With seven defensemen selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, including two cornerbacks in the top four, the talented defenseman is clearly in demand at the highest level of football. This is no different in the college game, where the meanest minor players are often associated with the most successful teams in the country.
National champion Georgia finished eighth nationally with 16 steals last season, and Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team ever to make the college football playoffs, thanks in large part to a defense that finished third with 19 steals. Meanwhile, the “Big Ten” Western powers from Iowa and Wisconsin used excellent defenses and significant interception rates to overcome poor offensive campaigns and have good seasons.
As the 2022 season approaches, there is a new lineup of star guards to meet in college football. Of the eight DBs featured on the 2021 CBS Sports All-American first and second teams, six are now in the NFL. Cornerback Riley Moss of Iowa and safety Jordan Battle of Alabama are two returnees.
Some of the best backrooms in the country are predictable to anyone who keeps an eye on team building rankings. But a couple of teams that entered the season in the top 10 minor players created them thanks to impressive internal development. So which DB rooms are best? Let’s break them down.
Georgia ranked 13th nationally in passer defense last season, passing just 190.9 yards per game through the air. This was especially impressive as the opponents tended to play from behind. Even with some attrition, this group should be elite again and is led by elite cornerback Keli Ringo. The redshirted sophomore and former top corner in the 2020 class was recently selected by CBS Sports draft expert Ryan Wilson as the fourth pick in the early 2023 NFL Trial Draft. If West Virginia transfer Tyki Smith can return to his 2020 All-American form from last season’s injury, that would further solidify Georgia’s position in the lead.
2. Texas A&M
Aggie has fewer former five-star prospects at the secondary level than their Alabama and Georgia SEC counterparts, but they boast a wealth of experience in the background. With A&M only passing 192.7 yards a game last season, that’s good. If Jardine Gilbert or Bryce Anderson — both former four-star prospects — can replace promoted Leon O’Neal, then the 2022 season could see Aggie improve only in supporting roles.
After leading the nation with 25 steals last season, Iowa is bringing back All-American quarterback Riley Moss. With Jemarl Harris and Cavon Merryweather also returning after holding key roles in 2021, this group is guaranteed to be tight again. The wild card to look out for is real freshman Xavier Nwankpa, who is Iowa’s top quarterback in the 247Sports era. Even if he needs time to develop, it is enough to make this group one of the best in the country again.
4. North Carolina
The ACC is made up of quality quarterbacks and top-notch hitters, so the Wolf Pack may not finish with the most statistically dominant passing defense in the country. But you won’t find a unit better equipped for the task than this NC State group led by seniors Tanner Ingle, Derrek Pitts Jr., Cyrus Fagan and Tyler Baker-Williams.
5. Penn State
Junior cornerback Joey Porter Jr. gained some notoriety in the 2023 NFL Draft first-round pick after appearing on stage last season as a redshirt freshman for Penn State’s parsimonious pass defense. The Nittany Lions lost guard Jaquan Brisker but brought back J’Air Brown after he intercepted six passes last season. Sophomore Cullen King also looks ready to shine after a strong freshman campaign.