The Best Cornerback and Safety Prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft: Derek Stingley Jr and Kyle Hamilton Top the List
The NFL Draft is less than two months away and the time for general managers to construct their ideal roster before the start of the 2022 season is now. If your team needs to overhaul their defensive backfield, the draft is a great place to get some cheap, talented players that will make an impact. Here’s a look at the top 5 cornerback and top 5 safety prospects entering the 2022 NFL Draft.
Top 5 Cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft
1) Derek Stingley Jr.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 195lbs 40 Time: 4.29s
A 3 year starter at LSU, Stingley Jr. has the anticipation of a hawk and the speed of a cheetah. His film speaks for itself — the guy can play physically without being penalized, and make plays everywhere from the backfield to the sideline. His 4.29 40 time may not be his most impressive trait given his ability to effectively locate the ball in the air with just milliseconds to react. At times, it looks like he knows where a play is going well before it unfolds. All of this is compounded by his ability to secure the catch with receiver-esque hands. He’s incredibly aggressive, allowing him to come into the backfield to make plays and go stride for stride with some of the SEC’s more physically imposing wide receivers like Treylon Burks. Stingley is widely considered to be the best corner coming out of college in man coverage.
He doesn’t, however, have much experience playing in zone coverage, which could take him off the board for some teams.
2) Sauce Gardner
Height: 6-3 Weight: 200lbs 40 Time: 4.50s
The average passer rating of quarterbacks targeting receivers covered by Sauce Gardner over the last 3 years is 32.6. The average passer rating of a quarterback who throws the ball into the dirt every play? 39. Gardner is such a stifling presence in the defensive backfield that quarterbacks rarely even look his way. During three seasons at Cincinnati, opposing quarterbacks only targeted him 135 times. In those135 targets, he forced 9 interceptions and allowed 58 completions — zero of which resulted in touchdowns. He’s got ideal length for the position and rarely allows separation. One of his biggest knocks coming out of college is the fact that he played in the American Conference against pedestrian receiver talent. In the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama, though, he allowed only 14 yards on 4 targets.
In his first couple years at Cincinnati he had a tendency to hold if he got beat on a play, something he will have to clean up. He also doesn’t have the elite straight line speed characteristic of guys at the position.
3) Trent McDuffie
Height: 5-11 Weight: 195lbs 40 Time: 4.42s
As a run stopper, McDuffie is the best corner on the board. He’s able to get off the line quickly and make textbook tackles in space. He plays with speed but always looks controlled. Unlike Kaiir Elam or Stingley Jr., he rarely overshoots himself in pursuit. His understanding of the game, particularly in the red zone where he’s great at shielding the back line and using his awareness to adjust to what the offense gives him, has turned many red zone trips into field goal attempts for opposing offenses.
He’s got desirable speed, though he is a bit shorter. Against taller, strong receivers, he may be more well utilized on the inside — a position he rarely played in college. He can also get a little greedy in man coverage looking for interceptions. A team like the Chargers or the Steelers that could need both a corner and a run supporter would love a guy like McDuffie if he’s available in the second round.
4) Roger McCreary
Height: 6-0 Weight: 189lbs 40 Time: 4.44s
McCreary made a name for himself at Auburn as a stifling presence in man coverage. Even against Alabama or Georgia, Auburn Head Coach Bryan Harsin felt comfortable leaving McCreary on an island against a John Metchie or Jameson Williams and it worked consistently. He’s a versatile player with mental instincts that would allow him to be successful as a safety as well. McCreary makes plays at the catchpoint and almost always sees the ball. His strong, stalkier frame makes him a brute against the run.
He doesn’t have great height or length which could prove to be detrimental against taller receivers or in the red zone. He also struggles to efficiently change direction on a dime, especially when cutting back over the middle.
5) Kaiir Elam
Height: 6-2 Weight: 196lbs 40 Time: 4.47s
Elam is the opposite of McDuffie in many ways. He’s got great size and length for the position, but isn’t a great run stopper or tackler. He’s really good at breaking up passes at the catch point, having played as a receiver in high school. He also has elite breaking speed that allows him to close quickly in space. He’s a constant return threat if he picks the ball off, though this is something he only did 6 times during his career at Florida.
Elam will need to improve his ability to get off blocks and his technique in tackling. His size and speed alone make him an attractive prospect, however, especially given that he comes from NFL lineage. His uncle, Matt Elam, was the Ravens 2013 first round pick at safety.
Top 5 Safeties in the 2022 NFL Draft
1) Kyle Hamilton
Height: 6-4 Weight: 220lbs 40 Time: 4.50s
Hamilton appears as an outlier on paper between his size at 6’4” 220lbs and speed with a 4.5 40. Perhaps his best trait, however, isn’t one of athleticism but one of intellect. Nobody in this draft class reads the field better than Hamilton. His ability to stand in the defensive backfield and quickly assess where someone, whether it be a running back or a quarterback, wants to go with the ball and make timely decisions off this information hasn’t been seen in college football since Earl Thomas came out of Texas. He’s got the power and quickness to make tackles for loss in the backfield — something he routinely did in college — and great ball skills. More often than not, Hamilton comes down with tipped balls thrown in his direction.
His aggressiveness as a run stopper does leave him susceptible to exposure in play-action. He also suffered a knee injury to start off this last season that could prove detrimental if it’s an ongoing concern, though there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case.
2) Jaquan Brisker
Height: 6-1 Weight: 203lbs 40 Time: 4.48s
Brisker may be the best coverage safety in this year’s draft. Standing at 6’1” with a wingspan closer to 6’5” and a board jump over 10½’, Brisker is able to hang with receivers and tight ends of all sizes. This versatility is apparent on the field where he operated as a jack of all trades in the Penn State defense, engaging in everything from run stopping to man coverage. His physicality is apparent in short yardage situations where he’s able to get into the backfield more often than he isn’t.
He doesn’t, however, always make the right reads and has been known to take poor angles. His speed doesn’t jump off the charts, but it’s never shown up as a liability in game.
3) Daxton Hill
Height: 6-0 Weight: 192lbs 40 Time: 4.27s
Hill’s biting twitchiness and physicality, despite his size, put him right up there with Hamilton as the best run stopping/blitzing safety in this year’s draft. Double this with his speed that allows him to go stride for stride with any receiver, and you arrive at a prospect that could very easily be taken in the first round. He does a great job of playing the ball and putting himself in position to do so. He’s also a good tackler who’s rangey enough to play in the box. If he’s on the board late in the second round, a team like Kansas City, who plays a lot of press coverage, may want to pick him up because of his speed and ball skills.
He will need to continue to get stronger to have continued success at the next level as he is currently relatively undersized, though this is something that is largely in his control.
4) Jalen Pitre
Height: 6-0 Weight: 196lbs 40 Time: 4.43s
Where Brisker is arguably the best cover safety, Pitre is arguably the best run stopping safety in this year’s draft. His short-burst explosion, almost reminiscent of Marshon Lattimore, is where he makes his money in the backfield. He can also be used as a blitzer where he had a lot of success at Baylor, largely because he finds holes and takes great angles. He can also man-up both tight ends and running backs alike.
Like Hill, Pitre will need to continue to get stronger. He also has a tendency to lose his form when he’s going 100 mph, leading with his shoulder on tackles instead of wrapping.
5) Kerby Joseph
Height: 6-1 Weight: 200lbs 40 Time: 4.50s
Rounding out the top 5 safety list is Kerby Joseph. The Illinois product is another great cover safety who is capable of locking down receivers in man coverage. He is a formidable blitzer and maintains form when tackling. His performance in the senior bowl certainly catapulted him up some draft boards, and his ranginess across both zone and man coverage will make him an option for virtually any team in need of a hard hitting corner with good ball skills.
Joseph isn’t the fastest player, and will need to work on playing a little more controlled in the run game. He also has trouble bedding in drops — often breaking as a product of his rigidity.