SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down his college football offseason rankings
USA TODAY Sports is getting ready for the 2019 college football season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Bowl Subdivision. Up next is the final group: the defensive backs.
The SEC rules this list, with LSU in particular drawing acclaim for its two star defenders in safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton. But there are more than a few individual standouts worth watching, including Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall, Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson and Syracuse safety Andre Cisco.
1. Grant Delpit, LSU (Jr.)
LSU’s defensive star stuffs the run, has a nose for the football — he tied for the SEC lead with five interceptions in 2018 — and can even rush the passer. In short, Delpit can do it all. The reigning consensus All-America pick pegs to be even better as a junior.
2. Bryce Hall, Virginia (Sr.)
Teaming prototypical NFL size at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds with great ball skills and top-end speed, Hall is a great stand-in for Virginia’s growth as a program under Bronco Mendenhall. Having Hall on the outside gives the Cavaliers’ defense a shot to play with nearly any offense on the 2019 schedule.
3. Kristian Fulton, LSU (Sr.)
Fulton’s a bit of a wild card due to his overall lack of experience; he went through hoops to regain his eligibility after joining LSU in 2016 and has just one full season of SEC play under his belt. But Fulton flashed the sort of talent base as a junior that makes him not just one of the top defenders in the country but one of the great rising talents at any position.
4. Andre Cisco, Syracuse (So.)
He has a tough act to follow: Cisco earned All-America honors as a freshman and was the ACC defensive rookie of the year after becoming the first freshman in 20 years to lead the nation in interceptions. Cisco is one major reason why Syracuse stands poised to contend for a New Year’s Six bowl.
5. Jaylon Johnson, Utah (Jr.)
One of the top cornerback recruits in the class of 2017, Johnson quickly cracked into his potential during an all-conference sophomore season with four interceptions and stands poised to earn every possible national accolade heading into what could be a fantastically successful season for the Utes.
6. CJ Henderson, Florida (Jr.)
Henderson followed up a dynamic freshman season with an equally effective 2018, helping Florida rank in the top 21 nationally in yards allowed per game, yards allowed per attempt and opposing quarterback efficiency rating. He’ll have a heavy load on his shoulders as the Gators’ unquestioned stopper on the outside.
7. Caden Sterns, Texas (So.)
Sterns was a major reason why Texas made a significant breakthrough in Tom Herman’s second season. As a true freshman, he had 62 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. The Longhorns can feel extremely secure with him patrolling the back end of the defense against the high-powered offenses in the Big 12.
8. Paulson Adebo, Stanford (So.)
Adebo went from a scout-team redshirt in 2017 to a Pac-12 star a year later, raising expectations as he heads into his second full season as a key cog on the Stanford defense. Like Hall at Virginia, he combines nice size, strong hands, great timing and a very high ceiling.
9. Jordan Fuller, Ohio State (Sr.)
Fuller is both highly productive — he led the Buckeyes in tackles last season — and nearly irreplaceable given his experience and leadership qualities. He played the best football of his college career during the final three games of 2018, helping Ohio State notch key wins against Michigan, Northwestern and Washington.
10. Greg Eisworth, Iowa State (Jr.)
The former junior-college transfer was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick after making 87 tackles to go with an interception and a sack. That he made such an immediate impact is a major reason why Iowa State made a 20-spot leap nationally in yards allowed per play between 2017 and 2018.
Five also just missing the cut
Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame; Jeff Gladney, TCU; Lavert Hill, Michigan; Xavier McKinney, Alabama; J.R. Reed, Georgia.