Darrelle Revis was a superstar do-everything athlete at Pitt. He was an electric punt returner and team leader. But what got him paid in the NFL is his ability to smother the opposition's best receiving weapon.
A truly great lockdown corner can completely change the complexion of a defensive scheme. Safeties only need to worry about half of the field. Linebackers play with more freedom. And quarterbacks have less fewer options. The bottom line, a pure coverman not only negates one of the top offensive playmakers for the other team, but he opens up the rest of his defense to make things happen.
Here are college football's best pure lockdown cover corners in 2012:
1. David Amerson, NC State (JR)
Few corners have the 6-foot-3, 194-pound frame that Amerson brings to the outside. His range and size allowed him to shatter an NC State single-season record for interceptions last fall. In fact, his 13 picks also set an ACC single-season record. He claimed the Jack Tatum Award and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award as well as landing on multiple first-team All-Amercan squads. He is projected by many as the top defensive back for the 2013 NFL Draft. The Greensboro, N.C. product has never missed a game in his 26-game career and is the nation's best — and fans can bet quarterbacks will stay away Amerson Island in 2012.
2. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (SR)
From Maben, Miss., Banks enters his final season as a preseason first-team All-American. He is one of the best tacklers at his position in the nation, as his 71 stops a year ago indicate. Banks also plays in the opposition's backfield with 8.0 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks a year ago. Like Amerson, his size, and physical style of play, is what makes him special at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. And like Amerson, has been tabbed by prognosticators as a first-round NFL talent. He led the Dawgs with five interceptions a year ago, bringing his career total to 12, and also returned 16 punts (166 yards). His three INT TD returns are tied for the NCAA's active career lead — two shy of the NCAA mark.
3. Nickell Robey, USC (JR)
In only two seasons at USC, Robey has quickly established himself as one of the nation's best. He has six career picks and has returned at least one for a touchdown in each of his two seasons. The track star from Frostproof, Fla., also returns punts and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors a year ago. He enters his third year with 111 career tackles and hasn't missed a start (24 games). He is a preseason second-team All-American this fall.
4. Quandre Diggs, Texas (SO)
As only a true freshman, the younger brother of former Longhorn star corner and NFL defensive back Quentin Jammer earned 11 starts in 2011. He posted 51 total tackles, four interceptions and averaged 19.5 yards per kick return en route to freshman All-American honors. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Diggs had size, the pedigree and the production needed to be a star for the next two seasons before moving onto Sundays. Diggs turned heads the second he stepped onto campus and could be a national star before 2012 is over.
5. Carrington Byndom, Texas (JR)
While Diggs may have more upside and raw talent, a case could be made that the 6-foot-0, 180-pound Byndom is the top shutdown corner in the Big 12. The Lufkin, Texas prospect earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after 58 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two picks. It will be interesting to see how Manny Diaz deploys his two elite covermen in 2012.
6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State (SR)
The veteran of this list, the fifth-year senior enters his third season as the top coverman for Michigan State. The Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart named him the top defensive back in the Big Ten and the league's "Best Cover Corner" for 2012. From Akron, Ohio, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has a knack for making big plays (3.0 sacks, three INTs for 141 yards) and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall.
7. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (SR)
The big-play corner from Astoria, Ore., has proven to be one of the nation's best without much acclaim. He has scored three times in his career, twice on interception returns and once on a punt return. At 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, Poyer has is beginning to get plenty of NFL draft buzz. His 16 total passes defensed (4 INT, 12 PBU) placed him eighth nationally. His special teams skills are amongst the nation's best as well — he ranked second on the team in all-purpose yards in 2010 and 2011.
8. Bradley Roby, Ohio State (SO)
Like Diggs, Roby has elite level upside. From Suwanee, Ga., the 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner played in all 13 games as a freshman, registering 47 total tackles and three interceptions last year. The Buckeye coaching staff is touting Roby as the most talented player in the defensive backfield and his emergence as a lockdown corner has allowed names like C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to make big plays.
9. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (JR)
The most noticeable attribute NFL scouts first mention with the Miami, Fla., prospect is his superior size. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, few players possess the speed, agility and quickness needed to play true cornerback. At first, Rhodes was overshadowed by the more hyped Greg Reid, but opposing quarterbacks learned quickly that throwing at No. 27 was much more difficult.
10. Dee Milliner, Alabama (JR)
NFL scouts drool when they watch Milliner on film. His 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame is a rarity at his position and with another great year could easily himself in the first round of the draft next spring. He made six starts last year on what many believe is the greatest modern defense ever assembled. He led the national champions in interceptions with three, including one in which he returned one for a touchdown.
The Best of the Rest:
11. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State (SR)
Preseason third-team All-American, Brown lacks the NFL upside to land in the top 10.
12. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (JR)
Makes his biggest impact on special teams. His size hinders his ability to lockdown bigger wideouts.
13. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (JR)
Could be the best player on the ACC's best defense after All-ACC sophomore season.
14. Logan Ryan, Rutgers (JR)
Big East's top coverman posted 67 tackles and three interceptions on the league's best defense last fall.
15. Ricardo Allen, Purdue (JR)
Has started all 25 games in his career and led the team with three interceptions last year.
16. Nigel Malone, Kansas State (SR)
A junior college transfer, Malone made a instant impact in his first year with seven interceptions in 2011.
17. Micah Hyde, Iowa (SR)
Versatile prospect has played multiple positions and earned All-Big Ten honors last year.
18. Greg Reid, Florida State (SR)
Undersized return man is very similar in skillset to that of Mathieu. Including, minor off the field issues.
19. Desmond Trufant, Washington (SR)
Younger brother of Marcus, Desmond has started the every game (26) over last two seasons.
20. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma (SR)
Rebuilt Sooners coaching staff will allow veteran DB to achieve up to his potential in 2012.
- by Braden Gall