The 2021 college football season is slated to kick off next month and with it comes the rise and fall of 2022 NFL draft prospects.
As is the case in every college season, there will be prospects who emerge out of nowhere. This is especially true on offense where quarterbacks tend to evolve from preseason middle-round grades to high first-round picks.
Defensive prospects aren’t quite as unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a few players who are all the rage in November that we aren’t talking about right now.
But even with that expected volatility, there will be two prospects at or near the top of any draft evaluator’s defensive rankings throughout the 2021 season: Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux and LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
Both Thibodeaux and Stingley play premium positions that are often targeted with early first-round picks. It makes sense that they’ll be in demand when next April rolls around. But which defender is the top guy right now?
Kayvon Thibodeaux gets the edge over Derek Stingley Jr.
The edge for us goes to Thibodeaux, but it’s close. From a general positional value perspective, elite pass rushers impact every position on defense, including cornerback. Lesser corners have a better chance of success when the opposing quarterback is under duress. As a result, grab the pass-rusher whenever you can.
Narrowing it down to these two players, Thibodeaux is simply a superior prospect right now. At 6’5, 250 pounds, he possesses the kind of speed, agility, power, and flexibility to project as a top-tier pass-rusher in the NFL. He had just three sacks in 2020 — down from nine in 2019 — but played in half the number of games in a season that was so bizarre that production (or lack thereof) is essentially irrelevant. He should have little trouble reaching double-digit sacks in 2021.
Call it a hunch, but Thibodeaux has a chance to be as valued in the 2022 draft cycle as players like the Bosa brothers in recent years.
Stingley is an exciting cornerback prospect in his own right, and the fact that we value Thibodeaux higher than him right now isn’t a criticism of his game. Thibodeaux is valued higher than every defensive prospect at this point in the process.
Stingley is a two-time first-team All-SEC selection and had a remarkable freshman campaign when he registered the highest coverage grade by a true freshman in Pro Football Focus’ history. He has a significant lead in the race to be CB1 in 2022, which usually means he’s on track to be a top-10 pick.