With five cornerbacks selected in the first round of this year’s draft, it’s difficult to imagine that next year could live up to those high standards. However, the coming crop of cornerbacks is shaping up to be a deep group of talented playmakers. Although it’s too early to make predictions about the number of first-rounders in the class, it is possible that they at least match this year’s total. So, who are the top cornerbacks that make up this 2022 NFL Draft class?
Top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft | 1-5
These are my very early rankings of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class. The rankings are compiled from observations made while watching players in the 2021 class and early adventures into 2022 summer scouting. As such, they’ll be subject to change throughout the summer and 2021 college football season.
1) Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Few true freshmen make the sort of immediate impact that Derek Stingley Jr. made for LSU in 2019. While the Tigers’ offense was setting fire to the SEC, their young cornerback was establishing himself as an equally hot defensive playmaker. The former five-star high school recruit racked up an eye-watering 15 pass deflections and 6 interceptions. Two of those came against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, proof of his ability to make big plays in big games.
Although expectations were high last year, a combination of injuries and the impact of the global situation limited his opportunity to provide his excellence. With such issues behind him, Stingley will have the chance to prove once again that there isn’t a better cornerback in college football than him.
With the superlatives about production out of the way, what makes him one of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft? Firstly, at 6’1″ and 195 pounds, Stingley has good size at the position. More than just size, however, he also possesses good length that helps him dominate both at the catch point but also as a disruptor at the line of scrimmage. An exceptional athlete, Stingley has speed and fluidity in his favor. Additionally, he possesses the ball skills that allow him to be such a playmaking threat on every pass.
2) Kaiir Elam, Florida
A four-star recruit out of The Benjamin School, Kaiir Elam has already outplayed his recruiting profile in his short college career at Florida. Although he didn’t make the same dynamic impact as a freshman as Stingley above him, he snagged an interception in his debut. As if to prove that his playmaking skills were no fluke, he followed that up with a second career interception the following game against Kentucky.
Elam emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation during his first season as the full-time starter for Florida. As the Gators chomped their way to the SEC Championship Game, Elam secured another 2 interceptions while being responsible for 11 pass deflections. He also flashed ability as a tackler, logging 39 tackles, including a tackle for loss.
Despite receiving far less acclaim than Stingley, the two are closer in terms of athletic ability than you might imagine. At 6’2″ and 196 pounds, Elam is slightly bigger than the LSU corner but doesn’t give anything away in terms of fluidity of movement. He demonstrates impressive explosion, while his ability to make a play on the ball is as good as any of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
3) Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
He may only be credited with four starts in 24 appearances, but Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. has filled those appearances with eye-catching plays. In fact, he has as many career interceptions as he does starts, with 2 interceptions in both of his seasons with the Tigers.
Booth is perhaps best known for his one-handed end-zone interception against Virginia last season. However, he displayed his dynamic playmaking ability with an equally insane interception against Pittsburgh and a magnificent pass breakup against Miami. During the Clemson spring game, he gave the college football world another taste of what to expect this coming season.
Due to his lack of comparative experience compared to the rest of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, his ranking here is somewhat of a projection. He still has areas of his game to improve, particularly with how he reads the game.
Nevertheless, at 6’0″ and 195 pounds, Booth has NFL size, excellent length, and hands reminiscent of a wide receiver. He’s shown the ability to impact the game with highlight-reel plays at the point of the catch and as a willing contributor against the run.
4) Sevyn Banks, Ohio State
For the first time since 2015, the Ohio State Buckeyes failed to have a defensive player selected in the first round of the draft. They should remedy that next year, with multiple first-round 2022 NFL Draft prospects, including one of the top cornerbacks in Sevyn Banks. Can Banks continue a legacy that includes recent first-round selections Jeffrey Okudah, Denzel Ward, and Marshon Lattimore?
Banks was a four-star recruit out of Jones High School and only ranked as the 23rd-best cornerback in the 2018 recruiting class. He made a minimal impact as a freshman before having something of a breakout in 2019.
Banks secured his first career interception to date against Northwestern while contributing 3 pass deflections. Amongst the disruption of the 2020 college football season, he established himself as a playmaker in the Buckeyes’ secondary, breaking up 6 passes and snagging an interception against Clemson in the CFB Playoffs.
Banks has the size and athletic ability to be one of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. He stands at 6’1″ — although he appears to be closer to 6’2″ — and is 200 pounds. As such, he’s one of the bigger cornerbacks in the class. However, he carries that size extremely well. He appears to be able to keep pace with the fastest receivers he faces. Furthermore, he moves well, with the ability to change direction effortlessly at the click of a finger.
5) Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Just a three-star recruit coming out of Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, Ahmad Gardner has established himself as one of the best defensive backs at the Group of Five level. He had an astonishing freshman season where he snagged 3 interceptions, including a pick-six against UCF, in what was just his second game at the college level. Gardner also flashed ability against Power Five opposition with 2 pass deflections against Boston College.
He has amassed 6 interceptions with 12 pass deflections for his career to date, helping Cincinnati have one of the best defenses in the nation last season. He is credited with not allowing a touchdown in 2020, helping establish him as an early favorite to be one of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
At 6’2″, he offers great size and length at the position. The length is significant, as it allows him to make some eye-catching plays on the ball (demonstrated statistically with his interception and deflection numbers).
Gardner has excellent athletic ability, displaying fluidity and short-area burst. With another impressive season as the leader of Cincinnati’s secondary, he should garner early-round consideration.
Top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10
Which CBs round out the top 10?
6) Josh Jobe, Alabama
After an impressive junior season where he amassed 55 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 11 pass deflections, Alabama cornerback Josh Jobe garnered Day 2 consideration in this year’s draft. Despite that interest from the NFL, he opted to return to the Crimson Tide for his senior season. With Patrick Surtain II departed, Jobe is expected to step up as the leader in the secondary.
As you might expect from his tackle numbers, Jobe brings a willing and able approach to impacting the ground game. At 6’1″ and 192 pounds, he has the size to bring that physicality to the game. He also has the length to make impressive plays in the passing game.
There are flashes to Jobe’s repertoire — against Florida, for example — where he looks like he can be dominant. If those flashes can become more consistent, he could rise up this list of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
7) Trent McDuffie, Washington
A four-star recruit out of St. John Bosco, Trent McDuffie has been playing at a high level for the Huskies since his arrival in Washington. He’s started 15 of 17 potential games, including 11 starts as a freshman, where he secured his first interception against Washington State.
Due to the shortened 2020 college football season, McDuffie didn’t have much opportunity to develop his game as a sophomore. However, he still added another interception — this time against Utah — while demonstrating an ability to force turnovers in various manners.
The latter point is a good place to start with a breakdown of his ability. McDuffie is as forceful as they come as a tackler. In his short career to date, he’s logged 59 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. His willingness and ability belies his size. At 5’11”, McDuffie isn’t as big as some of the defensive backs in the class. On the other hand, that hasn’t dented his ability to make plays on the ball.
8) Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU
As TCU safety Trevon Moehrig was earning praise in this year’s draft cycle, his teammate Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson was standing out for observers with one eye on next year’s class. The former three-star recruit out of Midway High School had an extremely impressive sophomore season. He logged 13 pass deflections last season, including four games with 3 pass deflections.
Like his NFL-bound teammates Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington, Hodges-Tomlinson has a playmaking ability that eclipses his diminutive stature. At 5’9″, there will be obvious size concerns levied at him. However, he can not only make plays on the ball but be physical, both at the line of scrimmage and against the run.
9) Mykael Wright, Oregon
Fresh off the back of a draft that saw three defensive backs drafted from the Ducks, Oregon is ready to send another to the NFL in a little under a year’s time. Not only is Mykael Wright one of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, but he may well be better than Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir before him.
Don’t just take my word for it, however. Lenoir told Pro Football Network’s Cam Mellor that Wright is “gone be a dawg this season.” It’s safe to say that people inside the program know how good he can be. It’s only a matter of time until the rest of the nation does too.
Wright is listed at 5’11” — yet, he plays bigger than that, demonstrating excellent length at the position. He led the team in pass deflections in 2020; he also administered physicality with 27 tackles. The Oregon cornerback moves exceptionally well, which allows him to be sticky in coverage. He showcased versatility as well, making plays from multiple alignments. With a full season of competition, he can elevate his draft stock substantially through the fall.
10) Derion Kendrick, Transfer Portal
Due to his current situation, Derion Kendrick presents a difficult evaluation. He surprisingly entered the transfer portal following the conclusion of the 2020 season. Furthermore, he currently remains without a team and was caught up in off-field issues involving law enforcement during the winter.
From a purely talent-based perspective, Kendrick would comfortably be in the top five of the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. A former wide receiver who snagged 210 receiving yards at 14 yards per catch in 2018, he transitioned to the defensive side of the ball to help the team.
The ball skills that he possessed as a receiver have helped him become a playmaker at the cornerback position. His experience of playing offense helps him to read the play. Furthermore, he demonstrated physicality both against the run and at the line of scrimmage.
Kendrick has the explosive athletic profile and playmaking ball skills to be a first-round pick. However, his projection is far from clear.
Honorable mention for the top cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft
Garrett Williams, Syracuse; Shaun Jolly, Appalachian State; D’Jordan Strong, Coastal Carolina; Sheridan Jones, Clemson; Tiawan Mullen, Indiana; Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State; Isaac Taylor-Stuart, USC; Chris Steele, USC; Roger McCreary, Auburn; Nehemiah Pritchett, Auburn; Allie Green IV, Tulsa; Chase Lucas, Arizona State; Chandler Jones, Louisville; Coby Bryant, Cincinnati.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.