Who is set to rise up and become the next great Pac-12 cornerback now that Sidney Jones and Adoree’ Jackson have given up their final season of eligibility?
The Pac-12 has lost some very good cornerbacks, like Sidney Jones, Adoree’ Jackson and Chidobe Awuzie, to the NFL. But in a league that routinely attracts top-notch defensive backs from the high school ranks, it’ll be a case of out with the old and in with the new in 2017.
Is there a lockdown corner the caliber of Jones or Jackson waiting in the wings? Probably not. Still, there’s a lot of emerging talent on the back end, particularly at Stanford, which could sport the conference’s stingiest secondary as long as everyone remains off the trainer’s table.
Top Returning Pac-12 Cornerbacks
5. Xavier Crawford, Oregon State
As he enters his sophomore season in Corvallis, Crawford will be one of Gary Andersen’s cornerstone performers. Crawford was terrific in his debut, using 70 tackles and 10 pass breakups to attract Freshman All-American attention. At 6-foot-1, he has the length and the long stride to offset the opposition’s best pass-catching weapon. This year, Andersen and the staff are asking Crawford to emerge into a leader and a defender who turns a few more of those tipped balls into takeaways.
4. Alijah Holder, Stanford
Holder’s third year on The Farm was basically a lost season, the byproduct of debilitating injuries. While he was limited to just four games in 2016, the Cardinal knows he’s capable of being one of the Pac-12’s best cornerbacks. Holder was a starter in his only full season, 2015, making 37 tackles, seven pass breakups and a pick-six. And his 6-foot-2 size and leaping ability make him a natural to negate the opposition’s bigger targets. Healthy again, Holder is liable to use this fall to attract the interest of NFL scouts.
3. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
All Oliver needs is a chance. He’ll get it this season now that star corners Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon are preparing for NFL careers. Oliver started just twice as a part of the secondary rotation, yet he still shined on the back end of a stout pass defense. The one-time decathlete has next-level size, 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and the long arms to bat away balls that might otherwise be completed. Oliver last year also became the first Buff in over a decade to return a punt for six. He’s primed for a breakout junior year in Boulder.
2. Quenton Meeks, Stanford
If the corners can simply stay healthy, it’ll be a challenge completing passes on the Cardinal this season. Meeks wasn’t 100% for much of 2016, yet he still picked up honorable mention All-Pac-12 recognition. He’s the kind of DB who’ll test very well at the NFL Combine in 2018 or 2019, blending a 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame with above average speed and agility. Plus, like the quintessential Stanford student-athlete he’s both smart and eager to put in the film time to improve as a pass defender.
1. Iman Marshall, USC
No, he’s not the second coming of Adoree’ Jackson at USC. But Marshall will take the baton from Jackson as the new leading man of the Trojan secondary. The rising junior has been a starter in each of his first two seasons, rising to honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2016 after making 51 stops, three tackles for loss, three interceptions and eight pass breakups. Marshall is a very different player than Jackson, a 6-foot-1 and 200-pound enforcer who can shut down receivers with his physicality as well as his athleticism.