2022 NFL Draft Position Review: Cornerbacks

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2022 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2022 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 1, 2022. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Position Review: Cornerbacks

Cornerback Class
Early-round talent: B-
Mid-round: C
Late-round: B-
Overall grade: B-

Merging the 2022 and 2021 prospects
Derek Stingley
Jaycee Horn
Ahmad Gardner
Patrick Surtain II
Trent McDuffie
Caleb Farley
Greg Newsome II
Eric Stokes
Tyson Campbell
Daxton Hill
Andrew Booth
Kyler Gordon
Kelvin Joseph
Kaiir Elam
Roger McCreary
Asante Samuel Jr.

Just to be clear this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts, and NFL coaches who know way more than I do.

The 2021 NFL Draft was a quality year for cornerback talent, and the 2022 NFL Draft is simply not as strong. Last year’s group had five first-round picks, while this year only has three consensus first-rounders. The 2021 NFL Draft also had more and better talent for Day 2.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Jaycee Horn would be comparable to Derek Stingley and Ahmad Gardner. Some team sources feel Horn was a better prospect, while others prefer Stingley or Gardner. Patrick Surtain is slightly below Gardner and ahead of McDuffie. Caleb Farely would have gone higher if it weren’t for the medical issues. Daxton Hill is not as good of a prospect as Greg Newsome, Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell. Andrew Booth and Kyler Gordon are better than Kelvin Joseph, while Kaiir Elam and Roger McCreary are better than Asante Samuel Jr.

Safest Pick: Trent McDuffie, Washington
Previous Picks:
2021: Jaycee Horn
2020: Jeff Okudah
2019: DeAndre Baker
2018: Denzel Ward
2017: Adoree’ Jackson
2016: Vernon Hargreaves
2015: Trae Waynes
2014: Justin Gilbert
2013: Dee Milliner

Over the past decade, there have been a lot of first-round corners who were busts or disappointments, so that illustrates that top cornerback prospects are still risky selections. This year could contribute to that because there are some boom/bust concerns with some of the top corners in the 2022 class. That applies to Derek Stingley, who is a 1-year wonder with durability issues, and Ahmad Gardner, who dominated against weaker competition. While McDuffie may not have as a high of ceiling as those two, he looks the safest to be a good cover corner in the pros. McDuffie has a good skill set, is polished, and well-rounded. In the 2022 NFL Draft, I think McDuffie could be one of the safest defensive prospects.

Biggest Bust Potential: Kaiir Elam, Florida
Previous Picks:
2021: Asante Samuel Jr.
2020: Trevon Diggs
2019: Trayvon Mullen
2018: Anthony Averett
2017: Chidobe Awuzie
2016: William Jackson
2015: P.J. Williams
2014: Bradley Roby
2013: David Amerson

This was not an easy choice, but Elam seems the riskiest selection of the corners who could go in the first or second round. While he ran fast at the combine, Elam does not play that fast and has issues carrying verticals from speed receivers. He grabs too much and could be called for a lot of penalties in the NFL. On top of those issues, Elam is soft as a tackler. Florida has had a lot of recent corners disappoint in the NFL, including Vernon Hargreaves, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and C.J. Henderson. Some sources believe some of Elam’s issues are similar to those players, and that those have been passed along from one player to another at Florida on how they practice and play, including prime issues of being finesse players and soft tacklers – i.e. Elam saw C.J. Henderson as a young player and mirrored Henderson when he got on the field. Hence, I think Elam could have the most bust potential of the 2022 corners who could be a first- or second-round pick.

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Off-Man Coverage Ability:
NFL prototype: Jalen Ramsey, Rams
  1. Derek Stingley
  2. Trent McDuffie
  3. Ahmad Gardner
  4. Kyler Gordon
  5. Roger McCreary
  6. Andrew Booth Jr.
  7. Daxton Hill
  8. Kaiir Elam

Recap: The consensus thought around the league is that the most important two positions on a defense are an elite pass-rusher off the edge and a shutdown cornerback. The NFL is driven by passing, and a shutdown corner can limit the opposition’s ability to score points by taking the best receiver away from a quarterback. Teams throughout the league are searching hard for that kind of cornerback talent. Playing off-man coverage is more challenging than press-man because off-man coverage requires loose hips and agility to turn quickly. NFL offenses use lots of bunch formations to force cornerbacks into off-man coverage whether they want to play it or not.

The top three in this category are the clear best at off man. Stingley is the best, looking very natural in off-man coverage. He instinctively anticipates the routes and maintains tight coverage while staying in the hip pocket of receivers. McDuffie has smooth movement skills and speed, but his awareness and instincts make him a natural in off-man coverage. Gardner is fast and fluid to run the route. He is smooth and has the agility to cut and not lose speed.

Gordon is a smooth corner who has good feet in his back pedal alongside recoverability skills. He is a fluid athlete who profiles very well to off-man in the NFL.

McCreary and Booth are very good in off-man coverage. They are intelligent players who read plays extremely well. With his good instincts, Booth does an excellent job of breaking on the route to eat up any separation. He is skilled and natural at running the route with receivers.

Hill has good speed and agility, and he was superb in off-man coverage while playing nickel corner. It might take him some developmental time to transition to playing off-man coverage as an outside corner.

Elam has some instincts and route recognition, but he lacks game speed and resorts to grabbing too much.

Zone Corner:
NFL prototype: Trevon Diggs, Cowboys
  1. Derek Stingley
  2. Ahmad Gardner
  3. Trent McDuffie
  4. Kyler Gordon
  5. Kaiir Elam
  6. Roger McCreary
  7. Andrew Booth Jr.
  8. Daxton Hill

Recap: Many teams mix man and zone coverage, so a corner who can excel in both is very valuable.

The first three are notably ahead of the rest. Stingley’s awareness and instincts really stand out. He does an excellent job of reading the offense and putting himself in position to make plays. With his route recognition and instincts, Stingley is quick to get in position to cover up receivers.

Gardner is superb in zone, letting his instincts lead him to drive hard on the football. McDuffie is very intelligent; he reacts quickly in his route diagnosis and is aware of what the offensive is trying to do, so he will be a great fit in a zone scheme. Gordon is very good in zone because his instincts allow him to read plays extremely well. He breaks on the ball at the right time and makes good decisions.

Elam and McCreary can both function as zone corners. McCreary has the speed to close quickly, and Elam has good size to cover up big wideouts. Booth is pretty well suited to playing lots of zone since his good speed helps him eat up ground in a hurry. He will need a little more development for finishing plays and playing the ball.

Hill will need work playing zone as an outside corner, but he is a good zone corner when lined up as the nickelback.

Press-Man Coverage:
NFL prototype: J.C. Jackson, Chargers
  1. Ahmad Gardner
  2. Derek Stingley
  3. Trent McDuffie
  4. Kyler Gordon
  5. Andrew Booth Jr.
  6. Kaiir Elam
  7. Daxton Hill
  8. Roger McCreary

Recap: Many teams in the NFL feature defenses that play a lot of press-man coverage. Having the ability to jam and reroute receivers helps defenses throw off the timing of plays. Corners who can stay stride for stride with receivers down the field are very valuable. The majority of this entire group of corners project well to playing press man.

For the NFL, Gardner would fit best in a press-man scheme. In that style, he can use his size and length to cover up receivers, running with them downfield. He also has has the straight-line speed to run vertically down the sideline. With Stingley’s strength and physicality, he does a good job of rerouting receivers and disrupting the timing of patterns. He also is a superb fit for press-man corner in the NFL.

McDuffie, Gordon, Booth and Elam all could be press-man corners to play on the outside and line up against big receivers. They all have good ball skills, height, length, and the speed to run. Elam is not as fast, fluid and physical, which is why he trails the others.

Hill could play press-man as an outside corner, but he needs grooming for that. He has the size, speed, and physicality to do it. McCreary is short and lacks length, so playing as a press-man corner would not be a good fit for him.

Ball Skills:
NFL prototype: Xavien Howard, Dolphins
  1. Derek Stingley
  2. Ahmad Gardner
  3. Roger McCreary
  4. Daxton Hill
  5. Andrew Booth Jr.
  6. Kaiir Elam
  7. Kyler Gordon
  8. Trent McDuffie

Recap: Garner and Stingley enter the NFL with elite ball skills. Both are perilous to throw at as they are serious threats to pick off passes while also being adept at breaking up would-be completions. Gardner gets the edge because he wasn’t a 1-year wonder. Over the past three seasons, Gardner was consistent, recording three interceptions in each year and 24 passes broken up across the period.

Stingley showed phenomenal ball skills in 2019 with six interceptions and 15 passes broken up. His size, length, hands and athleticism give him has advanced ball skills entering the next level.

McCreary is natural at playing the ball, and his instincts help him to get position to impact the passsing game. He collected two interceptions and 14 breakups in 2021.

Hill flashed some serious ball skills last year, making two picks and eight passes broken up. Considering he split his time between corner and safety, that reduced his opportunities, so Hill really produced well all things considered.

Booth and Elam both showed some ball skills, with each recording a season of quality ball production in the past two years. They both play the ball well, but have an occasional lapse downfield. Booth can be a little slow to react, while Elam will grab too much at times. Hence, they’re rated behind the others.

McDuffie and Gordon did not have big ball production. Gordon had two interceptions last year, while McDuffie did not have a pick. NFL team sources, however, say from watching McDuffie and Gordon in practice and workouts, their ball skills are better than the numbers suggest and are not a real concern entering the NFL.

Run Support:
NFL prototype: Byron Jones, Dolphins
  1. Daxton Hill
  2. Kyler Gordon
  3. Trent McDuffie
  4. Roger McCreary
  5. Ahmad Gardner
  6. Derek Stingley
  7. Andrew Booth Jr.
  8. Kaiir Elam

Recap: Some college and NFL teams aren’t too concerned with how corners play the run, but cornerbacks who do a good job in run defense can prevent big gains on the edge and make tackles to prevent long carries. This is a strong group overall.

Michigan played Hill at safety and slot corner, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he is the top ranked. No player came close to the 69 tackles that Hill recorded in 2021. Hill was a quality run defender in college, as his tackle totals indicate. He tackles well and does a nice job of weaving through blockers. Hill is smart about how he tackles by taking the legs out from underneath backs. If Hill plays outside and slot corner in the NFL, he could be one of the better run-defending corners in the league.

In the ground game, the Washington duo of Gordon and McDuffie were both willing defenders who would lower their shoulders and tackle. Gordon gives a good effort and will run across the field to chase down a back. McDuffie is technically sound tackler to get ball-carriers to the ground and will deliver some hard hits. The tackle totals if both Huskies were consistent, and each should be a valuable run defender in the NFL.

McCreary is undersized, but he is a tough run defender who is willing to throw his body into ball-carriers. Even though McCreary is small, he will fire into the box and doesn’t shy away from contact.

Gardner and Stingley had seasons where they were tough run defenders. Both will use their size and strength to deliver some hard tackles. In 2021, Booth showed the ability to contribute to the ground game and was a willing tackler.

Elam did not impress as a run defender. He was not an aggressive against the run and was a soft tackler.

NFL prototype: Marshon Lattimore, Saints
  1. Derek Stingley
  2. Ahmad Gardner
  3. Trent McDuffie
  4. Daxton Hill
  5. Roger McCreary
  6. Kaiir Elam
  7. Kyler Gordon
  8. Andrew Booth Jr.

Recap: For cornerbacks, instinctiveness isn’t just about picking off passes. Instincts also are about reading the route and the quarterback. It starts before the snap when the offense lines up. Elite corners seem to have eyes in the back of their heads to know when passes are coming behind them.

Stingley and Gardner are very instinctive and make plays in coverage. They make interceptions, break up passes, and get in position to help other defensive backs after coverage is blown.

McDuffie displayed real instincts for Washington over the past few seasons. He is a smart defender who can quickly realize what an offense is trying to do.

Hill, McCreary, Elam and Gordon showed good instincts in college. They read plays well and were wise when they made breaks. Booth’s instincts and awareness are okay, but not great.

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