Cornerback is one of the toughest positions to play in college football. Quarterbacks, spread attacks and skill players aren’t getting any easier to defend and the rules certainly favor the offensive side of the ball.
While the success of the secondary doesn’t necessarily depend on the two starting cornerbacks for any team, having a standout tandem helps to defend the prolific offenses in college football.
It’s never too early to think about the upcoming year, so Athlon Sports is taking a look at ranking the top cornerback tandems for the 2015 season. A couple of notes: Only Power 5 programs were considered for the top 25 and there was projection for the upcoming year. Previous stats and awards matter, but it is important to look at what’s ahead for the 2015 season. Additionally, it’s not easy to weigh the tandems when there is one clear standout (Florida State and Clemson) and question marks at other spot.
Top 25 CB Tandems from Power 5 Teams
1. Virginia Tech: Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson
Fuller is one of the top cover corners in the nation and a first-team Athlon Sports All-America selection for 2015. Facyson was limited to three games due to injury last year and recorded six stops. When healthy, Facyson is one of the top defensive backs in the ACC, recording third-team all-conference honors in 2013.
Related: All-ACC Team for 2015
2. Florida: Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor
Hargreaves III is arguably the best cornerback in college football. Over the last two seasons, Hargreaves III intercepted six passes and broke up 24 throws to his side of the field. Tabor was a member of the Athlon Sports All-Freshman Team last year after recording 22 tackles and one interception in 12 appearances.
Related: 2015 All-America Team
3. LSU: Tre’Davious White and Kevin Toliver II
New LSU coordinator Kevin Steele inherits one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. The Tigers ranked third nationally in pass efficiency defense last season and plenty of experience and talent returns in 2015. White has started 24 games over the last two years and recorded four interceptions in that span. Toliver II was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and will battle with Ed Paris for the starting spot opposite of White.
4. USC: Adoree’ Jackson and Kevon Seymour
The Trojans have question marks up front with the departure of Leonard Williams, but there’s little concern in the secondary for coordinator Justin Wilcox. Jackson is one of the top all-purpose players in the nation and will see time on offense in 2015. Seymour broke up 13 passes last season and has made steady improvement over the last three years.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
5. Notre Dame: Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell
The Fighting Irish ranked 84th nationally in pass efficiency defense last season but expect to see big improvement out of this unit. Russell recorded 109 tackles and 10 pass breakups from 2012-13 and ranked as one of the nation’s top cornerbacks prior to last year. However, Russell was suspended for all of 2014, forcing Notre Dame to shuffle its secondary. Cole Luke started all 13 games as a sophomore last year and recorded 48 tackles, 11 pass breakups and four interceptions. He should be even better in his second season as the starter.
Related: 2015 All-America Team
6. Minnesota: Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray
Most around the Big Ten know how good this duo was in 2014, but it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. Boddy-Calhoun was one of Minnesota’s top playmakers on defense last season, breaking up nine passes and intercepting five in 13 games. Murray only intercepted one pass, but opposing quarterbacks also avoided his side of the field. This duo was a key reason why Minnesota only allowed 12 passing scores in Big Ten play in 2014.
7. Wisconsin: Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton
Behind the leadership of rising star coordinator Dave Aranda, Wisconsin limited opponents to just 20.8 points per game in 2014. The secondary was a key piece of Aranda’s defensive success last year, as the Badgers allowed just 11 touchdown passes in Big Ten play and held opposing quarterbacks to a 47.4 completion percentage. Hillary started all 14 games last season, while Shelton followed up a solid freshman debut with 33 tackles and six passes defended.
8. Florida State: Jalen Ramsey and Marquez White
Coordinator Charles Kelly should feel great about one of Florida State’s cornerback spots. The other spot? Wait and see. Ramsey could be college football’s best defensive player in 2015, as the Tennessee native has started all 28 games in his career and will move from safety to cornerback this year. Marquez White is locked into a tight battle for the other job, as converted running back Ryan Green or talented freshmen Tarvarus McFadden or Marcus Lewis could start opposite of Ramsey.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
9. Ohio State: Eli Apple and Gareon Conley
The Buckeyes ranked 13th nationally in pass efficiency defense last season and eliminated some of the big plays that hindered this unit in 2013. Doran Grant must be replaced at one corner spot, but Eli Apple is one of the nation’s rising stars on defense after starting 14 games in 2014. Apple is one of the Big Ten’s top corners, while Conley left spring with the edge over Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore for the other spot.
Related: 2015 All-America Team
10. Clemson: Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley
Clemson suffered significant losses to its front seven for 2015, but Alexander gives coordinator Brent Venables a solid piece to build around in the secondary. The Florida native is coming off an impressive freshman season, recording 22 tackles and six pass breakups in 13 games. Uncertainty surrounds the spot opposite of Alexander, which is expected to go to Cordrea Tankersley.
11. Tennessee: Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley
Sutton has been underrated throughout his career, but the Georgia native won’t fly under the radar in 2015 as one of the SEC’s top defensive backs. He has 20 pass breakups and five interceptions over the last two years. Moseley played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2014 and recorded 19 tackles and six pass breakups.
12. Mississippi State: Will Redmond and Taveze Calhoun
The Bulldogs finished No. 14 in the SEC in pass defense last season, but that number was a little deceiving. Mississippi State ranked No. 25 nationally in pass efficiency defense and limited opposing quarterbacks to a 53.4 completion percentage. Redmond has never started a game in his career, but the Memphis native has thrived as a nickel back. Calhoun ranked fourth on the team with 53 stops in 2014 and also recorded nine pass breakups.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
13. Maryland: William Likely and Sean Davis
Likely isn’t the biggest cornerback (5-foot-7), but the Florida native is one of the Big Ten’s top returning defenders. In 13 games last season, Likely earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 83 tackles and six interceptions. Davis started all 13 games last season and will move to cornerback from safety on a full-time basis in 2015. He recorded 115 tackles and eight pass breakups last year.
14. Virginia: Maurice Canady and Demetrious Nicholson
Health is a huge question for this trio, as Nicholson has played in only six games over the last two years due to injury. Assuming Nicholson is healthy and regains his pre-injury form, Virginia should be one of the ACC’s best against the pass. Canady earned second-team All-ACC honors after recording 37 tackles, one forced fumble and three picks in 2014.
15. Ole Miss: Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard
Ole Miss fielded one of the stingiest defensive units in the nation in 2014, and this unit shouldn’t miss a beat despite losing cornerback Senquez Golson to the NFL. The Rebels allowed only seven passing scores in SEC games in 2014 and limited opponents to a 59.1 completion percentage. Matching those totals in 2015 is on the shoulders of juniors Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard. Bridges ranked as the No. 7 junior college recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite. Shepard returns to action after missing 2014 due to injury.
16. Kansas State: Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns
McDaniel and Burns are an underrated duo and a big reason why Kansas State allowed only 11 passes of 30 yards or more last season – the fewest in the Big 12. In his first year from the junior college ranks, McDaniel earned second-team All-Big 12 honors and recorded 59 tackles. Burns is a weapon on special teams and started 12 games for the Wildcats last season.
17. Auburn: Jonathan Jones and Blake Countess
With Will Muschamp calling the signals in 2015, Auburn could have one of the nation’s most improved defenses. The front seven is set with the return of end Carl Lawson, but the secondary has room to improve after allowing 44 plays of 20 yards or more last year. Jonathan Jones had a breakout year in 2014, recording 11 pass breakups and six interceptions en route to earning second-team All-SEC honors. Countess is a graduate transfer from Michigan eligible immediately. He appeared in 38 games with the Wolverines.
18. Oklahoma: Zack Sanchez and Jordan Thomas
Much like a few teams ahead of the Sooners, one spot is secure and the other spot has uncertainty entering 2015. The pass defense has to improve for coach Bob Stoops, but junior Zack Sanchez should be one of the Big 12’s top cover options. The Texas native has 21 pass breakups in the last two years. Sophomore Jordan Thomas is the favorite to start opposite of Sanchez.
19. Missouri: Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both Dennis and Penton earn All-SEC consideration this year. This duo anchored the Missouri secondary in 2014, guiding the Tigers to a No. 39 finish in pass efficiency defense. Penton broke up 10 passes and intercepted three balls, while Dennis made 61 stops and defended 10 passes.
20. UCLA: Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams
With four starters back in the secondary, UCLA should be able to improve off last year’s No. 60 rank in pass efficiency defense. Moreau earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 after recording 53 tackles and one interception. In addition to his success on special teams, Adams started all 13 games on defense and picked off two passes and recorded 41 tackles.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
21. Arizona State: Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown
The Sun Devils are going to be aggressive with their front seven on defense, so a few big plays are going to be allowed by the secondary if the pass rush doesn’t get to the quarterback. Arizona State allowed 27 passing plays (No. 12 in the Pac-12) of 30 yards or more last year. Coordinator Keith Patterson and coach Todd Graham hope that number drops in 2015, especially with Carrington and Brown returning after combining for four interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2014.
22. Arkansas: Henre’ Toliver and Jared Collins
The Razorbacks showed big improvement under coordinator Robb Smith last year, holding opponents to just 5.1 yards per play after allowing 6.1 in 2013. The secondary limited opposing SEC quarterbacks to 12 passing scores last season, and Smith has three solid options to choose from at cornerback. Juniors Jared Collins and D.J. Dean are competing to start on one side, while Henre’ Toliver left spring with the edge at the other spot.
23. Penn State: Trevor Williams and Grant Haley
Penn State plans on shuffling its secondary a bit in 2015, but coordinator Bob Shoop should feel confident in this group. Senior Jordan Lucas will shift from cornerback to safety, opening the door for Williams and Haley to take over as the new tandem in Happy Valley. Haley played well as a true freshman last season and recorded 18 tackles and one interception in 13 games. Williams made a smooth transition from receiver to cornerback prior to 2013 and started 12 contests last year.
24. Duke: Bryon Fields and Breon Borders
The Blue Devils quietly ranked 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense last season. And with five starters returning in the secondary for 2015, matching that total or climbing even higher could be possible for coach David Cutcliffe’s defensive backs. Safety Jeremy Cash is this unit’s headliner, but Fields and Borders combined to intercept four passes and limited ACC opponents to just 12 passing scores in league play.
25. NC State: Juston Burris and Jack Tocho
The Wolfpack are a sleeper team to watch in the ACC Atlantic this year, as the Wolfpack return 14 starters from a team that won four out of their final five games in 2014. NC State’s defense has to retool up front, but the secondary is a strength with all five starters returning. This unit ranked 42nd nationally in pass efficiency defense and allowed 12 passing scores in league play. Tocho is only getting better with each snap, and the junior anchors the secondary after recording 40 tackles, one interception and 11 pass breakups last year.
Other Power 5 CB Tandems to Watch
Alabama: Cyrus Jones and Tony Brown
Georgia: Malkom Parrish and Devin Bowman
Georgia Tech: Chris Milton and D.J. White
Iowa: Desmond King and Greg Mabin
Michigan: Wayne Lyons and Jourdan Lewis
Northwestern: Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris
Oklahoma State: Kevin Peterson and Ramon Richards
Oregon: Charles Nelson and Chris Seisay
West Virginia: Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut
Top Group of 5 Cornerback Tandems
Boise State: Donte Deayon and Jonathan Moxey
FIU: Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon
Houston: Brandon Wilson and William Jackson
Louisiana Tech: Adairius Barnes and Bryson Abraham
Northern Illinois: Paris Logan and Anthony Brooks
San Diego State: J.J. Whittaker and Damontae Kazee
San Jose State: Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace
Temple: Tavon Young and Sean Chandler