Preseason Top 5: SEC Cornerbacks

Photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Listen to most draft pundits in August, and they'll tell you that two of the top three corners in college football reside in the SEC in Greedy Williams and Deandre Baker. That's not an opinion I share, but Williams is a Top 15 type of talent if he can improve his game in some key areas, while Baker's lack of athleticism may mean he needs to be scheme-protected.

Oh yeah, one of my favorite sleepers plays in the SEC as well. And there are three Alabama kids with elite billings that have barely seen the field due to the talent in front of them. So, after scouting the conference heavily, here are the five corners that I believe are the best in the SEC.

1. Greedy Williams, RS Sophomore, LSU

Height, length, athleticism, speed. In terms of physical and athletic traits, Williams has it all. He’s remarkably fluid, capable of matching receivers down the field or mirroring their route breaks in the short-intermediate areas with excellent quickness. On the hoof, he’s what you want a first round corner to look and move like.

But his game isn’t without concerns, despite what the top five hype might indicate. Williams has first round talent, but lapses of concentration and bouts of inconsistent technique mire his play. Too often Williams will flip his hips at the first sign of movement from a receiver, forcing himself into recovery mode if his opponent stems the other way.

Where technical flaws hurt him early in the rep, Williams seems to lose focus at the top of routes too often. Several times against Ole Miss he lost a receiver in man coverage, sometimes in scramble drills, and against Auburn those tendencies emerged again. He has to consistently finish reps, maintain positioning in vertical coverage when finding the ball and show more urgency in his body language and effort as a run defender. Williams is a great prospect, but he’s far from a finished product.

2. Derrick Baity, Senior, Kentucky

I was surprised to like Baity’s tape as much as I did. He’s a smooth cover corner who can play in a variety of schemes due to his quick wits and clean processing. Baity is slender and will need to get stronger, but he packs a punch regardless and won’t back down from anyone.

Where Baity is technically and mentally refined however, he leaves a bit lacking in the playmaking department. His ball skills aren’t especially notable, and he can get lost in vertical coverage. Baity won’t shine as a catch point challenger, and receivers with good ball skills really tested him.

He might be at his best in a zone-heavy scheme, but his versatility could make him a riser with a strong senior season, especially if he checks in close to the 6-foot-2 he is currently listed at. As it currently stands, I think Baity is one of the more under-discussed talents in the SEC.

3. Deandre Baker, Senior, Georgia

There’s a lot of things to like about Baker. He plays with a great temperament, he’s mentally sharp, he’s assignment sound against the run and he flashes some solid ball skills from a variety of coverages schemes.

The problem is that he can’t run, at least not well enough to match speed vertically down the field. Time and time again Baker gave up downfield separation on tape, usually due to an inability to turn and run with even mildly speedy receivers. If Baker gets his hands on his opponent at the line of scrimmage and again before the route reaches top speed, he’s got a chance. His style will toe the line for illegal contact and defensive holding with NFL officials, however.

Baker is tough against the run and capable in zone coverage, the problem is that his athletic and physical limitations could push him inside at the next level. Man-heavy teams could shy away from Baker despite his sound technique and ability to play the ball in the air, simply because he may not be athletic enough to hang with NFL receivers 1-on-1.

4. Rashad Fenton, Senior, South Carolina

Fenton is at his best in press man, although someone needs to tell South Carolina that. In the game I saw he played a variety of coverages, but most of his time seemed to be spent in zone-heavy looks, where he wasn’t nearly as effective.

Fenton’s instincts and closing speed are subpar, limiting him from making a lot of plays breaking on throws in front of him. He’s not particularly explosive, which hinders his ability to close on throwing windows in a hurry and contest catches in his zone.

Where Fenton thrives is in the physical action near the line of scrimmage, where he can help compensate for his lack of elite movement skills and speed by getting his hands on receivers off the snap. He’s patient in his footwork, and has good arm length despite not being the tallest corner. If Fenton can show off better ball skills and quicker mental processing this season, he could be a future top 100 candidate.

5. Trevon Diggs, Junior, Alabama

Stefon Diggs younger brother, Trevon has played so sparingly thus far at Alabama that it feels almost ridiculous to include him on this list at all. It’s also very possible that two other seldom-used Alabama corners, Shyheim Carter and Saivion Smith could both pass him up as prospects by the end of the season.

Right now, what we know about Diggs is that he’s played wide receiver and corner at Alabama while being one of the SEC’s finest return men. There are questions about his long speed, but his build is tantalizing at a a rocked up 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. In limited action last season, Diggs still managed to break up three passes. This season he should start full time, and could put himself on the map as a prospect by November.

Also add to SEC watch list: Shyheim Carter, Alabama. Saivion Smith, Alabama. Ken Webster, Ole Miss. Jamal Peters, Mississippi State. Jamal Dean, Auburn.