The Georgia Bulldogs have graced the top of the SEC East in every season since 2017. They can’t stop recruiting the top running backs in the nation, and they consistently have talent everywhere on offense, even if the offense itself isn’t high flying. But what really excites about Georgia most years, and especially in 2020, is the defense. In 2019 the defense allowed only 176 points, and in 2020, they return 10 of Pro Football Focus’s top 50 SEC defensive players. Two players garnering a lot of attention are cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell.
A tale of the tape, a battle between Georgia’s best corners
Both Campbell and Stokes are in the modern mold of the long cornerback. Stokes reminds us of former Alabama Crimson Tide cornerback and current Buffalo Bills defensive back Levi Wallace. He’s a bit over 6 feet tall, but his lean frame makes his length appear magnified.
Campbell appears as a more strapped up young man, with a good thickness throughout his frame despite being listed an inch taller at the same weight. However, Campbell also displays some impressive length, and his game is more geared toward physicality at the line, using that length to get a hand into the chest of the receiver in man coverage.
According to their respective bio pages on the team site, Campbell was a five-star prospect hailing from American Heritage in Florida, where he was coached by Patrick Surtain Sr. Going forward with the Wallace comparison for Stokes, he was just a three-star prospect and the 99th-ranked player in the state of Georgia. Sometimes, those rankings can be tough, because it’s simply too difficult to keep up with thousands of recruits at a time. But when you watch the two play, it’s clear who is who, simply from their presence and how they move.
Mirroring in man coverage
Campbell started 11 of 14 games as a freshman but suffered an injury in 2019 and only played in nine games. In games against Auburn and LSU, it was clear he wasn’t moving at 100%. But going back to the first few games of the season, he really displayed his elite physical ability.
Despite his length, he never seems to get over-extended and does a fine job mirroring receivers at the breakpoint. The one thing he’ll have to improve upon going forward is his pad level in his pedal. He can get a bit upright, which hinders his ability to fluidly flip and carry receivers without giving up quick separation. He’s such an athlete that he recovers from it, but he needs to be more proactive in said situations.
Stokes is an interesting study in movement. He looks a bit awkward on the hoof, with a little bit of upper back arch forward, like he’s lumbering in his direction of movement. But don’t be fooled, it isn’t an objection to his game but an observation. From a coverage and mirroring standpoint, he is a good mover. He has enough speed to carry most receivers downfield, and he does a very nice job mirroring stop routes.
But it’s also clear he doesn’t have a massive top end because he’s forced to work hard to carry and can lose his footing trying to stop more momentum than his body can handle. He was unable to hang on some breakpoints after losing his footing against stronger receivers.
Awareness and playmaking in zone coverage
Both of these defensive backs have the goods playing forward. Stokes shows a good ability and awareness to midpoint smash concepts (a hitch route outside and corner route from the slot) in Georgia’s pattern-matching zone coverages to allow the slot defender to make his decision on the number two receiver. His click and close wastes no time in transition, and he can get to the spot quickly when he keeps his feet underneath him.
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Campbell is big and physical, and when supplemented by his confidence in his athleticism, he really remains aggressive in Georgia’s zone coverage looks. Hopefully, he’s able to stay healthy and get real starter reps in 2020, which will give us a better feel for his overall consistency in zone. Communication is also big in a pattern-matching defense, and there were times where both players were out of position post-snap, although the blame is not certain without knowing the exact coverage pre-snap.
One thing both do very well is work to disguise coverages pre-snap to give the quarterback and receivers different looks.
Physicality and run defense
Stokes isn’t afraid to put his hands on a receiver, but he’s much more finesse than Campbell. That lack of functional strength showed in his matchup with Ja’Marr Chase, both at the line of scrimmage and through the break point and to the catch point. Against the run, he’s technically a willing participant, but he isn’t an enforcer. Campbell is an enforcer, through and through. He has a “punch you in the mouth” mentality both in block engagement and as he closes on a ball carrier.
Overall, it’s clear from the tape that Campbell has some really impressive top-end athleticism and potential given his physicality, but right now, Stokes is the more technically refined and consistent cornerback. There will be no shortages in the SEC playing against top competition, so 2020 should give a clear view of which defensive back gets drafted first if they both declare. But in summer scouting, there is no hurt in betting on the potential, so give me Campbell and let’s revisit this in seven months.