory over Oklahoma. Not to mention he returned an interception 50 yards to the house in the win at Iowa State. Dotson also had an interception against Kansas State.

3. Maxwell Hairston, Kentucky: The Michigan native started all 13 games, and was the Wildcats’ third-leading tackler last season. Hairston was very productive, and capped off his campaign with second-team, All-SEC honors. He got off to a hot start with eight tackles, including seven solo in the opener against Ball State. Hairston tallied an interception against Eastern Kentucky. The six-foot-one, 181-pounder had two interceptions, including one he returned 54 yards for a touchdown at Vanderbilt. His 10 tackles in the victory over Florida were a season-high. Hairston recorded eight solo stops, and an interception at Georgia. Not to mention he picked off a pass against Missouri.

2. Will Johnson, Michigan: The former five-star prospect has the speed and instincts to blanket an entire side of a field. Will Johnson has hauled in seven interceptions over the past two seasons, including four in 2023. He helped the undefeated Wolverines win a National Championship, and earned first-team, All-Big Ten honors. Johnson posted five solo tackles at Michigan State. The 21-year old returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown at Minnesota. Johnson also picked off a pass against Purdue. The Detroit native had two solo tackles, and an interception in the win over Ohio State. Johnson left a lasting impression with four stops, and an interception in the victory over Washington.

1. Travis Hunter, Colorado: The former five-star prospect is arguably the best athlete in the sport, who excels on both sides of the ball. Hunter is very versatile, productive and makes tough plays look easy. He posted 30 tackles, and three interceptions in nine games last season. Hunter also earned first-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The Georgia native got off to a hot start after he generated three tackles, and an interception in the opening victory at TCU. Hunter tallied five solo stops against Stanford, and four in the win over Nebraska. The six-foot-one, 185-pounder had a season-high, six tackles, including five solo against Arizona. Hunter recorded four stops, and picked off  two passes at UCLA.

Honorable Mention

Tommi Hill, Nebraska: The former four-star prospect led the Huskers in interception last season. Hill posted a season-high, six tackles against Maryland. The Florida native picked off a pass in the victory over Northwestern. Hill left a lasting impression with three tackles, and an interception against Iowa.

Dorian Strong, Virginia Tech: The Maryland native started all 13 games last season, and led the Hokies in interceptions. Strong even earned third-team, All-ACC honors for his heroics. He hauled in two interceptions against Boston College. His five tackles against Florida State were a season-high.

Terrance Brooks, Transfer Portal: The six-foot, 209-pounder has 19 starts under his belt, including 13 last season at Texas. Brooks tied for first on the Longhorns in interceptions. He picked off a pass against BYU, Texas Tech and TCU. His four solo stops against Oklahoma were a season-high.