The SEC takes the first three spots in the rankings for college football’s best defensive backfields for the 2022 season. Alabama’s pass defense should be improved this fall, with Georgia and Texas A&M not far behind Nick Saban’s secondary. Iowa ranks No. 4, while we project Ohio State to take a big step forward in defending the pass under new coordinator Jim Knowles.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2022 all factored into the rankings for the defensive backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a change of scheme, impact freshman or transfer or new coach can make a huge difference. These rankings reflect projections for ’22, not solely what teams accomplished in ’21.
2022 Unit Rankings: RB I WR I OL I DL I LB I DB
The Crimson Tide finished 63rd nationally in pass efficiency defense last season but expect a much-improved group in 2022. Sophomore Kool-Aid McKinstry is a rising star at cornerback, and LSU transfer Eli Ricks is battling Khyree Jackson for the other spot. Jordan Battle, DeMarcco Hellams, Malachi Moore, and Brian Branch form a deep group of safeties.
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Similar to the defensive line and linebacker unit, Georgia has some retooling to do here. But elite recruiting will minimize the drop off for coach Kirby Smart. Cornerback Kelee Ringo – the hero of the national championship win over Alabama – is a rising star primed for All-America honors. Sophomore Kamari Lassiter is expected to join him as a starter at corner. Christopher Smith is one of the nation’s best at safety, while William Poole will start at nickel. Nyland Green and talented freshman Daylen Everette will push Lassiter and provide depth at corner. Dan Jackson could start at the other safety spot, with West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith and freshman Malaki Starks also pushing for snaps.
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The Aggies return the bulk of the unit that finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense last year. The cornerback spot is deep with Tyreek Chappell, Deuce Harmon, Jaylon Jones, Myles Jones and Denver Harris in the mix for snaps. All-America candidate Antonio Johnson could play at nickel or safety, with Demani Richardson handling one of the starting spots at safety. If Johnson stays at nickel, Jardin Gilbert could get the other starting nod opposite of Richardson.
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The Hawkeyes bring back two starters from a secondary that led the nation with 25 interceptions and allowed just 12 passing scores over 16 contests in ’21. Cornerback Riley Moss is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for ’22 after recording 39 tackles and four picks last year. Jermari Harris is expected to start opposite of him at corner. The starting nods at safety should go to Kaevon Merriweather and Quinn Schulte. However, true freshman Xavier Nwankpa will be tough to keep on the sidelines.
5. Ohio State
The Buckeyes ranked an uncharacteristic 50th nationally in pass efficiency defense last year. Don’t expect a repeat of that performance in ’22 with Jim Knowles hired from Oklahoma State to take over the play-calling duties as coordinator. Talent isn’t an issue here, as Denzel Burke and safety Ronnie Hickman are both candidates for All-America honors. Cameron Brown, Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson join Burke as key contributors at corner. Josh Proctor is expected to join Hickman at safety, and Oklahoma State transfer Tanner McCalister are expected to start at nickel.
7. Penn State
9. Boise State
12. Our Lady
13. Florida State
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