Which Group of Five and Independent cornerbacks will be the toughest to complete passes against in 2017?
It’s going to be a tougher than normal year to complete passes in the MAC in 2017. The league, which is deepest among the Group of Five in proven pass defenders, returns five corners who were voted first or second-team all-conference last season. At the head of the pack is Miami University senior Heath Harding, a microcosm for the MAC’s penchant for developing veteran back end stoppers who aim to shift a game’s momentum whenever the ball is in the air. Harding’s biggest non-conference challengers will be South Florida’s Deatrick Nichols and San Jose State Andre Chachere.
Top Returning Independent, Group Of Five CBs
10. Jerrell Foster, Kent State
9. Clifton Duck, Appalachian State
8. Julian Love, Notre Dame
7. Shawun Lurry, Northern Illinois
6. Darius Phillips, Western Michigan
5. Parry Nickerson, Tulane
After careful consideration, Nickerson elected to return for his senior year, encouraging news for a Green Wave D that struggled down the stretch in 2016. He brings three seasons of starting experience and 10 career interceptions to his amateur finale in New Orleans. And while a slender frame often prevents Nickerson from being a notable factor in run defense, his calling card will continue to be sticky coverage and the ability to partition half the field on opposing quarterbacks.
4. Amari Coleman, Central Michigan
Coleman has been methodically building a career that really kicked into high gear in 2016. He was the Chippewas’ Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore and then was the team’s co-Defensive Player of the Year last fall. Coleman led the MAC with 19 passes defended, including four interceptions and a couple of pick-sixes. He’s a physical and aggressive 5-11 and 188-pounder who breaks quickly on throws and will strip the ball to prevent completions.
3. Andre Chachere, San Jose State
From the school that’s produced Duke Ihenacho, Bene Benwikere, Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace over the last decade comes Chachere, another Spartan pick-pocket with NFL aspirations. Chachere is coming off his best season at San Jose State, picking off four passes and breaking up 14 to land on the All-Mountain West First Team. He has good size for the position, 6-0 and 192 pounds, though the Spartans would like to see him become a more physical defender in his senior year.
2. Deatrick Nichols, South Florida
At his athletic core, Nichols is a playmaker, with the athleticism, toughness and confidence to flip the momentum of a game. He instills perpetual energy and swagger into the Bull defense, which will really resonate with defensive-minded head coach Charlie Strong. Nichols has picked off four passes in each of the last two seasons, earning all-league in both of those years. But he’s also a surprisingly big hitter, eagerly and rapidly filling lanes before lowering the boom with all of the force of a safety.
1. Heath Harding, Miami U.
When Harding missed most of 2015 with a back injury, the RedHawks finished No. 11 in MAC pass efficiency defense. With No. 24 back in the lineup last fall, the team not so coincidentally soared up to second place. Harding is the heartbeat of the Miami defense, serving as both a lockdown corner and an unlabeled safety on running downs. He finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, while also intercepting four balls and batting away 11 throws. He’ll spend this season proving Big Ten schools not only missed him, but that he has a future on Sundays as well.