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2023 Cornerback Unit Rankings: Does Alabama or Georgia have the best CB depth chart for the fall?

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton05/10/23


With spring practice in the books and the second transfer portal window closing, it’s the perfect time to evaluate some pre-summer 2023 positional unit rankings. 

We kickstarted the series on offense, opening with quarterbacks,examining the Top 10 QB rooms in the country in the fall. We’ve also looked at the 2023 running back unit rankings, as well as the 2023 top receiver depth charts and 2023 tight end rooms.

We rounded out the offensive unit rankings looking at the best 10 OL units

This week, we looked at the other side of the football, examining the top 10 defensive line/edge units in college football as well as the best linebacker units this fall.

Like QBs, this is not about singular talented individuals. For example, cornerback Dwight McGolthern was awesome for Arkansas in 2022 (52 tackles, four interceptions, 14 passes defended and two forced fumbles), but the Razorbacks also had the worst pass defense in the SEC last season, so I don’t have them slotted in this latest rankings.

So without further ado, the top 10 cornerback depth charts in 2023.

1. Alabama 

The Crimson Tide bring back one of — if not the — No. 1 cornerback in the country in Kool-Aid McKinstry. The former 5-star recruit is considered a Top 10 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft after leading the SEC in pass breakups in 2022 with 16. 

Opposite of McKinistry is another ex-5-star recruit in Terrion Arnold, a sophomore who backed up Kyree Jackson and Eli Ricks last season. Redshirt freshman Earl Little Jr., a former Top 75 recruit, is the projected starter at STAR/nickel. 

The Tide just brought in Louisiana corner Trey Amos for added depth and competition, beating out LSU, Florida, Oklahoma, Penn State and Auburn for the Sun Belt standout. Also in the rotational mix is 5-star freshman Dezz Ricks and sophomore Antonio Kite.  

2. Georgia 

The Bulldogs must replace a two-year starter in Keele Ringo, but they have a cadre of former top recruits vying for the CB2 job opposite of junior Kamari Lassiter, a potential fringe 1st Round pick. Daylen Everette, Julian Humphrey and Nyland Green are all battling for that second cornerback spot. They also have 4-star freshman AJ Harris waiting in the wings.

Georgia returns the best nickel/STAR in the country in Javon Bullard, who may also spend time at safety in 2023. The junior was a playmaking machine for the Bulldogs last season, earning Player of the Game honors in the Semifinal and National Championship. He finished the season with close to 50 tackles, two picks, seven TFLs and 3.5 sacks. 

The Bulldogs were so deep at CB that former 5-star signee Jaheim Singletary transferred to Arkansas this offseason.

3. Iowa 

Cooper DeJean was an All-Big Ten first-teamer in 2022 after stuffing the stat sheet for an elite Hawkeyes pass defense that ranked No. 1 nationally. The junior had 75 tackles and five interceptions — including three pick-sixes, scoring more touchdowns than Iowa’s entire receiving room COMBINED. 

Jermari Harris is back after missing the 2022 season with an injury. He had four picks in 2021, and with Dejean, gives Iowa one of the best duos in the Big Ten. 

The Hawkeyes lack experienced depth behind the two starters, but DC Phil Parker has excelled at developing the next-man up. 

4. Michigan 

Former 5-star recruit Will Johnson made an immediate impact as a freshman on the Wolverines’ defense in 2022, showcasing some of the stickiest coverage skills in the country. Johnson, who had three INTs, led all Power 5 corners in man-coverage grade, per PFF. 

With DJ Turner off to the NFL, Johnson is paired with sophomore Amorion Walker. For now, at least. Walker struggled some in UM’s spring game, but the sophomore is an athletic talent DC Jesse Minter really wants on the field. 

The Wolverines do have one of the more reliable nickel backs in the country in veteran Mike Sainristil, a fifth-year senior who had 58 tackles, seven PBUs, a couple of sacks and 6.5 TFLs in 2022.

5. Penn State 

With opposing passing attacks not wanting to challenge Joey Porter Jr. last season, Nittany Lions CB2 Kalen King led the Big Ten with 21 passes defended. Now CB1, King is the next future high NFL Draft pick and projects as a preseason All-American. Opposite of King is senior Johnny Dixon, who has played a lot at both corner and nickel the last few seasons, picking off two passes in 2022. Senior Daequan Hardy is the projected starter at nickel.

Back in December, Penn State added Storm Duck out of the transfer portal, but the former UNC corner opted to make a second offseason move in the spring window, heading to Louisville instead. 

The Nittany Lions could look to add another cornerback out of the portal this offseason.

6. Notre Dame

The Irish have one of the nation’s best corners — underclassmen or otherwise — in Benjamin Morrison, a former blue-chip recruit who was awesome as a freshman last season. Morrison was tied for second in the nation with six picks, returning one for a touchdown. 

Fifth-year senior Cam Hart is back and is battling fellow senior Clarence Lewis for the starting job opposite of Morrison. Hart has seen plenty of snaps the last few seasons, but mostly as a complementary piece in Notre Dame’s secondary.

The Irish did bring in Oklahoma State transfer Thomas Harper to start at nickel, and they have some intriguing rotational options in sophomore Jaden Mickey and freshman  Christian Gray.

7. TCU 

Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson won the Jim Thorpe Award last season, and yet many believed he wasn’t even the best corner on the Horned Frogs’ defense. Josh Newton was a first-team Big 12 honoree, with three INTs and 15 pass breakups. 

Despite losing Hodges-Tomlinson to the league, cornerback might be the deepest unit on TCU’s defense in 2023. 

Not only do the Horned Frogs have Newton, but they brought in transfer Avery Helm from Florida, and signed the No. 1 and No. 3 JUCO corners in Channing Canada and Mason White, both of whom reportedly had strong springs. 

8. Ohio State 

The Buckeyes have one of several corners featured in various Way-too-Early 2024 Mock Drafts in Denzel Burke, a physical 6-1, 190-pound junior. 

And yet, Burke isn’t even guaranteed a starting spot in 2023, as Jordan Hancock and Davison Igbinosun will former a three-man unit that rotates frequently. Former top recruit Jyaire Brown is just outside that group but will see snaps as well.

Ohio State saw its nickel-back Tanner McCalister exhaust his eligibility so it brought in Syracuse standout Ja’Had Carter to compete with 2022 backup Cameron Martinez for the job. Carter missed most of the spring with an injury but the three-year starter was awesome for the Orange last season, picking off three passes, scoring a 90-yard fumble return TD and adding 36 tackles. He also provides DC Jim Knowles with nice versatility, as he could see time at safety for the Buckeyes so Knowles can play three of the aforementioned CBs together in some situations.

9. LSU

Admittedly, this a big bet on upside and projection, as the Tigers have completely overhauled their starting secondary for the second straight season. 

LSU brought in transfer corners Duce Chestnut from Syracuse, FCS All-American Zy Alexander, who had nine picks in two seasons at Southeastern Louisiana, and former Top 50 prospect Denver Harris from Texas A&M. The Tigers also added Ohio State’s JK Johnson and have former 5-star Sage Ryan as an option at nickel. Freshman Javien Toviano is also expected to push for rotational snaps. 

Other CB units may have more established stars, but LSU’s unit has the potential to be a top-flight group if several of the newcomers coalesce this fall.

10. Texas A&M

The Aggies had the nation’s No. 4 pass defense in terms of yards per attempt in 2022, and they bring back CB1 in Tyreek Chappell and added former 5-star UNC transfer cornerback Tony Grimes

Second-year DB Bryce Anderson is the likely starter at nickel after earning spring MVP honors, while Texas A&M also has some solid depth pieces in FSU transfer Sam McCall and blue-chip freshman Jayvon Thomas.

Honorable Mention: Louisville, Florida State, South Carolina, Clemson, Oregon