The South Florida Sun Sentinel continues its 10-part series looking at the top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft (April 28-30) with cornerbacks. Like most years, cornerback is one of the deepest positions in the 2022 draft. That’s a byproduct of playing 500-plus snaps each season in this pass-happy era of football. Someone has to defend all those passes, and that leads to a respectable influx of cornerbacks and defensive backs each draft. However, this class lacks the clear-cut studs, but might be filled with a dozen or more NFL starters.
LSU Derek Stingley Jr.
Stingley looked like a transcendent player, the next Patrick Peterson, as a freshman at LSU when he pulled down six interceptions. But injuries and inconsistent play diminished his shine the past two years because he flat out struggled. His outstanding combination of size (6-1, 195), speed, and fluid athleticism will keep him as a first-round pick. How high depends on who wants to gamble on him being an NFL elite when healthy.
Cincinnati Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
Gardner is long, fast and fluid, and has the skill set to play a variety of techniques. He has excellent ball skills (nine interceptions in three seasons), which indicates that he can become an All-Pro, and he’s a willing tackler. The biggest concern is that his aggressiveness might be used against him on the next level, especially against bigger, more physical and experienced receivers.
Washington Trent McDuffie
McDuffie is the type of cornerback who would bring inside-outside versatility to his next defense. He’s fast, instinctive and plays with a fiery temperament. He has the versatility to line up as a nickel cornebrack because of his movement skills, which might make him an in-demand talent. His lack of length (he’s 5-11) might turn some teams off.
Georgia Derion Kendrick
Kendrick is a high-ceiling prospect who has the type of competitive demeanor to play at an All-Pro level in time, and he has excellent body control. Teams must get past a few character concerns for him to become a top-50 selection.
Florida Kaiir Elam
Elam is a long, physical press corner who possesses quick hands and good balance. He challenges quarterbacks and has the potential to be an elite cornerback with good coaching. He wasn’t thrown at often last season, but still finished his three seasons with the Gators with six interceptions and 20 pass breakups. Elam is going to appeal to a team that plays plenty of bump-and-run coverage.
Best of the Rest
Some teams might view Andrew Booth Jr., Washington’s Kyler Gordon or Auburn’s Roger McCreary as the best cornerbacks in this class. And then there are the small school standouts like UTSA’s Tariq Woolen, Zyon McCollum or Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams who could end up being among this draft’s best talent in four seasons. Each team, or coaches personal taste will dictate their cornerback board.
Class Grade: B-
Because there are 15 cornerbacks in this draft class who have the potential to become NFL starters in a year or two, this happens to be one of the 2022 draft’s deepest positions. Teams with good evaluation staffs won’t rush to select a cornerback, but expecting a run on this position on Day 2 is understandable, if not logical.
Teams in need
There isn’t an NFL team that wouldn’t benefit from adding another starting-caliber cornerback. The Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Colts, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Panthers, Vikings, and Commanders will likely be competing for this classes’ top-10 cornerbacks, which means many will be selected earlier than expected because of the law of supply-and-demand.
Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, and Nik Needham is a young, developing player. But Needham has struggled at times playing nickel cornerback, which relies heavily on quickness and physicality. It would benefit the Dolphins to find a true nickel to develop, especially since Needham is playing on a one-year deal, and Noah Igbinoghene, the Dolphins’ 2020 first-round pick, has been a disappointment his first two seasons.
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