August 17, 2006

Busy Pac-10 corners hold their own in rankings

Playing cornerback in the Pac-10 is like passing your hand over a flame.

You can look macho doing it for a while, but eventually you're going to get burned.

Six of the top 23 pass offenses in the country last season were in the Pac-10. You can count on being tested if you're on the corner out west.

But if you hold up, and better yet make some big plays, you can land yourself atop the list of top cornerbacks.

Two of the top four CBs in the land are in the Pac-10, including No. 1 Daymeion Hughes. He's joined in the top 20 by teammate Tim Mixon, meaning the Golden Bears figure to improve significantly on last year's ranking of No. 80 against the pass.

It's not a ranking to brag about, but it's not as bad as it sounds when you consider the pass-happy nature of the league. What was 80th in the country was fifth in the Pac-10 against the pass. With an improving front seven that should put more pressure on the QB, Hughes and Mixon will be in position to make a bevy of big plays.

And No. 80 should be a thing of the past. 2006 Preseason Top Cornerbacks
1. Daymeion Hughes, California, Sr., 6-2, 188
The Los Angeles native returns for his final season with sterling credentials. He was first-team All Pac-10 a year ago and led the league with 17 passes defended. His five interceptions ranked second in the Pac-10 and 16th nationally. He also is dangerous with the ball: He averaged a staggering 31.8 yards per interception return. Hughes had a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown at Washington, and he added a 59-yard interception return at New Mexico State. His combination of size and speed at his position has him very high on most draft lists.
2. Leon Hall, Michigan, Sr., 5-11, 193
He settled in last year and started all 12 games at one of the corner spots. He led the Wolverines with four interceptions and tied for the team lead in pass breakups with nine. Hall also is tough against the run for a corner, posting a career-best 61 tackles - including three for loss and two sacks. He had perhaps his best game of the season in being named defensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl against Nebraska with two interceptions and four tackles.
3. David Irons, Auburn, Sr., 5-11, 188
After missing the 2004 season with a knee injury, Irons wasted no time in showing why the Tigers wanted him. He was second-team All-SEC last year, recording a team-high 11 passes defended with 48 tackles (2.5 for loss). Irons had a team-high 11 tackles in the loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, and continued his stellar play in the spring. He was named Auburn's "A-Day" spring game MVP after notching five solo tackles and an interception.
4. Antoine Cason, Arizona, Jr., 6-0, 182
Cason has started all 22 games for the Wildcats since arriving on campus out of Los Alamitos, Calif. He was second-team All Pac-10 last season with three interceptions, five passes defensed and 50 tackles - including 2.5 for loss. He's a former Freshman All-American who continues to get better and better. He has earned respect leaguewide because he never takes a play off and enjoys contact.
5. Fred Bennett, South Carolina, Sr., 6-1, 199
Bennett is a solid cover corner who posted three interceptions and a team-high 10 pass breakups a season ago. He has appeared in 35 consecutive games for the Gamecocks and has seven career interceptions. He was named the team's outstanding defensive back during spring drills and he'll have to build on that - he is Steve Spurrier's only returning starter in the secondary
6. Darrelle Revis, Pitt, Jr., 6-0, 200
The Pennsylvania native was a first-team All Big East selection last season, one of only two sophomores to earn that distinction and the only one on defense (Louisville QB Brian Brohm was the other). He led the Panthers with four interceptions and added 13 passes defended. Revis also became Pitt's full-time punt returner and ranked 20th nationally with an average of 11.6 yards per return. He had a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown against Cincinnati.
7. Justin King, Penn State, So., 6-0, 181
Ranked by as the No. 1 corner in the country coming out of high school, King saw more time on offense as a freshman for the Nittany Lions because of an injury to fellow freshman phenom Derrick Williams. He had 31 touches on offense and averaged 12.7 yards per touch. His 61-yard run on a reverse set up Penn State's first points of the season in the opener against South Florida. But he also proved last season that he can be a shut-down corner. He had only two pass breakups, but teams rarely threw in his direction.
8. John Talley, Duke, Sr., 5-11, 180
Talley is one of only three returning first-team all-league corners in the six BCS conferences, joining Hughes and Revis. The senior was the Blue Devils' team MVP last year with 50 tackles, five interceptions and eight pass breakups. Talley enters this season as college football's active leader in career interceptions with 11 (tied with Utah safety Eric Weddle). He has led the Blue Devils in interceptions in all three of his seasons.
9. DeAndre Jackson, Iowa State, Sr., 6-0, 192
Jackson holds quite a distinction from last season: He was the only player in the nation to rank in the top 20 in forced fumbles (four) and interceptions (five). That gives you some idea of his ball-hawking skills. Throw in his work as a kickoff returner (second in the Big 12 with a 24.6-yard average), and you begin to get an idea of Jackson's worth to the Cyclones.
10. Marcus Hamilton, Virginia, Sr., 5-11, 187
Hamilton turned in a stellar junior season with a team-leading six interceptions and 63 total tackles. He was at his best last season in big games. Against Georgia Tech he had an interception, two pass breakups, seven tackles and helped limit Yellow Jackets All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson to four catches for 41 yards. He also had four pass breakups and an interception in UVa.'s Music City Bowl victory.
Best of the rest
11. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, So. 6-1, 202
12. Ramzee Robinson, Alabama, Sr., 5-10, 196
13. Jonathan Wade, Tennessee, Sr., 6-0, 195
14. Marquice Cole, Northwestern, Sr., 5-9, 185
15. Tim Mixon, California, Sr., 5-10, 184
16. Keenan Lewis, Oregon State, So. 6-1, 191
17. Aaron Ross, Texas, Sr., 6-1, 189
18. Kenny Scott, Georgia Tech, Sr., 6-2, 185
19. Tony Carter, Florida State, So., 5-9, 175
20. Tarell Brown, Texas, Sr., 6-0, 185

More Preseason Player Rankings:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Offensive linemen | Kickers/Punters | Return Specialists
Wide receivers | Tight ends | Linebackers | Defensive linemen | Cornerbacks | Safeties

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