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SI All-American: Ranking the Top 10 Cornerbacks in the Class of 2021

Breaking down the top cornerback prospects, next to be ranked by John Garcia, Jr. and Edwin Weathersby II at SI All-American.

After compiling several months worth of data in addition to cycling back for a closer look at the 2019 football season, SI All-American has put pen to paper at each position group.

As we work towards the preseason SI99 on Monday, ranking the top 99 college football prospects regardless of position, establishing a top 10 ahead of the 2020 season for each position group plays paramount. The offensive positions rankings have wrapped up and we kicked off defense in the trenches with the interior line prospects earlier this week. The secondary is up next. 

Cornerback is still one of the true priority positions in the game today. While the roles have expanded into hybrids and nickel types, the true outside corner remains coveted to combat both the vertical nature of today's passing attacks as well as outside run support as defenses utilize less in-the-box defenders than ever. 

Here are the best of the best within the cornerback projections ahead of the 2020 football season.

1. Jason Marshall, Miami (Fla.) Palmetto

6-foot-2, 180 pounds

Committed to Florida

Marshall takes the top spot at one of the game's most important positions without much debate throughout the last few months. Through three varsity campaigns in tough and competitive south Florida, the big and fast cornerback has projected as the total package at the position. The Florida Gator commitment has the modern feel for the position, long enough to combat back-shoulders and 50/50 balls while challenging at the high point vertically -- but he has classic cornerback traits on his side as well. Marshall affects the football with elite instincts, savvy and some of the most fluidity in change of direction and/or breaking scenarios. He is polished enough to challenge wideouts in press-man with enough long speed to occupy a deeper zone as needed. 

2. Ishmael IbraheemDallas (Texas) Justin F. Kimball

6-foot-1, 175 pounds

Committed to Texas

Readers will see a trend developing on this list. Bigger, physical corners who can play in the boundary and contest vertical threats with leverage and length are at a premium and Ibraheem hits this mark on the head. His zone traits allow for contain and run support while his comfort in bail during man or zone looks enables him to play the sticks with great success. The Texas commitment can drive on the football and flashes closing speed at the catch point along with finishing power. A bit of a gambler, additional polish to the third level -- and man coverage -- will round out his game in Austin, though Ibraheem projects as one of the most aware defensive backs in the class regardless of position. 

3. Nathaniel Wiggins, Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake

6-foot-2, 175 pounds

Considering LSU, Florida, USC, Oregon and others

Wiggins has ideal size and length at 6-foot-2 that could see him potentially develop into a boundary corner at the next level, and he has the confidence to do so. He uses a motor technique in press alignments at the line, and he can copy and mirror well to match receivers’ stems with feel, anticipation and mental processing. Gifted with fluid movement skills, Wiggins also has experience playing receiver, and his ball skills translate over in spades in coverage at catch-points. Along with his knack for undercutting routes, the Georgia native can simply climb ladders with big receivers in the red zone and match their leap timing with his length and challenge high-points. As he continues to add mass to his frame, there’s no reason Wiggins shouldn’t ascend to a starting corner in a few seasons at the collegiate level.

4. Ga'Quincy McKinstry, Pinson (Ala.) Pinson Valley

6-foot, 175 pounds

Considering Alabama, Auburn and LSU

Known as 'Kool-Aid' regionally and perhaps nationally by now, the two-sport star is one of the top pure athletes in the class of 2021. With legitimate basketball offers and plans to play at his trio of SEC West finalists, McKinstry combines length, bounce and ball skills like few defensive back projections nationally. Considerable time in hoops and at wide receiver on Friday nights limits the true body of work as a press-man cornerback type, but the limited samples and overall ability is too strong to ignore on this list. If and when he focused on one position, or sport, there isn’t much of an athletic ceiling in his game — the same reason his prospects in the secondary are so intriguing. If there is a prospect on this list who can climb up the ranks rather quickly this fall, we'd bet on McKinstry at this time. 

5. Latrell McCutchinAustin (Texas) Lyndon B. Johnson

6-foot-1, 176 pounds

Committed to Oklahoma

McCutchin missed his junior campaign with a knee injury, and had that not occurred, he perhaps would indeed be higher on this list. His sophomore tape was promising, showing a big corner with fluid hips and redirect ability through quick yet patient man-turns via press and bail technique. McCuthchin also can work with a slow-play technique in off-alignments to process stems, route combinations and drops before using his solid downhill quickness from stationary positions to plant and drive on short routes. He has enough long speed to carry receivers downfield and his length allows him to challenge with disruption at catch-points. The Oklahoma commit projects as a potential boundary corner in Norman, with even potential to develop into a dynamic MOF-safety later in his career.

6. Jakailin JohnsonCreve Coeur (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit

6-foot, 168 pounds

Committed to Ohio State

The future Buckeye fits the profile of what Ryan Day and company have coveted of late at the position. He's long with physicality, inside-out traits and well above average instincts and technique along the way. He’s most comfortable as a squat defender in soft-man concepts, where he can use his foot quickness and savvy to make plays, perhaps leading to some nickel roles earlier in his Ohio State career. Johnson is confident at the line of scrimmage and uses his hands well early in the rep, with leverage discipline and rock solid speed down the field. He plays the football with calculation despite flirting on that line between pesky and over aggressive, foundational traits most defensive coordinators would love to work with. Johnson can add to his frame and enhance his close-quarter combat strengths in college to round out his game.  

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7. Isaiah JohnsonBluefield (W.Va.)

6-foot-1, 180 pounds

Committed to Arizona State

Continuing a trend of big corners among this class, Johnson is another whom we feel could project to the boundary or perhaps even as a safety. His length is just one of his impressive traits, as the West Virginia native and California transplant also has a 38-inch vertical jump and play strength. As a cover man, Johnson is most comfortable in off-coverage where he can sit off 1 and react with quick mental processing. When he’s asked to play true man and zone concepts that require him to carry receivers vertically, Johnson shows solid press-and-bail technique, a good stride and long speed to stay in phase while in semi-trail position. Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards is a former NFL DB and coached the secondary before ascending to his head coach track, so Johnson will be in good hands on the Herm Train in the desert.

8. Omarion Cooper, Lehigh Acres (Fla.) Lehigh Senior

6-foot, 172 pounds

Committed to Florida State

There are certain traits one would expect to see in a defensive back from the state of Florida and Cooper fits the profile quite well. He is ultra competitive, both at the line and at the catch point, playing with a sharp combination of confidence and aggression while on the island. The future Seminole plays with a different speed with the football in the air, much faster than his testing numbers would indicate, flashing awareness and feel down the field along the way. Cooper plays patient within his responsibility and already has some experience working inside, a role he could kick off his college career occupying in Tallahassee. We'd like to see more off-man experience from the Floridian this fall, but his development at this stage is plenty encouraging. 

9. William Simpkins III, Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard

6-foot-2, 175 pounds

Committed to Virginia

Watching Simpkins on tape, it was quickly apparent that he was a pure press-man corner. Not press-and-bail. No motor technique. Press. Period. He relishes walking to his man and using his length, a physical jam and fights to keep his shoulders square to line as long as he can. He may be the most physical corner on this list at the line, showing ideal toughness. The Virginia commit knows when it’s time to flip his hips with fluidity and uses savvy to stay tucked in semi-trail position while in phase with his man. While he has the size to play the boundary, Simpkins’ skill set could work well to the field as well. He also plays with good ball skills and his before-mentioned physicality shows up in the run game as well.

10. Clinton Burton, Jr.Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances Academy

5-foot-11, 170 pounds

Committed to Boston College

Burton has the physique to be able to add mass to his 170-pound frame in college. He’s a tough prospect who’s a good all around football player. The Maryland native has good peripheral vision, illustrated by his ability to react to sluggo concepts with a quick speed turn from off-alignments and recover well. Burton is more than willing to press at the line with impressive physicality and has the speed to refuse to be stacked on vertical routes. He will leverage in the run game from the perimeter and arrive at collision points with some thump to shock runners. Whether on the perimeter or inside as a nickel, Burton should develop into a primary defensive contributor at Boston College.

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John Garcia, Jr. contributed to this feature.

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