It’s officially resetting time in College Football.
We are in the 2022 season, where teams from across the country will compete for the chance to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship at SOFI Stadium in Inglewood, California. there’s still a lot to figure out from time to time with team rosters and depth charts – the transfer portal deadline is a few months away. But the 2022 nfl draft deadline is approaching for those who are eligible, so now we know who of college football’s top talents will be leaving and returning for this season.
As such, there’s no better time to dive into the top position rankings of the best returning players in college football. The following are the top 10 cornerbacks returning to college football this fall. (Note that this has nothing to do with career potential.)
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1. eli ricks, alabama crimson tide
alabama pulled the best cornerback returning to college football from the transfer portal in eli ricks, who comes from lsu.
Prior to his injury-plagued 2021 campaign, Ricks produced at an extraordinarily high level for a true freshman. In that 2020 season, Ricks was tasked with a heavy dose of man coverage and handled it like a pro. His degree of man coverage ranked first among all five power cornerbacks in 2020. He allowed just six catches on 19 targets while making seven total plays on the ball when tasked with simple coverage.
ricks physicality at the line of scrimmage and capture point make him a tough cornerback to beat completely. It’s pretty clear he already has excellent job perception and could be Alabama’s first Thorpe Award winner since All-Star Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2017.
2. cam smith, south carolina gamecocks
smith was one of the unsung heroes of the 2021 season, allowing multiple catches in just two of his 11 games this year. in all, he allowed just 15 sacks on 32 targets all season. of those 15 receptions, 10 were for first downs, which is fewer than the number of plays he made with the ball (12). Smith, one of the top 150 recruits in the class of 2019, according to 247sports composite, earned a coverage rating of 89.7 last season in his 217 coverage snaps. he has potential for the entire united states in 2022.
3. clark phillips iii, utah utes
phillips took a big step forward midway through his 2021 campaign. in his last six games, 2020 no. the 51st recruit overall was the highest rated outer corner in the country. Phillips allowed 0.34 yards per coverage play in that span. he finished the season with nine interrupted passes, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 14 pass stoppages. the 5-foot-10, 185-pound corner has some legit quick rebounds. His breaks and processing speed shone down the Utah stretch. phillips is arguably the top corner comeback on the west coast and is capable of reaching elite status in 2022.
clark phillips iii (true soph) has been one of the best dbs in the west in the second half of the season.
the best corner of pac-12 that returns https://t.co/tqqnitoeoj
— anthony treash (@pff_anthony) January 1, 2022
4. kelee ringo, georgia bulldogs
Life is a little easier for a cornerback when he plays for one of the best forward sevens college football has ever seen, like Ringo did in 2021, but he proved to be a talented player with a high ceiling. After spending his first year on campus recovering from injury, Ringo earned a starting job in 2021 and produced a 73.3 coverage rating. He allowed less than 40 yards in coverage in all but two games against Alabama and helped the Dawgs clinch the national championship with his late pick-six.
ringo was the no. 4 overall recruit in the 2020 class. He has the length and strength to give wide receivers trouble down the line at 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, but he also has rare long speed for that size. In high school, he posted a verified time of 4.35 40. Now, did he make any mistakes last season? Yes. alabama and tennessee gave him attacks, and there were some late reaction plays that led to positive plays for the opposition. but at the end of the day, he performed at a high level given his age and experience. Ringo did a good job of keeping the receiver from him by allowing only two of his 36 targets in single coverage to have separation (seventh lowest rate in the power five).
5. DARRELL LUTER JR., SOUTH ALABAMA JAGUARS
darrell luter’s name should be in any conversation about the most underrated player in college football. luter missed the last two starts due to injury, but we won’t let that take away from what he did in 10 starts. luter tested himself with 45 targets in coverage but only allowed a 26.7% sack rate and actually had more combined interceptions and pass breakups (14) than sacks allowed (12). juco 2020 product even scored 97.8 pff in single coverage last year, the highest rating in the country by more than five rating points.
6. DJ TURNER, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
turner took over the starting job for the first time in his career at michigan in week 8 of last season and has performed at a high level since then. his coverage rating of 80.7 from week 8 onwards was third-best among the five outside cornerbacks. And Turner did that despite playing a decent amount of press and being pestered with the 13th-highest target rate among that group at 17.4%. the 2019 four-star recruit allowed the fourth-lowest sack rate on the power five in that span at 42%. Overall, Turner finished with a coverage rating of 83.3 and is a candidate for elite status in 2022.
7. jason marshall jr., florida alligators
Marshall opened his true 2021 freshman campaign with a couple of tough starts, but played at an advanced level after they were over. As of Week 3, the five-star recruit posted a 78.6 coverage rating and allowed just 10 receptions on 30 targets and 254 coverage plays for 93 yards. Marshall did not record a penalty in that span, nor did he allow any of his eight deep targets to be caught. he looked excellent in 150 coverage snaps playing press coverage, allowing only two first downs in those reps. while the gators lose kaiir elam, they still look to have one of the top corners in the conference with marshall.
8. riley moss, iowa hawkeyes
moss has been bred for phil parker’s zone defense and is playing him at a high level. the 2018 two-star recruit had an 81.5 coverage rating last season. he has fantastic eyes on this defense, and his four interceptions, six pass breakups and seven pass stops from last season back that up.
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9. tiawan mullen, indiana hoosiers
Mullen’s 2021 campaign was derailed by injury, limiting him to just four starts and 227 total snaps. if he’s healthy, he’s certainly among the best at the job. the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder has indoor-outdoor versatility and is a fierce blitzer. Mullen is also the proud owner of the highest running defense rating among cornerbacks since he arrived at Bloomington as a true freshman in 2019. Second-best among all five active power cornerbacks.
10. tyrique stevenson, miami hurricanes
stevenson returned home to south beach to play away for miami after two years playing for georgia on the slots. not in 2019 the 37th-ranked recruit improved his game after the position and school change. He earned a 76.1 coverage rating and allowed 0.68 yards per coverage play in 2021. When Stevenson stayed on an island, he almost always came out on top. He has proven himself to be the best cornerback coming back to the acc and has the skill set to make the jump to even higher levels of play in 2022.
sleeper to watch: mekhi garner, lsu tigers
garner has been one of the best cornerbacks at the group five level for the past few seasons in louisiana and is now making the jump to the power five to join brian kelly’s lsu tigers. he has posted an 83.5 coverage rating since 2020 with zero receptions allowed in 10 of his games played. the 6-foot-2, 212-point cornerback has racked up 15 pass breakups and three interceptions in that span. he plays with control and is not going to lose at the capture point with the physical structure of him. How Garner deals with some of the more athletic receivers in the second will be something to watch.