News & Analysis

PFF Rankings: Highest-graded defensive backs in college football through Week 2

By Jarad Evans
Sep 13, 2019

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The nation’s top defensive backs continued their strong performances in Week 2 as more than half of last week’s representatives remain on our list. Yet, there are also fresh faces breaking through and this is a trend we will monitor as the year moves along. 

We count down the highest-graded defensive backs from the first two weeks of action in college football.

Cornerbacks 

Patrick Surtain II, Alabama – 90.9 Overall Grade

If you read this column last week, Surtain II jumping to the number one spot should not come as a surprise. He is demonstrating extreme coverage versatility with the ability to cover both inside and out.  After spending 35 snaps in the slot in Week 1, Surtain II kicked out wide in Week 2 for 33 snaps where he completely blanketed New Mexico State’s wide receivers — he picked off the only pass that came his way (an absolute beauty of a play where he high-pointed the football with a perfectly timed jump). Expect to see Surtain II remain on this list as the season rolls on. 

Tre Avery, Rutgers – 90.7 Overall Grade

Avery drops one spot to No. 2 after only spending 15 snaps on the field against Iowa, a game in which he was not targeted. The entire Rutgers team had a forgettable performance in a 30-0 defeat at the hands of the Hawkeyes and they now have a bye week to regroup, before attempting to get back on track vs. Boston College in Week 4. Avery’s stellar Week 1 keeps him on the list for now — he will need to step up his game to stay here moving forward. 

Jaden Davis, Oklahoma – 89.8 Overall Grade

Davis is the first new face appearing this week after a superb outing in Week 2 vs. South Dakota (91.1 game grade). He is another true freshman making an early impact, allowing receptions on two of his four targets for just 15 yards and a measly 19.8 passer rating. Davis had a savvy interception against South Dakota where he felt the quarterback’s intended read and jumped an out route for the pick. He predominately operates as a wide cornerback where he has lined up on 38-of-43 snaps this season.  

Jace Whittaker, Arizona – 88.5 Overall Grade

Whittaker is another returning member from last week’s list. Unlike Week 1 where he regularly lined up in the slot (58 snaps), Whittaker spent most of his time in Week 2 out wide (33 snaps) and saw three targets, allowing just one catch for 11 yards. Whittaker showed off his ballhawk skills by picking off a deep pass with a smooth sliding catch just outside of the Arizona endzone.    

John Reid, Penn State – 87.6 Overall Grade

Reid is our second new member featured after coming up with a game-breaking play vs. Buffalo. Penn State was surprisingly trailing 7-10 at the start of the third quarter until Reid perfectly timed his jump on a curl route and returned the interception 35 yards to the house — giving Penn State the lead for good. For the season, Reid has racked up an impressive five defensive stops while allowing just six yards after the catch on four receptions. Reid lines up both in the slot (22 snaps) and out wide (52 snaps).

Safeties

Eric Lee Jr., Nebraska – 92.0 Overall Grade

Lee Jr. maintains his perch at the top of the nation’s best safeties through Week 2, courtesy of an elite 91.9 coverage grade. If Lee can sustain this high level of coverage play he will join exclusive company – Derwin James’s otherworldly 2017 was the last time a safety recorded a coverage grade above 91.5. 

Jonathan Alexander, Kansas State – 88.0 Overall Grade

Alexander jumps a few spots up to No. 2 due to outstanding run defense. His elite 96.8 run-defense grade would be the best mark that PFF has ever seen from a safety — though with a small sample-size caveat of just 18 run-defense snaps in 2019 thus far. In run defense, Alexander has four tackles, one stop and a forced fumble. He has lined up in the box close to the line of scrimmage on 32% of snaps.  

 Collin Wilder, Wisconsin – 85.0 Overall Grade

After transferring to Wisconsin from Houston, Wilder is our first new safety featured for Week 2 on the heels of back to back solid performances. The Badgers have pitched two straight shutouts to start the 2019 season and Wilder has been an integral part of the defense — he is currently their highest-graded player. He picked off a pass in Week 1 and produced three defensive stops in Week 2. Wilder’s 45 defensive snaps through two games are already a career-high, matching his entire freshman year total at Houston. 

 Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State – 84.8 Overall Grade

Nasirildeen’s debut on this list is an excellent sign for Florida State fans and may remind them of a similarly versatile safety from two years ago. Nasirildeen’s swiss-army usage shows up all over the field – 53% free safety, 30% in the box, 11% slot corner, and 6% on the defensive line. He rarely leaves the field (156 total snaps are 12th most in FBS) and ranks second in the nation with 18 tackles, six of which were defensive stops. 

 Myles Wolfolk, North Carolina – 84.2 Overall Grade

Wolfolk is back on this list after a busy day against Miami where he was on the field for 74 of 77 total defensive snaps. Wolfolk operated primarily in the box (39 snaps) which brings his season rate up to 49%. He has 12 tackles this season and has yet to miss a tackle.

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