The "Triple Take" continues with a breakdown of the cornerbacks. In the tenth installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the cornerback position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Take ...
Cornerbacks are always in demand, and we should see several players from this position selected in the top half of the first round. As is becoming the case more and more, we are not only seeing great athletes here, but also great athletes with size that can really run. The cornerback depth is considered good, not great, so this might not be the year to wait. Again, cornerbacks always get selected quickly.
#5 - Kyler Gordon, Washington (5-11 1/2, 194 lbs.) - The first of two cornerbacks from Washington listed here, Gordon is widely considered an athletic freak. However, his Combine testing was just "Really good" rather than "Amazing". But you could also see that Gordon wasn't real refined with his track start, which of course doesn't matter for football reasons. Testing aside, and who knows, maybe he blows up at his Pro Day, Gordon was excellent this year for the Huskies. He can play in the slot or on the outside and that versatility carries a lot of weight. He is a physical cover man and an excellent tackler. Gordon's route recognition still needs work as does his technique in press man coverage. Still, on tape, his athletic ability, particularly Gordon's burst, really show up time and time again.
#4 - Andrew Booth, Clemson (6-0, 194 lbs.) - Booth has really sweet feet for any cornerback, let alone one that is six feet tall. He also has very good length and musculature on that frame and plays with a physicality through the route. You see a very good closing burst from Booth and his short area suddenness is quite impressive. Booth plays the ball very well. He can be a little reckless with his tackling, which needs cleaned up at the next level. Booth gave up too many catches this year and wasn't a shutdown player in his first year as a fulltime starter for Clemson. But his upside is immense, and you would think that this is clearly an improving player. He also looks very capable of excelling at the next level in either man or zone coverage.
#3 - Trent McDuffie, Washington (5-11, 193 lbs.) - The biggest concern with McDuffie is his lack of length, but he plays big and with excellent aggression and toughness. In fact, he is not only maybe the most reliable tackler in this cornerback class, but he is also very physical and sometimes violent in getting his man to the ground. The edge in which McDuffie plays with will endear him to NFL coaches very quickly. He has a strong frame and uses it well, but McDuffie also shows a very nice closing burst. McDuffie didn't play a lot of man coverage at Washington, so this is a bit of an unknown with his evaluation right now. This might be the best zone coverage corner in the draft though. He also didn't get his hands on the football as much as you would like at the college level. He projects either to the outside or in the slot at the next level. McDuffie is a good blitzer from the slot and very capable overall near the line of scrimmage.
#2 - Derek Stingley, LSU (6-0, 190 lbs.) - Stingley is a difficult guy to get a great grasp on right now. When LSU won the National Championship with Joe Burrow, Stingley was a dominant player as a 19-year-old. But since then, because of COVID and injuries, we have seen very little from this incredibly talented player. Stingley's athletic arrogance is off the charts in a way that many all-time great cornerbacks approach the game. He has simply fantastic tools for the position. This includes his height, long arms, speed, but especially the quickness and fluidity that he flips his hips and changes directions. He baits quarterbacks and takes the football away. Stingley knows that he is good. Tackling, and the want-to involved with tackling, isn't Stingley's game and he has some selfishness on the field. But if he is shutting down the opponent's top receiver on Stingley Island, does it really matter all that much? And there are many instances in which Stingley blows up bigger blockers and ball carriers while at LSU.
#1 - Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, Cincinnati (6-3, 190 lbs.) - Gardner has been starting since his true freshman season for Cincinnati and really became a truly dominant player in 2021. This is a cornerback with rare size and fantastic arm length, and he uses those dimensions very well in all aspects of cornerback play. He is an ideal press man corner that can really get physical at the line of scrimmage to disrupt wide receiver releases. Once he opens up his long stride, Gardner really covers a lot of ground, but it is Gardner's short area burst that really stands out for such a tall cover man. He has excellent ball skills but can be a little too aggressive as a risk taker when trying to create the big play. Smaller twitchy explosive receivers could give Gardner trouble at the next level. Gardner is a great prospect, especially for defenses that want to major in press man coverage.
Dale's Take ...
With so many talented wide receivers coming into the NFL in recent years and the league's increase in passing in general, there just aren't enough talented cornerbacks to go around. And the position is more difficult to play than ever given the rules in place. This year's rookie class at the position has a number of solid players at the top of the board and some interesting mid-round prospects as well. And the top guys have the one thing for which many teams are searching - size.
#5 - Kair Elam, Florida (6-1 ½, 191 lbs.) - The nephew of former NFL safety Matt Elam, Kair Elam didn't have a great 2021 season, perhaps because the team around him wasn't as good. Elam's 2020 tape is outstanding. He has excellent size and also ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Elam can play press and shows the ability to be a standout in zone, as well. His father, Abram, also played seven seasons in the NFL, so he's got the bloodlines.
#4 - Andrew Booth, Clemson (6-0, 194 lbs.) - Still just 21, Booth had five interceptions the past two seasons for the Tigers. Booth is a willing tackler, closing on the ball quickly. A former five-star recruit, he has the kind of athleticism you're looking for at the position. Booth played his best later in the season last year after Clemson righted the ship and won its final five games. The best is still ahead. Was dealing with a quad injury at the NFL Scouting Combine, so he didn't work out.
#3 - Trent McDuffie, Washington (5-11, 193 lbs.) - A three-year starter at Washington, McDuffie didn't get thrown at a lot in 2021, leading to him having no interceptions. But he's a physical player who is willing to stick his nose in and help out in the run game. He allowed just 16 receptions in 11 games in 2021. McDuffie is ridiculously smooth in his backpedal and changes direction well. He also ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
#2 - Derek Stingley, LSU (6-0, 190 lbs.) - A Lisfranc injury limited Stingley to just three games in 2021, while he appeared in seven games in 2020 because of COVID-19. So, teams might have to go back to his 2019 tape to really see what Stingley is. And as a true freshman, he was the cornerstone of LSU's national championship secondary. Stingley had 38 tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass defenses in that season. He didn't work out at the combine, but is expected to do so at LSU's pro day. If he tests well, expect him to be an early first-round pick. He doesn't turn 21 until June. He's the grandson of former NFL player Darryl Stingley, who was left paralyzed following a hit by the Raiders' Jack Tatum in a 1978 preseason game.
#1 - Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, Cincinnati (6-3, 190 lbs.) - A long, fast cornerback, Gardner might be the most talented player in this draft when it's all said and done. Gardner uses his hands to redirect wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and then mirrors them throughout their routes. He had nine career interceptions and 16 pass defenses in 33 career games. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 6.6 yards per catch in 2021. In 1,059 career snaps in coverage in college, he did not allow a single touchdown pass.
Mike's Take ...
Cornerback is like a lot of positions in this year's draft, there are intriguing prospects available and plenty of them.
That should be good news for more teams than not.
"If you go through the team needs you could put offensive tackle and corner down for just about every team," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah assessed. "And you can't have enough of them, especially when you're talking about corners.
"When you look at these corners, it's not just the premiere, top-end guys. These guys are gonna be your core special teams players, these mid-round picks, your third and fourth corners. There's a lot of value. You're gonna have a great team, you better have depth at corner. It's not just coming out of the first and second day. There's some real talent in that third day."
#5 - Tariq Woolen, UTSA (6-4, 205 lbs.) - Texas-San Antonio plays in Conference USA, not the SEC. And Woolen has only been playing cornerback for a couple of seasons after converting from wide receiver. But the 4.26 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL Scouting Combine should resonate with teams looking for big and fast, no matter where it's coming from. "You're not gonna find bigger and you're not gonna find faster than that combination he has," Jeremiah insisted. Woolen made himself noticeable at the Senior Bowl (where he hit a reported 22.45 mph on the GPS). His confidence ought to be soaring after flying down the track in Indianapolis.
#4 - Andrew Booth, Clemson (6-0, 194 lbs.) - He's not a finished product, having played just 25 games in three seasons at Clemson. But Booth has already established himself as an aggressive, physical tackler. When he breaks on the ball or a ball carrier he does so with a purpose. And the majority of his five career interceptions (all in his last two seasons over the course of 21 games) resulted from an ability to play the ball and make what could be described as difficult-to-outstanding catches. Booth didn't do any on-field work at the Combine. His physicality wouldn't have shown up there, anyway.
#3 - Trent McDuffie, Washington (5-11, 193 lbs.) - McDuffie's interviews at the Combine apparently impressed as much as his tape. "I spoke to a defensive coordinator and he said, 'You bring McDuffie into your room, he could actually coach your secondary, too,'" the NFL Network's Peter Schrager reported. "He only had visits with 23 teams," Jeremiah said, with tongue firmly in cheek, before maintaining NFL teams had clearly been "doing their homework" on McDuffie. He puts his knowledge of the game to good use by attacking once he diagnoses what's happening, whether that's breaking on the ball or chasing a play down from the back side. He gets get through blocks to make plays, he's an aggressive tackle and he shows up in the backfield as well as down the field.
#2 - Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, Cincinnati (6-3, 190 lbs.) - Gardner went to the Combine with seemingly just one question hanging over his head _ speed. Then he posted unofficial times of 4.52 and 4.57 in the 40. "Box checked," Jeremiah declared. Gardner's official time of 4.41 checked it with a Sharpie. "You don't see corners that are this long and this rangy and this fluid," Jeremiah raved. Gardner didn't win the Jim Thorpe Award, as his Cincinnati teammate Coby Bryant did, but Gardner will get drafted before Bryant, and perhaps before any other cornerback.
#1 - Derek Stingley, LSU (6-0, 190 lbs.) - Teams proceeding with caution may convince themselves Stingley isn't worth the risk early in Round One. He had Lisfranc surgery in late September and his past two seasons haven't been up to the standard Stingley established in 2019. But that standard was through the roof. "He's a tricky evaluation," Jeremiah maintained. "You go back to 2019, he looks like a Top 5 pick all day long. And then the last two years just hasn't quite been the same player. And then you throw an injury on top of that. A tough one to kinda slot in when you're ranking players because the ability, you know it's all there." You know it's all there, in part, because of the LSU practice video broadcast during the Combine that featured Stingley locking up repeatedly with Ja'Marr Chase one-on-one. Stingley more than held his own against a player who would go on to become the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year this season. Assuming the medical reports check out eventually and Stingley can perform at LSU's Pro Day on April 6, that's the guy.