Finally, the cornerbacks get their time in our rankings of best returning players at each unit in the SEC for 2018. With the possible exception of Wide Receiver, no position on the football field craves attention like the cornerback. The SEC is normally deep in this position, but much like the running back position, this year the top five returning SEC cornerbacks are a little understated. That is, after you get past the top two.
Top Five Returning SEC Cornerbacks In 2018
Worry not, however. While there might not be a lot of hype surrounding cornerbacks around the league, there’s never a lack of confidence from the players themselves. That’s the mentality you constantly find yourself in one-on-one coverage on the outside.
Luckily, there’s no lack of confidence on this list. Here are the top five returning SEC wide receivers in 2018.
5. Joejuan Williams, Junior, Vanderbilt:
Head Coach Derek Mason loves what he has in third-year cornerback Joejuan Williams. And well he should. In 2017 Williams had 39 total tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, and 10 pass break ups (second most among returning players). Williams’ statistics are comparable with the other cornerbacks on this list, but he has a lot of room to improve. At 6’3″, 208, Williams has great size on the corner and decent speed. He can contribute as much in the run defense or pass rush as he can in coverage.
Vanderbilt defensive backs had only five interceptions last season. Neither Williams nor Tre Herndon recorded an interception in 2017, which was a statistically anomaly. As the number one corner this season, expect defenses to stay away from Williams.
While Williams projects very well at the next level, he also has the intangibles that Mason seeks in his players. A stand-out student, Williams brings a bright football mind to his position. He’s growing into a leader in the locker room. And he plays best in the most important game. His best two games last season were against Kansas State and Alabama. His best game in his freshman season was in Vanderbilt’s bowl game.
The frame, the mentality, and the mind. He’s exactly what Derek Mason wants on his defense.
4. Javaris Davis, Junior, Auburn:
Davis, along with teammate Jamel Dean, might form the best cornerback duo in the SEC this season. As Auburn gears up to make a run at the College Football Playoff, they’ll need their cornerbacks to step up, early and often. The Tigers start against a high octane Washington offense, and will face three of the best returning quarterbacks in the league all on the road this season.
Davis garnered multiple SEC All-Freshman honors in 2016 and had a solid sophomore season last year. In his two seasons on The Plains, he has four interceptions, 13 Pass Break-Ups (PBUs), 7 Tackles-For-Loss (TFLs), and 66 tackles.
Davis is significantly smaller, albeit faster, than Dean. You can expect opposing offenses to weight their passing game towards Dean and the outside run game against Davis. For Auburn to live up to the preseason Top 10 expectations, both Davis and Dean will have to have stellar campaigns.
3. Derrick Baity, Jr., Senior, Kentucky:
People are sleeping on Derrick Baity. The Kentucky cornerback has appeared in 38 games over the past three seasons in Lexington, starting 29 of the last 30. Last season, he was eighth in the SEC with 11 Passes Defended, including two interceptions. He had three interceptions in 2016. Like Williams, he plays his best against conference competition.
Baity is just as effective in defending the run, as well. The diminutive cornerback had 49 tackles last season and has over 100 career tackles for the Wildcats. He has the size and speed of a cornerback, but the mentality of safety. With Kentucky losing a significant amount of talent on defense to graduation and health, opposing offenses would be well advised to stay away from Baity.
Either way, while many media are ignoring Baity, rest assured opposing offensive coordinators are paying attention to him.
2. Deandre Baker, Senior, Georgia:
Deandre Baker is the top returning defender on Georgia’s elite defense. Baker received multiple second-team All-SEC honors last season and was named to several 2018 Preseason All-American teams this off-season. He’s also projected as one of the top available cornerbacks in the 2019 NFL Draft, with some services having him as the top NFL cornerback prospect.
Baker had three interceptions and 12 Passes Defended (PDs) last season to go with 44 tackles. That’s on a defense that had multiple NFL draft picks. Getting your numbers on Georgia’s 2017 defense was hard to come by. In two seasons manning the Bulldog corner, he has five interceptions, 75 tackles, 19 PDs, 2 TFLs, one sack and one forced fumble.
He’s obviously versatile. As Georgia looks to take that last step towards a championship, they’ll depend on Baker much more this season.
1. Greedy Williams, Sophomore, LSU:
Williams is the consensus best returning cornerback in the SEC this season. The rising Sophomore garnered All-SEC honors last season (AP-1, Coaches-2) and is a first-team Preseason All-American from Lindy’s, Athlon, and Phil Steele. He’s projected as the number one cornerback for his NFL Draft class.
Williams had a monster freshman season on the Bayou. His six interceptions tied for league best with Mississippi State safety Mark McLaurin. He had an additional 11 PBUs for a total of 17 PDs. That was good for second best in the SEC and a full five PDs better than any other returning player. He ranked 17th nationally in that category. He also added 38 tackles, 1. 5 TFL, and 1 QBH.
As LSU looks to fight their way through the grueling SEC West gauntlet, Williams will have to be even better in 2018.
Jamel Dean, Auburn: Paired with Davis, Dean should see the majority of the pass attempts to his side of the field.
Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson, Florida: Wilson and Henderson make a dynamic sophomore duo in Gainesville. Along with safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the Gators should have a top-tier secondary this season.
Also, see our other SEC positional rankings: