College News & Analysis

2022 College Football Preseason Rankings: Top 25 cornerbacks

Gainesville, FL, USA; LSU defensive back Eli Ricks (1) runs with the ball after making an interception during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Dec. 12, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Brad McClenny-USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s time to ramp up the preview for the 2022 college football season as Week 0 is just weeks away.

The 2022 PFF College Football Preview Guide has just dropped and in conjunction with that is an expansion of PFF’s preseason positional rankings that will be rollled out over the next couple of weeks.

Below are PFF’s picks for the top-25 cornerbacks entering the 2022 college football season along with some superlatives at the end, including the biggest projections and sleepers.

(Note: This has nothing to do with pro potential.)

Rank Player, School
1 Eli Ricks, Alabama Crimson Tide
2 Cam Smith, South Carolina Gamecocks
3 Clark Phillips III, Utah Utes
4 Kelee Ringo, Georgia Bulldogs
5 Darrell Luter Jr., South Alabama Jaguars
6 DJ Turner, Michigan Wolverines
7 Jason Marshall Jr., Florida Gators
8 Riley Moss, Iowa Hawkeyes
9 Tiawan Mullen, Indiana Hoosiers
10 Tyrique Stevenson, Miami Hurricanes
11 Jarrick Bernard-Converse, LSU Tigers
12 Storm Duck, North Carolina Tar Heels
13 Azizi Hearn, UCLA Bruins
14 Davonte Brown, UCF Knights
15 Charles Woods, West Virginia Mountaineers
16 Mekhi Garner, LSU Tigers
17 Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State Bulldogs
18 Mekhi Blackmon, USC Trojans
19 Josh DeBerry, Boston College Eagles
20 Shyheim Battle, NC State Wolfpack
21 Joey Porter Jr., Penn State Nittany Lions
22 Duce Chestnut, Syracuse Orange
23 Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU Horned Frogs
24 Tony Grimes, North Carolina Tar Heels
25 Cam Hart, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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The Top Dog

1. ELI RICKS, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Alabama plucked college football's top returning cornerback out of the transfer portal in Eli Ricks, who comes from LSU.

Before his injury-riddled 2021 campaign, Ricks produced at an extraordinarily high level for a true freshman. In that 2020 season, Ricks was tasked with a high dose of man coverage and handled it like a professional, as his man-coverage grade ranked first among all Power Five cornerbacks in 2020. He allowed just six catches on 19 targets while making seven total plays on the ball when he was tasked with single coverage.

Ricks' physicality at the line of scrimmage and catch point makes him a difficult cornerback to beat outright. It’s quite clear he already has an excellent feel for the position and could be the first Thorpe Award winner from Alabama since star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2017.


Biggest Projections

12. STORM DUCK, NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

Across 530 snaps as a true freshman in 2019, Duck recorded a 78.7 PFF grade — a top-12 mark among Power Five true freshmen in the PFF College era (since 2014). That puts him in the company of several stars, including 2022 first-round picks Derek Stingley Jr., Kaiir Elam and Trent McDuffie and NFL talents Adoree’ Jackson, Carlton Davis and Patrick Surtain II. Unfortunately, injury has halted Duck’s progression since then. He played just 436 snaps the past two seasons combined but still shined when on the field. If fully healthy, Duck has star potential.

24. TONY GRIMES, NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

Grimes is a 2022 breakout candidate who has a sky-high ceiling. The former five-star recruit has been volatile in two years in Chapel Hill. In 2021, Grimes allowed 15 yards or less in eight of 13 games, but he surrendered 60 or more yards in the other five outings. He was also called for nine penalties on the season.


Biggest Sleepers

5. DARRELL LUTER JR., SOUTH ALABAMA JAGUARS

Luter’s name should be in any conversation surrounding college football's most underrated player. Luter missed the final two outings due to injury, but we won’t let that take away from what he did in 10 games as a starter this past season. Luter was tested with 45 targets in coverage but only allowed a 26.7% catch rate and actually came up with more combined interceptions and pass breakups (14) than catches allowed (12). The 2020 JUCO product even earned a 97.8 PFF grade in single coverage this past year — the highest mark in the country by more than five grading points.

14. DAVONTE BROWN, UCF KNIGHTS

Brown broke out in a big way last season, as he improved his 63.2 coverage grade from his 2020 true freshman season to an 84.0 mark in 2021. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound corner logged over 400 coverage snaps last season and didn’t allow a single touchdown while intercepting one and breaking up seven others. He plays the catch point well due to his length and excels in man coverage. Brown’s 2021 man-coverage grade ranked seventh among all FBS corners. On such reps, he allowed just five catches from 20 targets for 56 yards.

15. CHARLES WOODS, WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Woods has transitioned from FCS star at Illinois State to budding Power Five star at West Virginia. He took over an outside corner spot in Week 8 of 2021 — his first year in Morgantown — and legitimately locked down his side of the field. From that point on, Woods was the highest-graded corner in the Power Five. Over his last four games, in particular, the 5-foot-11, 193-pound cornerback didn’t allow a single yard while intercepting one pass and breaking up two others. Woods is an outstanding zone corner who has the capability of being the best Big 12 defensive back in 2022.

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