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OAYP: 2019 ACC Cornerback Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the ACC's returning cornerbacks.

In case you missed it, I’ve already released the marginal OAYP rankings for all the qualifying ACC offensive players as well as the front seven defenders. Those, along with a more comprehensive explanation (in the QB rankings), can be found here:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | EDGE | DL | LB

Now, we’re onto the cornerbacks. As we did with all the other players, we’ll tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1.0), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

This might be the most star studded, top heavy group in the league.

*marginal OAYP in parentheses*

Superstars

-Bryce Hall, Virginia (2.38)
-Mark Gilbert (17), Duke (1.74)
-Trajan Bandy, Miami (1.64)
-Essang Bassey, Wake Forest (1.28)
-Dane Jackson, Pitt (1.27)
-AJ Terrell, Clemson (1.27)

In a stacked cornerback class, not only in the ACC but nationally, Bryce Hall still stands out from the pack. He’s a big, long, fluid athlete with plenty of speed -- basically the perfect modern cornerback. A starter since he was a freshman, all that experience finally came to the forefront last year as he garnered All-American honors, led the nation in pass breakups and total passes defended, and graded out as Pro Football Focus second best CB overall and in coverage, second only to Washington’s Byron Murphy. Bearing all that in mind, I feel comfortable calling Hall the best returning cornerback in college football.

I hope you didn’t forget about Mark Gilbert. The Duke star suffered a season ending hip injury in week two last year, so I had to use his 2017 numbers. Granted, only time will tell if he is back to his old self, but #28 for Duke two years ago was one of the nation’s best at his position. Whereas Bryce Hall primarily plays off or zone coverage, Gilbert is at his best man-to-man on an island. In 2017, he allowed a 2.8 passer rating on slants and a 17.7 passer rating on 9-routes. He also ranked in the national top five for both picks and passes defended. If Gilbert is right, he’s a Thorpe Award candidate.

Last year, Trajan Bandy was a part of an elite Miami secondary that helped “The U” finish first in total pass defense and second in yards per attempt allowed. Now, as the lone returning starter, he’s the face of it. He emerged as a dynamite slot corner as a freshman before moving outside and making the leap to elite boundary corner last year, finishing in the top five in the ACC in picks, and the top ten in breakups and total passes defended, while limiting opposing receivers to a sub-50% catch rate, allowing fewer than 20 receptions in the regular season, and rocking the Turnover Chain more than any other Cane.

Essang Bassey isn’t as long as Gilbert or as thick as Hall, but, like Bandy, he plays bigger than his listed height and weight. Boasting elite footwork and ball skills, Bassey may be quicker than fast, which is scary because he’s got straightaway speed to burn. He’s just that agile. He finished 2018 second in the league in breakups and third in total passes defended, and somehow that was still a slight step back from 2017. While Hall was good two years ago, he wasn’t great, Gilbert was hurt last year, and Bandy wasn’t a true starter throughout 2017, as a freshman, Bassey has arguably been the ACC’s most consistent cornerback over the past two seasons.

It looks like Dane Jackson and AJ Terrell are basically tied for the fourth spot, and for all intents and purposes they may as well be. They are actually in order, but it takes a bunch of decimals to get there and I don’t think it looks very good aesthetically, but the point is, the formula says there’s almost no discernible difference in the two.

In any case, Jackson has been a solid two year starter at Pitt, and while he didn’t record any interceptions last year, he did finish third in the conference in breakups behind only Bassey and Hall, and forced four fumbles. Meanwhile, Terrell finished in the top five in the ACC with three interceptions, including the pick-six off Tua Tagovailoa in the title game. With another solid year, Terrell could play himself into a first round draft selection.

Second Tier

-Brandon Sebastian, Boston College (0.74)

Like I said, this is a top heavy group. Brandon Sebastian is the lone player that meets the second tier threshold, but that actually says quite a lot given how strong the group is at the top. Boston College has developed an elite secondary pedigree under Steve Addazio. The Eagles have had five defensive backs picked in the last four NFL Drafts, with at least one going every year. And that number should probably be at least seven, as Taj-Amir Torres and Lukas Denis stunningly both went undrafted back in April. Granted, that streak may end as Sebastian is only a redshirt sophomore, but he should get his name on professional radars this year for the 2021 or 2022 draft. He possesses ideal length for the position and flashed upper echelon ball skills as a redshirt freshman, ending up in the ACC’s top ten in breakups and passes defended to go along with a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble. He also flashed some solid utility, tallying two tackles for loss and a sack, as well.

Potential Breakout Stars

-Jason Pinnock, Pitt (0.77)
-Al Blades Jr., Miami (0.7)
-Darrius Bratton, Virginia (0.6)

All three of these guys will benefit from playing alongside one of the ACC’s superstar cornerbacks --  the best cornerback in the country in Bratton’s case -- and nothing breeds opportunity like lining up opposite a guy that opposing quarterbacks are too nervous to even look at. Pinnock started about half the season last year and, alongside Dane Jackson, forms one of the more physically imposing cornerback duos you’ll find. Blades Jr., son of the late Al Blades, is Hurricane royalty and boasts blue chip pedigree and potential. And Bratton also earned a handful of starts last year and recorded seven pass breakups, showing off his length and the instincts to match.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Returning ACC Cornerbacks

1. Bryce Hall, Virginia (2.38)
2. Mark Gilbert (17), Duke (1.74)
3. Trajan Bandy, Miami (1.64)
4. Essang Bassey, Wake Forest (1.28)
5. Dane Jackson, Pitt (1.27)
6. AJ Terrell, Clemson (1.27)
7. Brandon Sebastian, Boston College (0.74)
8. Kyle Meyers, Florida State (0.4)
9. Stanford Samuels, Florida State (0.34)
10. Josh Blackwell, Duke (0.27)
11. Michael Carter, Duke (0.14)
12. Chris Ingram, NC State (-0.06)
13. Christopher Fredrick, Syracuse (-0.06)
14. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech (-0.2)
15. Tre Swilling, Georgia Tech (-0.3)
16. Nick McCloud, NC State (-0.33)
17. Patrice Rene, North Carolina (-0.4)
18. Tanner Ingle, NC State (-0.4)
19. Amari Henderson, Wake Forest (-0.5)
20. Trey Morrison, North Carolina (-0.5)
21. Ja'Sir Taylor, Wake Forest (-0.53)
22. Trill Williams, Syracuse (-0.57)
23. Stephen Griffin, NC State (-0.6)
24. Bryce Watts, Virginia Tech (-0.73)
25. Jovonn Quillen, Virginia Tech (-0.9)
26. Scoop Bradshaw, Syracuse (-1.07)
27. Ajani Kerr, Georgia Tech (-1.2)
28. Jaytlin Askew, Georgia Tech (-1.34)
29. Rodjay Burns, Louisville (-1.77)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP