He’s been widely regarded as the top cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft class ever since his otherworldly 2019 campaign. However, it was recently announced that LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. was set to have foot surgery and would be out for an indefinite period of time. Has Stingley Jr. played his last down of college football, and do things change for his draft stock?
Derek Stingley Jr. has foot surgery, out indefinitely
On the morning of October 6, it was revealed through LSU head coach Ed Orgeron that Stingley Jr. had recently undergone foot surgery. In his press release, Orgeron stated that “there is no timetable” for Stingley’s return.
A quote from Stingley Jr. himself was also provided, in which Stingley Jr. thanked LSU fans for his support. The cornerback also expressed his desire to return to the field “as soon as possible,” and implied he’s not necessarily done for the 2021 season.
Stingley Jr. first injured his foot during the summer. He was able to rehabilitate and return to the field, but not long ago, he reaggravated the injury. The issue would ultimately force Stingley Jr. off the field against Mississippi State and Auburn before Stingley opted for surgery.
Derek Stingley Jr.’s career at LSU is already prolific
Stingley Jr. may have a hunger to return to the field. But in the eyes of onlookers, he’s already accomplished more than enough in his time with the LSU Tigers. In fact, Stingley Jr. arguably passed that threshold in his true-freshman season, all the way back in 2019.
Expectations were already high for Stingley Jr. when he arrived on LSU’s campus. Coming from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Stingley Jr. played high school football at The Dunham School. There, he quickly established a presence as both a local and national star.
As a recruit, Stingley Jr. was a five-star prospect on various boards. Not only did he sport a long, 6’1″, 193-pound frame, but he also had elite testing numbers on record, with a 4.30 40-yard dash and a 42-inch vertical jump. Unsurprisingly, Stingley Jr. signed with the hometown team. And there, he’d add to his legacy.
As a true freshman, Stingley Jr. amassed 6 interceptions and 15 pass deflections as LSU embarked on a national championship run. The following season, Stingley Jr. added 5 more deflections and once again took home All-American honors. He was on pace to ride a thunderous conclusion into the NFL Draft this season, but his injury drastically complicates matters.
Stingley Jr.’s draft stock stable but still prone to fluctuation
At this point, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Stingley Jr.’s injury. Most notably, will it end his college football career? Stingley Jr. expressed hope that he can return during the season, but it might be more prudent for Stingley Jr. to close the lid on his college career, rehabilitate, and start the NFL Draft preparation process early. Coming back not only interrupts that process but also risks Stingley Jr. playing poorly as he recovers.
Foot injuries tend to linger, and for cornerbacks — who heavily rely on short-area explosiveness and sudden weight transfers — it might be better to approach the injury with a more delicate long-term approach. Stingley’s testing numbers at the NFL Combine (assuming he’s healthy enough to go) will also likely solidify his stock as an early Round 1 talent. If he reaggravates the injury by coming back, he loses that opportunity as well.
Coaches like players who fight through injuries and fight to rejoin their teammates. But in Stingley Jr.’s case, he has less to gain and more to lose by rushing things. If he can return to the field without rushing himself, then that’s a different story. However, more often than not, a full recovery — especially with foot injuries — takes time. If he wants to pass offseason medical checks and use his testing to his advantage, Stingley Jr. should use all the time he needs.
When healthy, Stingley Jr. is still a top-flight cornerback prospect
Ironically, the foot surgery is recent news, and it might already be the biggest question surrounding Stingley Jr.’s draft stock. On the field, the LSU cornerback is a near-elite prospect with few flaws, and strengths that are heavily translatable to the modern NFL. Stingley Jr. is long and fast-flowing, with excellent ball skills at the catch point. But his best trait might be his athletic freedom and explosiveness. In his scouting report on Stingley Jr., PFN Draft Analyst Oli Hodgkinson says the following about this trait:
An exceptional athlete, Stingley Jr. can go toe-to-toe with the fastest wide receivers that college football has to offer. He demonstrates excellent play speed, but there’s more to him than simply being able to run. The LSU CB has stellar footwork, helping him mirror receivers’ routes.
Additionally, Oli detailed in his report: “He displays tremendous change-of-direction ability. Stingley Jr. is also explosive in short areas, allowing him to jump routes and makes plays on the ball.”
With his fluidity, short-range explosiveness, and change-of-direction ability, Stingley Jr. stays in phase extremely well in man coverage. And at the catch point, his otherworldly body control and vertical athleticism make him a definite turnover threat. He can improve his hand usage, both in coverage and at the line of scrimmage. Overall, however, he checks all the boxes a first-round cornerback should.
Stingley Jr.’s health key in determining draft stock
Health will be the biggest question surrounding Stingley Jr. and his draft stock during the 2022 NFL Draft cycle. Thus, how Stingley Jr. proceeds from this point will be of great interest. As a competitor, Stingley Jr. may wish to return to the field and play with his teammates once more. But as a prospect, Stingley Jr. has to consider the risks of that decision — and how playing it safe might ultimately be better for him in the long run.
It’s a strong cornerback class, with players like Kaiir Elam, Andrew Booth Jr., Trent McDuffie, and Ahmad Gardner all commanding first-round consideration as well. Let’s say Stingley Jr. returns before season’s end and aggravates his foot injury yet again. And let’s say this prevents him from testing in the offseason. If that happens, Stingley Jr. should still go in Round 1, but he could get pushed out of the top 10 and maybe even past the top 20.
At that point, there’s a lot of money at stake for Stingley Jr. He is a football player, and a good one. But the decision to return won’t be a football decision. It’ll be a business decision, and Stingley Jr. may be better off taking things slow and closing the door on his time in Baton Rouge.