Considering talent in the ACC at wide receiver and for the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s no wonder teams were scoring wildly in 2019. While a running game can dominate the field, the passing game has received more attention over the last decade. This resulted in a year of high scoring showdowns. The conference finished with six teams in the top 40 highest scoring programs in the nation. Each of these programs averaged a solid 30 or more points per game. Fittingly, if teams are going to contend with such firepower, they need the defensive secondary to fight back.
The cornerback position is especially one of the most important positions on a roster to solidify. Otherwise, teams will throw at will. Fortunately, the 2020 NFL Draft class is loaded with defensive backs, and that’s no different for the ACC’s players. The following three defensive backs are some of the best in the nation.
Bryce Hall | Cornerback | Virginia | Senior
Bryce Hall was the number one player on my personal watch list for the conference. Listed at a prototypical 6’1” and 200 lbs, Hall boasts a long frame that’s ideal to match up with outside receivers. He showcases a smooth backpedal with excellent fluidity in his hips, allowing him to transition easily. He has the long speed to stay with speedsters outside, but the reaction timing to keep with the shiftier receivers.
As a tackler, Hall is exceptional. He’s complete, a wrap-up player that’s not afraid to get his hands dirty against the run game. Hall also proves this on passing downs. Hall effectively shuts down receivers from accumulating yards after the catch (YAC).
Probably the best trait he consistently demonstrates is ball tracking. Several times in my film study, Hall had his back to the pass but quickly read the receiver’s body to react, adjust, and turn in time to deflect the pass. His body control is exceptional, further indicating his top-notch athleticism. Hall has the length to lock down in press coverage concepts, but the football IQ to handle a variety of zone coverage shells.
Virginia CB Bryce Hall, top name to watch at CB in 2020.. 6’1″ 200lb w/long arms.. clocked 22.3mph when he tracked down Travis Homer.
PFF charted Hall w/23 forced incompletions in 2018 (led nation), including this one working against Kelvin Harmon (bottom screen) – pic.twitter.com/WsRyS8U29w
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) May 25, 2019
More than just his talent, however, is Hall’s ability to be a class act. Returning to UVA to finish business and polish his game further for the 2020 NFL Draft, Hall is also further concerned with being a leader. This is no doubt something teams will covet as the season nears next April.
He finished the season as the 47th ranked player in Pro Football Focus’s Top 101 Players of 2018. He also finished with the prestigious Crowley Award given to the rising UVA senior that best exemplifies leadership and integrity.
Possessing the frame, the ball skills, the completeness in his game, and the off-field personality that’s ideal for a first-round selection, Bryce Hall is my personal top cornerback of the prospective 2020 NFL Draft class. In addition, he’s a true senior that’s been a starting cornerback since his freshman season.
Hall, on paper and film, stands out significantly from the crowd. He’s a potential top-10 selection with a strong 2019 season.
AJ Terrell | Cornerback | Clemson | Junior
Similar to Hall, AJ Terrell received early action at Clemson, contributing on 237 snaps during his freshman season. While much less significant than a full-time starter, Terrell succeeded further last year, starting in all 15 games on the road to a National Championship. Folks may know Terrell as the cornerback that, very early in the championship showdown versus Alabama, intercepted a pass from Tua Tagovailoa and returned it for a touchdown. The game was less than two minutes in.
PICK-SIX! A.J. Terrell takes it 42 yards to the house for a 7-0 Clemson lead. pic.twitter.com/ChSs6N6r6x
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 8, 2019
The potential to be a top 2020 NFL Draft target is there. Terrell has shown flashes of being a stingy pass defender with aggressiveness to match. With ideal length at 6’2” and a solid frame at 190 lbs, Terrell is also the prototype defensive back. But most importantly, he has a nose for the football. After hoisting the championship trophy, Terrell finished the season leading Clemson with three interceptions, seven pass breakups, and an amazing 53 tackles. Considering the Tiger defense oozes with talent every year, it’s amazing he was able to be such an active defender with tackles.
His athleticism is very much apparent, and his mirroring is exceptional. I expect some highlight-reel plays like the one above on a more regular basis. But it’s about the consistency this coming year. Terrell needs to show he can command his side of the field and make plays. A former five-star recruit, Terrell has loads of potential that he’ll need to display on the field in 2019. With his former teammate that played cornerback across from him, Trayvon Mullen, now in the NFL, it’ll be Terrell’s job to become the shutdown defensive back that Clemson will need to repeat as champions.
One year of starting experience is important, and he’s logged appearances in 24 games now. But he’ll need to show that being the number one cover man on defense is a job he can hold down. This coming year is extremely important for his 2020 NFL Draft stock. Terrell definitely has first or second-round pick potential and his excellent sophomore year is probably not a fluke.
Essang Bassey | Cornerback | Wake Forest | Senior
Unlike the aforementioned corners, Essang Bassey is a smaller statured defender but with similar playmaking ability. Despite only being 5’10” and 190 lbs, Bassey’s body is built like a rock. His toughness and athleticism are evident by his logging nearly 1100 snaps each of the last two seasons. His nose for the football is obvious on film, with four career interceptions and 34 pass breakups.
Essentially, Bassey is a dog every down. He may not have the size the NFL idealizes but he plays larger than it. Even if he’s shifted inside to strictly play the nickel, he should excel. Bassey’s transitional fluidity is quite possibly the smoothest I’ve seen by a corner in a long time. He effortlessly can react on passes. He boasts the speed and ability to break on the ball, consistently on his man. It shows with his smart decisions deflecting passes.
Wake Forest CB Essang Bassey is a playmaker. He will likely be pushed inside in the NFL, but his transitional quickness, and ball hawking mentality allows him to play sticky coverage. 30 passes defensed in the past two seasons speaks for itself. I like him as a mid-round option. pic.twitter.com/1hVRkLH0By
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) December 22, 2018
What I love most about Bassey’s game is his motor. He’s extremely aware of the field and handles man responsibilities well enough to shut receivers down. His ball tracking is evident. His physicality at the catch point is adequate enough, especially with his habit of deflections. He is so natural in his movement skills that he’s rarely caught off balance or out of position on routes.
Wake Forest CB Essang Bassey is a playmaker man. Ball skills for days, fluid as heck, processes everything extremely well, and fleet footwork. I love this kid as a real sleeper in the CB class. #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/fUJKquEExK
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) December 20, 2018
Another valuable part of his game is that he’s a great contributor on special teams. Bassey has held down kickoff coverage well and been one of the first downfield during those plays rather consistently. That motivation to make a play will stand out to NFL teams, and the special teams’ experience will make his value and transition to the NFL a bit smoother. If anything, it will ensure he locks down a roster spot.
The ACC is restricted air space
This group of cornerbacks is the crème de la crème in the ACC. Each player has the ability to play exceptionally in 2019 and secure themselves a day one or two selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Hall, Terrell, and Bassey are all names that must be watched heading into next April.