2014 Preseason All-American Projections: Cornerbacks

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2014 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next May for the 2015 NFL Draft.

First-Team Cornerbacks:

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

Hargreaves was Florida’s best and most consistent cornerback last year. Considering the Gators had established veterans in Marcus Roberson and Louichez Purifoy, it said a lot that the true freshman was on the field immediately. Hargreaves recorded interceptions in his first three college games while totaling 11 pass breakups and 38 tackles for the year. The SEC coaches made him a First-Team All-SEC selection. He was an All-American by numerous media outlets.

During the 2014 season, Hargreaves will line up against some of the top receivers in college football, including Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Tennessee’s MarQuez North, Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell, South Carolina’s Shaq Roland and Florida State’s Rashad Greene. Hargreaves should produce a lot of standout performances to impress voters.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Hargreaves has natural cover skills to run with wide outs and not allow separation. He has enough size to handle big receivers and the speed to run with deep threats. Hargreaves could end up being the best cornerback prospect to enter the NFL since Patrick Peterson or Joe Haden.

Trae Waynes, Michigan State

While Darqueze Dennard received all the headlines in 2013, Waynes also had an excellent season for Michigan State. The sophomore was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and media. He totaled 50 tackles with five deflections and three interceptions. Waynes ended the year on a high note with good games against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

Waynes (6-1, 183) has the size and athletic ability to be a press-man corner. He should add strength as he matures. Once again, Michigan State should have a great defense and Waynes will be the leader of the secondary. As an All-American, Waynes should continue what Dennard started for the Spartans’ defensive backs.

Second-Team Cornerbacks:

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

The Ducks are known for having a prolific offense that lights up the scoreboard on a weekly basis, but in 2013, Oregon also had a tough stop unit that did a good job of limiting opponents. The Ducks played with a lot of second half of leads, and their pass defense was to the challenge of closing the door. The coverage of Ekpre-Olomu was a big reason why Oregon had a tough pass defense.

Ekpre-Olomu has had a strong 2013 overall. Late in the regular season, the junior was phenomenal against Oregon State and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Ekpre-Olomu had some rough moments in coverage against Colorado (Paul Richardson), but he had a number of impressive games, too. Ekpre-Olomu had 78 tackles, three interceptions, six passes broken up and one forced fumble in 2013.

In 2012, Ekpre-Olomu totaled 63 tackles with four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 16 passes defensed. He showed good instincts, ball skills and coverage ability. Against USC and star receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, Ekpre-Olomu had some good and bad moments.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder is battle tested, and Oregon is comfortable to count on him to provide tight coverage against elite receivers. In the pass-happy Pac-12, Ekpre-Olomu could have a big senior season and should challenge for First-Team honors.

P.J. Williams, Florida State

The Seminoles are loaded on defense, including in the secondary. The best of the bunch of star recruits could be Williams. The 6-foot, 190-pounder was excellent in 2013 in his first season as a starter. To finish the year, he was the Defensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game as he had seven tackles and a critical fourth-quarter interception that helped spark Florida State’s comeback win. Williams totaled 35 tackles with seven passes broken up and three interceptions for the season.

The junior has the combination of size, speed and athletic ability to be an impact cornerback for the Seminoles. With Lamarcus Joyner and Terrance Brooks in the NFL, Florida State needs Williams to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback. Against the ACC schedule, Williams should be able to take out a lot of the No. 1 receivers he goes up against.

Third-Team Cornerbacks:

KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame

Russell has some natural coverage ability and has been an excellent defender for the Irish the past two years. He is fast enough to maintain coverage with receivers in and out of their breaks, but also plays bigger than his listed size. Russell broke into the starting lineup as a freshman and helped the Irish reach the National Championship.

In his debut season, Russell had 58 tackles with two interceptions and two passes broken up. Russell continued his strong play for the Irish in 2013. The sophomore recorded 51 tackles, one interception and eight passes broken up.

Notre Dame players always play under a spotlight, and if Russell (5-11, 190) continues to improve, he should garner plenty of acclaim.

Alex Carter, Stanford

The Cardinal featured one of the best defenses in college football over the past few seasons. The front seven has received a lot of attention, but Carter has been the player anchoring the secondary. Safety Ed Reynolds and cornerback Wayne Lyons struggled in 2013, but with Carter defending No.1 receivers well, the overall weakness of the secondary was covered up.

In 2013, Carter totaled 59 tackles with eight passes broken up and an interception. The numbers don’t indicate how well he played. Carter provides tight coverage and doesn’t let his receiver get separation. Offenses mostly chose to go after the other defensive backs instead. Having Carter on one side of the field made a lot of things easier for the other defenders.

Carter has good size, physicality and coverage skills. The Cardinal lost a lot from its front seven this offseason, so the program will need Carter to provide another rock-solid season in pass coverage.

Honorable Mentions: USC’s Josh Shaw, Washington’s Marcus Peters, Oregon State’s Steven Nelson, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson, Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, Florida State’s Ronald Darby, LSU’s Jalen Mills, LSU’s Jalen Collins, Texas A&M’s Deshazor Everett, Texas’s Quandre Diggs, Georgia’s Damian Swann, Minnesota’s Eric Murray, Wake Forest’s Merrill Noel and Virginia’s Demetrious Nicholson.

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