The 2021 NFL Draft concluded not even a month ago, but it’s never too early for NFL teams to prepare for next year’s draft.
The Bears came away with one of the mostly publicly-praised draft classes this year, securing a potential franchise quarterback in Justin Fields, a standout offensive tackle in Teven Jenkins, and a sneaky good Day 3 haul. They addressed their two biggest needs on the roster with talented prospects, and they were able to add depth at key positions, as well.
However, the Bears still aren’t a roster without flaws. They face the long-term dilemma of using the draft to either build a loaded offense around Fields or bolster a defense that features numerous contributors over the age of 30. His becoming a franchise player at quarterback would be a great way to ease those concerns on both sides of the ball, but regardless, Chicago has a myriad of paths they can take in the 2022 draft and beyond.
One of those positions they could look to address early is cornerback, which may just be their biggest need heading into the 2021 season. Jaylon Johnson played very well as a rookie last year, but after yet another shoulder injury, his long-term durability is something worth monitoring going forward. Desmond Trufant is on a one-year rental deal and has missed 17 games in the last two seasons. Outside of those two, the rest of Chicago’s cornerback room consists heavily of unproven, late-round picks.
Having traded their 2022 first-round pick to move up for Fields, the Bears won’t be able to land a top-tier corner next April. However, in a class that seems to feature plenty of intriguing talents at the position, they could still find another quality starter to feature alongside Johnson going forward.
Though it’s still incredibly early in 2022 draft preparations, here are a handful of intriguing cornerback prospects the Bears could consider drafting next year.
Out of Bears’ reach
1. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Derek Stingley Jr. broke out onto the scene in 2019, starting as a true freshman and being named a consensus All-American in LSU’s championship-winning season. He finished up with 6 interceptions and 15 pass deflections that year and followed that up with 5 deflections in seven games in 2020.
He’s the full package as a cornerback: lengthy, fluid, intelligent, athletic and physical. Stingley is a fantastic athlete who changes direction and mirrors routes incredibly well, and his high football IQ and physicality through a receiver’s stems give him tremendous upside in man coverage. Unfortunately for the Bears, it seems highly unlikely he’ll make it out of the top 10 next year.
2. Kaiir Elam, Florida
Florida has done a good job of churning out NFL cornerbacks in recent years, and Kaiir Elam might be the best they’ve produced in quite some time.
A 6-foot-2 field-side corner with superb intelligence in zone coverage and great lateral quickness in and out of his breaks, Elam is a fluid mover for someone as lengthy as he is. He has great ball skills and route-recognition abilities, and he does a good job of entering the frame of opposing receivers at the catch point. He’s another player who projects as a Round 1 talent, but should he fall for some reason, the Bears would be wise to do their homework on him.
3. Sevyn Banks, Ohio State
Ohio State is another program that has churned out plenty of quality defensive backs, and their best cornerback heading into 2021 is Sevyn Banks.
Banks specializes in press coverage, using his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and combat through their stems. He has the athletic ability needed to explode coming out of his breaks and effectively mirror routes. He stepped into a big role for the Buckeyes last year, breaking up 7 passes in eight games. Another year in the starting lineup could help him improve his instincts, and if he does that, he could very well be a top-15 draft pick come next year.
4. Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
If you’re looking for a breakout cornerback in the 2022 draft, Andrew Booth Jr. could be that guy.
He combines a 6-foot frame with willingness as a tackler and strength at the catch point. His physicality through a receiver’s stems gives him upside along the boundary, and he also explodes well out of his breaks and has good long speed. Booth has played largely in a reserve role for Clemson, but with an increased workload in 2021, he could solidify himself as a first-round talent.
Round 2 targets
5. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU
The first of (spoiler alert) three TCU cornerbacks on my board, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson brings an impressive football pedigree as the nephew of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Hodges-Tomlinson isn’t just a name, though; his skill-set is incredibly polished. He changes direction incredibly well and has loose hips dropping back in coverage. He bursts well upfield and has the athletic ability needed to defend vertical route concepts. A scheme-diverse cover corner, he has tremendous route-recognition ability and combines a high football IQ with a willingness to enter a receiver’s frame and very good ball-tracking skills. Though undersized at 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, Hodges-Tomlinson has a high ceiling at the next level.
6. Avery Young, Rutgers
Rutgers hasn’t had a first-round pick since 2010, but if Avery Young takes a big step in 2021, he could be the one to break that streak.
Young is a crafty technician in man coverage who does a great job of reading the movements of opposing receivers and keeping his pads squared as not to let receivers attack his blind spots. He’s physical at the line of scrimmage, uses his hands well at the top of a route, and he offers very good raw athletic ability. He also plays with a willingness and physical edge in run support that makes him an effective tackler. Though his ball production hasn’t been great in college, his impact on the game goes beyond the stat sheet.
7. Derion Kendrick, transfer portal
A former wide receiver, Derion Kendrick’s development at cornerback has been impressive to watch over the last few years.
He’s a very good athlete with great deep speed and oily hips in coverage. His receiver experience is apparent in how he attacks the ball in the air, and he has developed very well in terms of his route-recognition abilities in off-man coverage. The big concern with Kendrick is his impending 2021 status, as he’s currently in the transfer portal and hasn’t decided where he’ll be playing next year. If he gets the chance to showcase his skills this year, he could play himself into the late first round.
8. Mykael Wright, Oregon
Oregon had four defensive backs selected in the 2021 draft, and they still have another stud coming up as early as 2022.
Mykael Wright is a fluid cover corner with loose hips that allow him to change direction easily in space. He accelerates well uphill and has the raw speed needed to shut down vertical routes. His intelligence complements that athleticism, as he’s quick to pick up on a route concept and jump a route with precision and timing. His 9 pass deflections in seven games in 2020 stand out in the stat sheet and reflect his aggressive style of play, and he also has two kick returns for touchdowns to his name. Though skinny and not incredibly physical, Wright’s athletic ability gives him high Day 2 value.
9. Kyler Gordon, Washington
Washington has had eight defensive backs drafted in the last five drafts, and it’s likely they’ll have at least two more selected in 2022.
Kyler Gordon was listed on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list in 2020 for having a 42.5-inch vertical jump and a 6.52 three-cone drill, the latter of which being a 96th percentile measurement. He has loose hips and can change direction with ease in man coverage. His closing speed in both run support and jumping routes makes him an explosive weapon who can make big plays. His deep speed, agility and athletic upside give him a high ceiling at the next level. Although he can stand to be more physical, Gordon has the potential to develop into a quality starter.
10. Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
With length and ball production galore, Ahmad Gardner has plenty of physical tools to work with going forward.
At 6-foot-2 with a large wingspan, Gardner offers great value in tight windows and on the 50-50 ball. He has very good ball-tracking skills and complements that with the body control needed to square up to the ball and contort himself in order to make a big play. For a longer cornerback, he also has really good upfield burst coming out of his backpedal and has impressive long speed. His frame is thin and wiry, which can affect his physicality in press coverage. However, his combination of length, fluidity and ball skills give him a high ceiling at the next level.
Round 3 and beyond
11. Trent McDuffie, Washington
Trent McDuffie brings really good athletic traits to the table. Like, really good.
A stellar athlete at the field-side position, McDuffie’s fluidity in coverage and upfield burst coming out of his backpedal makes him an ideal fit in a scheme like that of the Bears, which under Sean Desai should allow for high coverage for its cornerbacks. He has polished footwork in his backpedal and doesn’t waste his movements in man or zone coverage. He has very good ball skills and is also a quality tackler with special teams experience. McDuffie’s physicality needs work, but from an athletic perspective, he’s an intriguing Day 2 prospect.
12. Josh Jobe, Alabama
Interested in a productive Alabama defensive back who will have two seasons of starting tape after the 2021 season? You’ll like Josh Jobe.
Jobe broke out with 11 pass deflections once he entered the Crimson Tide’s starting lineup in 2020. He has great length at 6-foot-1 and has the wingspan necessarily to lock out receivers at the line of scrimmage and make plays on the ball in coverage. He has ideal fluidity bursting uphill and uses his hands well in press coverage. Jobe is also a quality tackler with plenty of special teams experience. Though improving instinctually, his physical attributes make him an intriguing prospect in Rounds 2 or 3.
13. Jalen Green, Mississippi State
A change of scenery could be a favorable approach for the physically-gifted Jalen Green in 2021.
Green brings great length along the boundary at 6-foot-1 and has the physicality and mean edge needed to compete at the catch point and at the top of a receiver’s route. He is an effective wrap-up tackler with great play strength, and he complements that willing edge with good closing speed and upfield burst. He was unable to secure a full-time starting role at Texas and is raw in his coverage instincts, but the length and physicality should have him on NFL radars this early.
14. Noah Daniels, TCU
Noah Daniels is looking to build off of a tremendous 2020 season that was robbed from him after a season-ending injury.
Physical and scrappy at the line of scrimmage, Daniels thrives in tight coverage situations. He has the raw athletic ability needed to accelerate vertically, and his hand usage along the boundary makes him a good fit against bigger receivers. Although he has played in just four games over the last two years due to injury, his upside as a shutdown corner should have him on NFL radars late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
15. T.J. Carter, TCU
Even after losing both Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington to the NFL this year, TCU’s secondary is going to be really good in 2021.
T.J. Carter was a four-year starter at Memphis who took advantage of the additional year of eligibility granted as a result of COVID-19. He’s a scrappy cornerback with intelligence in man coverage and consistency in his ability to defend leverage points. While he may not have the highest physical ceiling in the class, he’s sound and brings good ball production to the table as an early Day 3 target.