With seven defensive backs taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, including two cornerbacks in the the top four, back-end defensive talent is clearly in demand at football’s highest level. Things are no different in the college game, where the stingiest secondaries are often associated with the nation’s most successful teams.
National champion Georgia tied for eighth nationally with 16 interceptions last season, while Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team to ever reach the College Football Playoff thanks largely to a defense that tied for third with 19 interceptions. Big Ten West powers Iowa and Wisconsin, meanwhile, used excellent defense and significant interception rates to overcome poor offensive campaigns and post solid seasons.
As the 2022 season approaches, there is a new cast of star defensive backs to grow acquainted with in college football. Of the eight DBs represented on the 2021 first and second-team CBS Sports All-American squads, six are now in the NFL. Cornerback Riley Moss of Iowa and safety Jordan Battle of Alabama are the two returners.
Some of the top defensive back rooms in the country are predictable for anyone who follows team recruiting rankings. But a couple of teams with top-10 secondaries entering the season have produced them through impressive internal development. So which DB rooms are best? Let’s break them down.
Georgia ranked 13th nationally in passing defense last season, allowing just 190.9 yards per game through the air. That was especially impressive since opponents were airing it out while typically playing from behind. Even with some attrition, this group should be elite again, and it’s led by elite cornerback Kelee Ringo. The redshirt sophomore and former top-ranked corner from the 2020 class was recently projected as the No. 4 pick in an early 2023 NFL mock draft by CBS Sports draft expert Ryan Wilson. If West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith can return to his 2020 All-American form after dealing with injury last season, it would further solidify Georgia’s case to be at the top.
2. Texas A&M
The Aggies have fewer former five-star prospects in their secondary than SEC peers Alabama and Georgia, but they boast a ton of experience on the back end. Considering A&M allowed just 192.7 yards per game through the air last season, that’s a good thing. If Jardin Gilbert or Bryce Anderson — both former four-star prospects — can stand in for graduated safety Leon O’Neal, then the Aggies may only improve in the secondary during the 2022 season.
After leading the nation with 25 interceptions last season, Iowa brings back All-American cornerback Riley Moss. With Jemarl Harris and Kaevon Merriweather also returning after holding down key roles in 2021, this group is guaranteed to be stingy again. A wild card to watch is true freshman Xavier Nwankpa, who is Iowa’s highest-rated defensive back commitment of the 247Sports era. Even if he needs some time to develop, there is enough here to make this group one of the nation’s best once again.
4. NC State
The ACC is stacked with quality quarterbacks and high-flying offenses, so the Wolfpack may not finish with the nation’s most statistically dominant passing defense. But you won’t find a unit better equipped to handle the challenge than this NC State group anchored by seniors Tanner Ingle, Derrek Pitts Jr., Cyrus Fagan and Tyler Baker-WIlliams.
5. Penn State
Junior cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is getting some early first-round buzz for the 2023 NFL Draft after busting onto the scene as a redshirt freshman for a stingy Penn State pass defense last season. The Nittany Lions lose a stud at safety in Jaquan Brisker but return Ji’Ayir Brown after he intercepted six passes last season. Sophomore corner Kalen King also looks ready to shine after a strong freshman campaign.