Surprise! This is the “mysterious article” you’ve apparently been told about, and I was specifically asked to reference that... Anyway, OBVIOUSLY Cornerbacks are a position that everyone just wanted to write about and I in no way picked up the scraps of this leftover position article... Sarcasm aside, I have a newfound appreciation for the position realizing how important it is and the key players which comprise it. Additionally, my particular fandom ensures that I know how bad a team can become when saayy the entire secondary is gutted.....
But I digress.
With the departure of players like Desmond King, Jourdan Lewis, Will Likely, etc., cornerbacks, the more versatile/agile of the defensive backs are gonna see a major shift in the Big Ten conference in 2017 and the players listed below are the likely candidates to make a difference at the position for their team this year/continue to hold down the backfield (to start). [Or they won’t... I’m not psychic.]
These are in Zuzu Ranking order. Most have just one cornerback listed because they particularly stand out among their peers.
1. Rashard Fant, Indiana.
Fant will be a senior this year. He started all 13 games and had the most pass breakups and passes defended in the Big Ten. Shared the team lead with three interceptions with one of those being a 34-yard pick-6. He made 33 tackles, 29 of them solo, and one tackle for loss. I could go on with his impressive stats, but I won’t. Keep an eye on Indiana’s secondary this year.
2. Chris Jones, Nebraska
Jones had an interception in each of the first two games of 2016. Had six tackles against Oregon, his career high. Career-high two team tackles for loss, career-high two breakups, and second career sack at Northwestern, as well as a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter at Indiana. Also matched a career high with a pair of pass breakups. Jones will be a senior.
3. Manny Rugamba and Joshua Jackson, Iowa.
Rugamba is a True Freshman last year who “shot into the two deeps last season,” and had a giant strip/interception against Michigan last year, is probably going to be the next great Iowa cornerback. He’s been compared to Desmond King, so it should be interesting to see what this sophomore will do. Next to him will likely be Jackson, a rising sophomore who looked great in his time on the field last season.
4. John Reid and Grant Haley, Penn State
Reid is will be a Junior and played every game in 2016. He’s a very explosive player and even serves as Penn State’s punt returner. Earlier pre-2016 season articles on Reid asked questions like, “Is this a breakout year for Reid?” Well, maybe this year will be. Grant Haley, a rising senior, missed the first four games due to injury played from the Minnesota game through the end of the year. Haley can be remembered for his touchdown off the blocked kick that put PSU up on Ohio State. He is one of the fastest players on the team. Haley also made first contact on Wisconsin's Corey Clement on the fourth down play with one minute to go in the B1G championship game and held on until he got help. Clement was short and PSU's defense held.
5. Derrick Tindal and Nick Nelson, Wisconsin
Tindal, who will be a senior played in 13 of Wisconsin’s 14 games last year. Nelson is a transfer from Hawaii who spent last year redshirting per NCAA rules and is eligible to play this year. Given his impressive career at Hawaii, I could see him making something happen for the Badgers.
6. Montrae Hartage and Keith Watkins II, Northwestern
The latter will be a senior and is coming back from injury. Watkins had a solid 2015 season and being back in the mix will be good for Northwestern’s secondary. Hartage received Honorable Mention All-Big Ten as voted by the conference media and started all 13 games at cornerback. He had five interceptions, nine pass breakups, and finished the season third on the team with 48 solo tackles! You go Northwestern.
7. Jaylen Dunlap, Illinois
This rising senior started all 12 games at cornerback. He was fourth on the team with 63 tackles. 11 pass break-ups with career-high four PBUs vs. Michigan State and seven PBUs in two consecutive games— tied for most in the nation during a two-game span in the regular season. Had a fumble recovery vs. Michigan State.
You’re in good hands, Illinois.
8. Blessuan Austin, Rutgers
Rising junior who started 11 games at cornerback. Named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media and ranked second in the Big Ten and 10th nationally with 1.4 passes defended per game. 14 Total pass break-ups, 11 deflections against Big Ten competition, 41 tackles with one sack, an interception and a fumble recovery, etc. Austin should really stand out this year. He just keeps getting better.
9. Brandon Watson and Lavert Hill, Michigan
Poor Michigan. Their roster has been severely depleted, but I’d say these two have the potential to fill in the space left behind by Jabrill Peppers, and Jourdan Lewis. Watson has seen more game time and has 20 career tackles. Lavert Hill, a true freshman this past year, has appeared in 11 games, playing cornerback in nine. Both also spend time on special teams.
10. Vayante Copeland, Michigan State
Copeland, who will be a junior, was out after seven games last season with a broken foot. However, in those seven games he had 36 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups in seven games. If he can stay injury free (he previously had fractured vertebrae), then the Spartans will have quite the cornerback.
14. Da'Wan Hunte, Purdue
Hunte will be a senior in 2017. He missed Purdue’s first two games, but played in the remaining 10 as cornerback. Had 31 solo tackles last season and 6 PBUs.
There are three teams with insufficient information on their potential 2017 cornerbacks. I will gladly put an addendum to this article if names of cornerbacks are given to me for them.
- Ohio State— I have no idea, so many declared for the draft. Looks like Ohio State will be relying on its young talent.
Well there you have it!