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OAYP: 2019 SEC Cornerback Rankings

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

We resumed releasing the 2019 SEC OAYP player rankings last week with the linebackers, following a short break for the NFL Draft.

Here are all the position groups we’ve covered so far:

-Quarterbacks

-Running Backs

-Receivers

-Tight Ends

-Offensive Linemen

-Edge Rushers

-Defensive Linemen

-Linebackers

Now it’s time for the cornerbacks. Gone are Thorpe Award finalist Greedy Williams and winner Deandre Baker, but there is a strong class of returnees, anyone of whom could end up bringing that trophy home this year.

So, just as we’ve done with all the other position groups, let’s tier the SEC cornerbacks into superstars (marginal OAYP >1.0), the second tier (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars.

*marginal OAYP scores in parentheses*

Superstars

-Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State (1.42)
-Shyheim Carter, Alabama (1.25)
-CJ Henderson, Florida (1.15)

2019 should be a good year for cornerbacks in college football, and the SEC is one of the premier reasons why. The conference, like the country, has a deep, talented group of cover guys that could compete for awards, All-American honors, and first round selections.

Cam Dantzler headlined a Mississippi State pass defense that allowed the fewest yards per attempt in the entire nation last year. The pass rush will presumably take a step back in 2019 after losing Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons from the defensive line, but there may not be much drop off, overall, of Dantzler continues to improve. Long and athletic, his two interceptions and nine pass breakups put him sixth among returning SEC cornerbacks, and he allowed the second lowest passer rating in the league on throws into his coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

Shyheim Carter is an interesting case, playing primarily from the slot for Alabama. Elite in both coverage and run defense, he allowed the fewest yards per snap in coverage among SEC returnees last year while also grading out tops at the position against the run. Despite dealing with a hand injury, he also notched two pick-sixes a season ago. Suffice it to say, it would be prudent for most teams to just stay as far away as possible from Carter.

Though third in the SEC in marginal OAYP, there are more than a few knowledgeable analysts that could make a convincing argument he’s the best cornerback in the country. He was expected to be the Gators’ CB2 in 2018, opposite Marco Wilson, but an ACL injury to the latter thrust Henderson into the spotlight, basically from the get-go. Henderson thrived in the face of adversity allowing a 50% catch rate without surrendering a single touchdown. The modern prototype, Henderson now headlines what could be the best secondary in the game in 2019.

Second Tier

-Kristian Fulton, LSU (0.88)
-Maurice Smitherman, Mississippi State (0.82)
-Kary Vincent, LSU (0.72)
-Patrick Surtain, Alabama (0.72)

There were a lot of questions going into the 2018 season about who would line up opposite Greedy Williams in Baton Rouge. After successfully appealing Kristian Fulton’s NCAA suspension, that was no longer the case. As teams largely tried to avoid Williams, they quickly realized that going the other way wasn’t a great option either. Less than 40% of the throws into his coverage were caught, and he posted ten total passes defensed. As he steps into Williams’ departed CB1 role, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that level of play. Until proven otherwise, however, there’s no reason to expect Fulton not to become the next great boundary defender in a long line at LSU.

Meanwhile in Starkville, Maurice Smitherman will look to be the Kristian Fulton to Dantzler’s Greedy Williams. He ranks third among SEC returnees in yards per coverage snap allowed, and looked good in a handful of starts when Jamal Peters was hurt last year. Like with Fulton, it’s hard to predict how guys will react to an enhanced role and a heightened workload, but Smitherman has the tools to succeed.

Vincent would have likely been LSU’s other starting cornerback had Fulton not been reinstated last year. Instead, he played primarily in the slot and flashed superstar potential in a few games -- against Georgia, Ole Miss, and Arkansas, for example. It would be nice to see some more consistency from the trackstar, but his upside is as high as he is fast.

Surtain was one of the best freshmen in the sport last season, regardless of position. From the size to the athleticism to the NFL pedigree in his blood, this is the sort of cornerback you would build in a lab. As great some of Nick Saban’s cornerbacks have been at Alabama, Suratin was probably the most fully developed as a true freshman, perhaps even more so than Minkah Fitzpatrick. His dad was an All-Pro, and in the next few years the same will probably be true for junior. But before that can happen, he’s still got at least two years of torturing SEC quarterbacks in his future.

Potential Breakout Star

-Tyrell Ajian (0.52)

Kentucky loses every starter from its 2018 secondary, leaving the Wildcats in dire need of leadership in the secondary. The former four-star is versatile from the slot, solid in coverage and run defense. He had a breakout performance in the win over Mississippi State last year and offers at least some modicum of experience to a position group that is severely lacking in that department.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying SEC Cornerbacks

1. Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State: 1.42
2. Shyheim Carter, Alabama: 1.25
3. CJ Henderson, Florida: 1.15
4. Kristian Fulton, LSU: 0.88
5. Maurice Smitherman, Mississippi State: 0.82
6. Kary Vincent, LSU: 0.72
7. Patrick Surtain Jr., Alabama: 0.72
8. Noah Igbinogehne, Auburn: 0.49
9. Bryce Thompson, Tennessee: 0.48
10. Javaris Davis, Auburn: 0.47
11. Tyrique McGhee, Georgia: 0.45
12. Eric Stokes, Georgia: 0.42
13. Trey Dean, Florida: 0.31
14. Tyson Campbell, Georgia: 0.18
15. Christian Holmes, Missouri: 0.18
16. DeMarkus Acy, Missouri: 0.15
17. Marco Wilson (2017), Florida: 0.15
18. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina: -0.19
19. Allan George, Vanderbilt: -0.36
20. Jordyn Peters, Auburn: -0.42
21. Christian Tutt, Auburn: -0.52
22. Charles Oliver, Texas A&M: -0.61
23. Baylen Buchanan, Tennessee: -0.63
24. Alontae Taylor, Tennessee: -0.66
25. Jalen Julius, Ole Miss: -0.69
26. Keidron Smith, Ole Miss: -0.99
27. Vernon Dasher, Ole Miss: -1.06
28. Debione Renfro, Texas A&M: -1.26
29. D'Vone McClure, Arkansas: -1.33
30. Jarcques McClellion, Arkansas: -1.53

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