We are finally winding down our 2018 Big Ten positional previews on the defensive side of the ball. Today we’re attacking the cornerback position, where a lot of talent from 2017 is no longer with the conference.
We saw former Ohio State corner Denzel Ward be the first at his position taken in the draft at number four overall. Iowa’s Josh Jackson is packing up his ball-hawking skills to head over to Green Bay and play for the Packers.
With Ward, Jackson, and a slew of other talent gone, there is an ample amount of opportunity for players to rise up as the best cornerbacks in the conference.
Cornerbacks in the Big Ten are not only expected to cover spread teams like Ohio State and Penn State. They must also be able to support the run in a conference where the ground game is very relevant. With that said, let’s get on with it.
1. David Long, Junior, Michigan
Long isn’t the biggest cornerback on the field, but he is as shutdown as they come. In 2017, Long allowed a QB rating of just 17.0 when targeted in coverage. That number only rose slightly, to 19.4, when facing competition outside of the Big Ten last season. Those are incredible numbers to go along with the two interceptions and six pass breakups he notched during the season. If Long continues to capitalize on his potential he can continue to be a nuisance to opposing quarterbacks.
2. Amani Oruwariye, Senior, Penn State
Oruwariye played as the third CB for Penn State last season and still earned enough respect to be chosen to the All-Big Ten second team by coaches. It’s not hard to see why either, as he pulled in four interceptions and was credited for a whopping 20 pass breakups in 2017. Oruwariye has the size (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) to be a great press corner who can also stick his head in the run game.
Oruwariye stood up well after being challenged a lot last season. With Penn State losing both of its top cornerbacks from 2017, look for the senior to take over as the number one corner for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions defense.
3. Lavert Hill, Junior, Michigan
The more “accomplished” cornerback of the Wolverine duo, Hill finished 2017 as a second-team All-Big Ten selection. About the same size as Long, Hill offers a little bit more in run support than his counterpart.
Hill is also just as good in coverage, where he isn’t as “handsy” with receivers, a mistake that some young CBs make that lead to DPI. The junior was able to finish 2017 with two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and seven pass breakups of his own.
Both Long and Hill benefit from a talented and aggressive defensive line play that Michigan deploys, but are both capable when quarterbacks decide to test them.
Sleeper: Blessaun Austin, Senior, Rutgers
Austin was rising as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten before an ACL injury ended his 2017 season. Austin is another cornerback that offers good size at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, while being the best cover corner that Rutgers has to offer.
The senior cornerback registered one interception and one pass breakup in four games before being sidelined with his knee injury. However, in 2016, Austin finished second in the Big Ten with 14 PBUs. If Austin can return to form he’ll spearhead a Rutgers secondary that could be one of the best in the conference.