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Phil Steele: Top 25 Freshman Defensive Back rankings ahead of 2024 college football season

Alex Weberby:Alex Weber07/09/24

The college football season grows closer by the day, which means it’s prediction season for college football magazine mogul Phil Steele.

He’s always an authority on the sport, especially when it comes to his preseason predictions. As is typically the case, for the 2024 issue, Steele extensively broke down his own freshman rankings, rating the top players at each position from the 2024 high school class.

So below, you can see Phil Steele’s full ranking of the top 25 defensive backs coming out of the ’24 cycle along with some comparisons to how the players stack up in our own On3 Industry Rankings. Take a look:

1. Jaylen Mbakwe | Alabama

Jaylen Mbakwe Alabama Crimson Tide
Five-star Alabama signee Jaylen Mbakwe. (Joseph Hastings/BamaOnLine)

Phil Steele goes a little against the grain with his No. 1 freshman defensive back, rating the Alabama signee at the top despite Mbakwe’s consensus as the No. 2 cornerback in the class per the On3 Industry Rankings. But there’s no better endorsement of him than what his high school coach, Pinson (AL) Clay-Chalkville’s Drew Gilmer, had to say:

“I absolutely love the kid to death,” Gilmer told “He’s a phenomenal football player and deserves to be No. 1 in the state. He might be No. 1 in any class. I love him even more as a person. He’s a phenomenal human being. He makes us better as a team every time he walks in the door. He always has a smile on his face. You name it, he can do it.”

2. Ellis Robinson IV | Georgia

Ellis Robinson IV
Photo by Chad Simmons/On3

Phil Steele’s No. 2 freshman defensive back is universally appraised as the top cornerback prospect in the 2024 class by the recruiting services. All four of the major outlets rated him the No. 1 corner, while the On3 Industry pegs him as the No. 2 overall player in the entire class.

In high school, Robinson was able to lead his team, Iona Prep, to its first-ever Catholic state championship before transferring down to the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida for his final two seasons. Kirby Smart has been terrific at producing pros at the CB spot and Robinson appears to be one of the next in line.

3. KJ Bolden | Georgia

KJ Bolden Georgia
KJ Bolden – 4 (Palmer Thombs / DawgsHQ)

Get ready for Georgia, Georgia, and then a lot more Georgia later on in the rankings. Two incoming Bulldogs make the top 10 for Phil Steele, second and third obviously, while UGA places a total of four defensive backs on his list. Heck, that could be an entire starting DB unit in 2-3 years.

Bolden comes in as the first safety on Steele’s list and he’s universally accepted as such by scouts. Every service included in the On3 Industry has him ranked the No. 1 safety in the cycle and he comes in as the No. 14 overall player, a unanimous five-star as well.

4. Terry Bussey | Texas A&M

Photo: On3

In high school, as a quarterback, Bussey threw for 2,177 yards and 26 touchdowns, completing 64% of his passes in 2022. He also rushed for 2,596 yards and 46 touchdowns, averaging a staggering 14.1 yards per carry. Pretty strong numbers, right?

Well, then you throw in the fact that Bussey is somehow just as great a defensive prospect despite that gaudy offensive production. That’s why Bussey is considered an “Athlete” as a recruit, not just a DB — and he ranks No. 1 in every recruiting service among Athletes in his class. Phil Steele likes the upside at DB, though.

5. Kobe Black | Texas

Kobe Black
Kobe Black (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

Coming out of Waco, Texas, Kobe Black is another terrific all-around athlete. He excelled in several sports in high school — football obviously, as well as basketball and as a sprinter on the track team.

Phil Steele does disagree a bit with On3, though, who has Black as just the No. 10 cornerback in the cycle, the No. 14 player from Texas, and the No. 69 player overall. But that’s splitting hairs, because Black is clearly a gem of a prospect if he’s considered at worst to be a top-70 guy.

6. Charles Lester III | Florida State

Charles Lester Alabama Crimson Tide
Five-star 2024 CB Charles Lester (Sam Spiegelman, On3)

Finally, a non-SEC player. Lester comes in outside the top 100 in On3’s recruiting rankings, also the No. 13 cornerback prospect and a consensus four-star prospect by the On3 Industry Rankings. But the Seminoles are high on him and Lester himself loves Mike Norvell and the staff in Tallahassee.

“When I’m there, it’s the same him every time,” Lester told On3 upon his commitment. “You won’t get the laid-back him or anything like that because he’s hyped every time. I can’t speak for no other recruit, but every time I was at Florida State, Coach Norvell made me feel like I was the only person he wanted out of this class.”

7. Xavier Filsaime | Texas

2024 4-star DB Xavier Filsaime. (Billy Embody – On3)

The second Texas Longhorn on the list, Filsaime is sort of a late riser as a defensive back prospect. He started out as a playmaker at wide receiver but moved to defensive back as a junior in high school and admitted the transition was difficult. However, he took off like a rocket once he got settled in.

Behind KJ Bolden a few spots up on the list, Filsaime is the No. 2 safety in the 2024 class by the On3 Industry Rankings. That’s a pretty nice pickup for Steve Sarkisian and Texas, who was able to flip the McKinney, TX native back home after he was once committed to Florida.

8. Aaron Scott | Ohio State

2024 Top 100 CB Aaron Scott. (Zach Libby/The Wolverine)

Every service included as part of the On3 Industry Rankings has Scott rated in their top 60 overall. Meanwhile, he falls in as the No. 35 prospect by the On3 Industry, the No. 5 cornerback, and also the No. 1 player in the state of Ohio for his cycle.

In On3’s final rankings for the year, Scott was praised as “a standout corner on Friday nights who gives up very little through the air.” He also provided “some of the best film and ball skills at the position in 2024.”

9. Zabien Brown | Alabama

Zabien Brown-Alabama Crimson Tide-Alabama football-NIL-GSE-NIL representation
Provided via GSE

Nick Saban was a former defensive back who always had a knack for recruiting and developing some of the very best secondaries in the country. Well, that trend may not be going anywhere soon as Kalen DeBoer has been able to land two five-star cornerbacks in his first recruiting cycle and four of Phil Steele’s top 14 freshman DBs.

Phil Steele has Crimson Tide signees at No. 1 and now No. 9 with Zabien Brown. The On3 Industry is in concurrence on Brown, who comes in a five-star prospect ranked as the No. 27 overall player and No. 4 cornerback in the 2024 class.

10. Zaquan Patterson | Miami

Zaquan Patterson
Photo by Chad Simmons/On3

Here is Phil Steele really calling his shot and going off the chalk compared to recruiting services. Patterson comes in at No. 10 for Steele but opinions vary when it comes to the On3 Industry Rankings.

Per the On3 Industry, Patterson is still a top-100 guy and the No. 6 overall safety, while ranking as high as No. 36 overall by one service. In specific, though, On3 has him as the No. 25 safety and No. 294 player in the class.

Phil Steele’s 11-25 freshman DB rankings

11. Zay Mincey | Alabama
12. Demelio Jones | Georgia
13. Aaron Flowers | Oregon
14. Peyton Woodyard | Alabama
15. Selman Bridges | Arkansas
16. Ify Obidegwu | Oregon
17. Bryce West | Ohio State
18. Corian Gipson | Clemson
19. Maurice Williams | Houston
20. Koi Perich | Minnesota
21. Ondre Evans | Georgia
22. Marceles Williams | USC
23. Jordan Pride | Texas A&M
24. Dashawn McBryde | LSU
25. Jaylen Heyward | UCF