We are just one week away from the kickoff of the 2012 NCAA Football Season, and I still have to preview the top cornerbacks and safeties in the country, so we’ll get started today with the corners. The NFL is a throwing league, and if you plan on being any good defensively, you better have some great cornerbacks. Well NFL teams are in luck, the college football recruiting ground is ripe with talented cornerbacks, who will excel on the next level. Time to rank them:
David Amerson, Junior (6’3 195lbs) North Carolina State - Ranking Amerson as the best cornerback in the country is very easy to defend when I tell you the NC State cornerback had THIRTEEN interceptions in 2011 (led NCAA), had four multi-interception games, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Amerson is a long corner who excels in coverage and rips jump balls away from wide receivers downfield. He also plays the run well and had 59 tackles last season. Amerson is a stud cornerback who should have another incredible season, that is if any team in the ACC is stupid enough to throw in his direction again, expect him to be discussed on the national stage this fall.
Jonathan Banks, Senior (6’2 185lbs) Mississippi State - The gifted Banks tested the NFL Draft waters following an outstanding 2011 season where he had 66 tackles, 3.0 sacks and 5 interceptions for a gritty Bulldogs team. He elected to return to Mississippi State for his senior year after receiving a disappointing grade from the NFL Advisory Board, but it is a decision that he will not regret, he is now one of the elite cornerbacks in the country, and I think the Bulldogs are one of the top sleepers in the country in 2012. They won’t win the SEC or anything, but they will compete and surprise the juggernauts in the South.
Xavier Rhodes, Junior (6’2 215lbs) Florida State - One of the most talented players in college football, Rhodes has a great combination of size and athleticism which he used to terrorize quarterbacks in 2010 (54 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 4 Interceptions). By the 2011 season, teams realized just how good Rhodes is, and stopped throwing at him and had 43 tackles and intercepted just one pass as a result. Rhodes was always a bit overshadowed by teammate Greg Reid, who has since been kicked off the Seminoles, but Rhodes has always been the better player and prospect. With Reid no longer in the mix, 2012 will be Rhodes’ time to shine, and I expect him to excel.
Justin Gilbert, Junior (6′ 195lbs) Oklahoma State - An excellent athlete and track star, Gilbert has always been an outstanding return man, and he continues to get better as a cornerback with every single snap. I think he reaches elite status early this season, Gilbert had 69 tackles and 5 interceptions during the 2011 season for a Cowboys team that was in contention for the National Title. Interesting stat, over the course of the 2011 season, Gilbert picked off passes thrown by Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill - the first three quarterbacks selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
DeMarcus (Dee) Milliner, Junior (6′ 200lbs) Alabama - The Crimson Tide consistently have one of the best defenses in the country, and as always they lost several first round picks to the NFL, and new group of defenders will step up and fill the void. One of the players Nick Saban will count on to lead his defense is junior cornerback Dee Milliner, who had 26 tackles along with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown for the National Champion Crimson Tide. Now an upperclassman with experience, Milliner will be in the spotlight, and he should step up and become one of the best cornerbacks in college football.
Johnny Adams, Senior (5’11 180lbs) Michigan State - Adams is coming off of an excellent 2011 season in which he had 47 tackles, 2.0 sacks and three interceptions, one of which he returned 86 yards for a touchdown. As a senior he will be one of the most experienced players on the Spartan defense and will be counted on as a team leader. He is older (23 years old) than most of the players on this list, since he played a key role on the 2008 Spartans team as a true freshman, but redshirted during the 2009 campaign due to an injury. He’s also a great blitzer and tackler who plays bigger than he is listed on the roster.
Tharold Simon, Junior (6’3 190lbs) - LSU - Following the dismissal of Heisman Candidate defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, the Bayou Bengals will be looking for a young player to step up and fill his shoes. Thankfully for the Tigers faithful, LSU never has a shortage of talented and skilled athletes, who are ready to step up. Tharold Simon will be the next great cornerback from LSU, he has great size for the position along with excellent athleticism, and he will not shy away when called upon on the national stage. He has experience, as he contributed 42 tackles and two interceptions on a one loss team that played for the national title in 2011.
Desmond Trufant, Senior (6′ 185lbs) Washington - The younger brother of former NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant of the Seattle Seahawks, Desmond Trufant may not be the prospect that his brother was in 2003 when he was selected 11th overall in the NFL Draft, but he is a very talented player. Trufant has started for the Huskies since he was a true freshman in 2009 and he has no shortage of big game experience. As a junior in 2011, Trufant had 64 tackles, half a sack and two interceptions. He will be one of the leaders of the Huskies team and should have an excellent senior season.
Micah Hyde, Senior (6’1 190lbs) Iowa - An experienced senior, Hyde is a gritty cornerback who is coming off a 2011 season where he recorded 64 tackles and three interceptions. Hyde has started for the Hawkeyes since 2010 will be counted on for his experience by the coaching staff to lead what should be a solid defense during his senior year in 2012. He is very good in all facets of the game, and while he does not stand out in one, he plays fast and is a very consistent player.
Jordan Poyer, Senior (6′ 190lbs) Oregon State - Winning just three games, 2011 was a tough year for Oregon State, however one of their bright spots was the play of Jordan Poyer. He had an excellent season, notching 47 tackles and 4 interceptions, one of which he returned 51 yards to pay dirt. He enters the 2012 season as one of the top senior cornerback prospects in the country for an Oregon State team that will hopefully improve.
Kyle Fuller, Junior (6′ 181lbs) Virginia Tech - The brother of former NFL third round selection Vincent Fuller, Kyle is a talented player that made enough strides in 2011 to make the All-ACC second team, and he should continue on that trajectory during his junior year. Fuller totaled 65 tackles with two interceptions as a sophomore and showed improvement during each game. He should be a key cog for another talented Hokies squad in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Demontre Hurst, Senior - Oklahoma, Carrington Byndom, Senior -Texas, Logan Ryan, Junior -Rutgers, Terry Hawthorne, Senior -Illinois, Nickell Robey, Junior - USC, Branden Smith, Senior - Georgia, Travis Howard, Senior - Ohio State, Nigel Malone, Senior - Kansas State, Corey Broomfield, Senior -Mississippi State, Brandon McGee, Senior - Miami (FL)