There are some gems to be found amongst the defensive backfield group this year. And with the help of our advanced data, we’re ranking the 2024 NFL Draft cornerback prospects.

Much more than a guy with a cool nickname, Kool-Aid McKinstry’s excellence in his third and final college season sent his draft stock soaring.

So it’s no probably surprise that he’s one of the players worth keeping an eye on as the NFL Combine gets underway this week.

Following our wide receiver rankings from a couple of weeks ago, we’re using a combination of conventional stats and advanced metrics to rank this year’s cornerback contingent – starting with Kool-Aid.

1. Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama

Admittedly, McKinstry’s raw counting stats were nothing to jump at in 2023. It was his only career season with no interceptions, and he had less than half as many passes defensed (seven) as he did in 2022 (15). But a common creed about the cornerback position at any level is that if the ball isn’t coming your way often, you’re probably doing something right.

McKinstry, as you might guess, was no exception. Despite sharing a defensive backfield with fellow star CB Terrion Arnold (more on him below), McKinstry was targeted on only 10.9% of his coverage snaps in 2023 (17th fewest among 422 FBS CBs, min. 150 coverage snaps). And when the ball did head his way, good things rarely happened for the offensive team, aside from the second half of the Texas loss.

In fact, McKinstry was the only one of those 422 CBs to be targeted on 12% or fewer of his coverage snaps, and have 45% or fewer of his targets come to open receivers. As a result, McKinstry allowed only 5.58 “burn” yards per target – second among FBS CBs, and first among NFL Draft-eligible ones.

open-allowed% vs. burn-allowed%

Combine that with the consistently elite competition that his Crimson Tide faced, the fact that he is coming out as a 21-year-old true junior, and his status as a 2023 AP First Team All-American (along with teammate Arnold and Iowa’s Cooper DeJean), and he appears primed for a successful pro career.

2. Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo

Stronger competition was just about all that separated McKinstry from Mitchell in 2023, as the latter was dominant in multiple metrics en route to AP Second Team All-American status.

Mitchell had 19 passes defensed (PD) in 2023, tied second in the nation behind West Virginia’s Beanie Bishop Jr.  Furthermore, Mitchell’s 37 PD since 2022 are 10 more than any other FBS player (with Missouri’s Kris Abrams-Draine ranking second with 27).

But this aggression toward the ball didn’t often result in Mitchell being beaten for big gains, as he only allowed one touchdown in coverage all season.

college football Passes Defended leaders

Mitchell also only had a 12.9 big play-allowed percentage in 2023 (12th among FBS CBs, min. 150 coverage snaps), which include 20 or more yard gains in addition to touchdowns.

Toledo’s lack of big-name foes in 2023 may cause some scouts to hesitate (Illinois was the only Power Five opponent), but Mitchell’s body of work suggests high potential.

3. Kamari Lassiter, Georgia

Sure, maybe it’s already a lock that the Eagles will continue their tradition of drafting Georgia defenders. But the other 31 teams would be foolish not to do their due diligence on the prospect.

Like McKinstry, Lassiter’s counting stats won’t be raising many eyebrows, only having secured one interception in his three-season college career. But Lassiter’s versatility, along with his experience in difficult and prominent games, still allow him to bring a lot to the table.

In the realm of advanced metrics, Lassiter ranked fifth among FBS CBs in burn-allowed percentage (29.7) and 10th in open-allowed percentage (43.2) in 2023. Lassiter was also one of only three FBS CBs to be targeted on fewer than one-eighth of their coverage snaps and allow a 45% open target rate or lower, along with McKinstry and fellow Alabama corner Trey Amos (who has since transferred to Ole Miss).

Plus, with two national championships under his belt (one of which he started in), no one can say he doesn’t have a winning pedigree.

4. Terrion Arnold, Alabama

The other half of Alabama’s All-American duo at the CB position, Arnold is the apple of many scouts’ eyes during this NFL Draft season. Among others,’s Daniel JeremiahUSA Today, and Pro Football Network all have Arnold at the top of their 2024 CB rankings.

Arnold’s penchant for making impact plays is a major reason why. Arnold only played two college seasons, having redshirted in 2021, but he made his name known as soon as he stepped on the field. Since 2022, Arnold is the only Power Five player with at least five interceptions, 20 passes defensed, and five tackles for loss. Pertaining to 2023 specifically, he ranked in the top six nationally in both interceptions (five) and passes defensed (17).

Our advanced metrics weren’t quite as friendly to him as the counting stats. He finished the 2023 season allowing a 51% open target rate (tied for 36th among FBS CBs with a min. 150 coverage snaps).

Only time will tell if Arnold, McKinstry, or both will be able to follow in the footsteps of recent Alabama cornerbacks like Trevon Diggs, Patrick Surtain II and Marlon Humphrey and thrive in the pros.

5. Cooper DeJean, Iowa

A leg injury that forced DeJean to miss his team’s final four games, and will also prevent him from testing at the NFL Combine, could be a mild concern for pro executives. But on the flip side, the fact that he did enough to be an AP First Team All-American despite only playing in 10 games is a valid reason for excitement.

Indeed, “exciting” is the right word to describe what DeJean, who was named both the Big Ten’s Defensive Back of the Year and Return Specialist of the Year, provides. As a returner, he ranked 12th in the FBS with 241 punt return yards in 2023, winning the Michigan State game with this return TD and almost doing it again versus Minnesota before the score was controversially negated.

Ultimately, when your team’s punter sets a single-season FBS yardage record, your team has to win with its special teams and defense, and DeJean brought both traits to the Hawkeyes. On the defensive side of the ball, he only allowed one TD all season, and his 0.150 big plays allowed per target ranked 25th among FBS CBs (min. 150 coverage snaps).

In 2022, he had three Pick-6s, setting Iowa’s single-season record. The bottom line is that, when he’s healthy and on the field, he finds ways to make it worth your time to watch.

The Next Tier

  • Cam Ward, Notre Dame (5.73 burn yards per target allowed in 2023; third among FBS CBs, min. 150 coverage snaps)
  • Sheridan Jones, Clemson (0.286 burns allowed per target in 2023; fifth among FBS CBs, min. 150 coverage snaps)
  • Nate Wiggins, Clemson (42.2 open-allowed percentage in 2023, ranking ninth among FBS CBs; min. 150 coverage snaps)
  • Elijah Jones, Boston College (led FBS with 0.56 INT/game, min. five games)
  • Ennis Rakestraw Jr., Missouri (no touchdowns allowed in coverage in 2023)
  • Kalen King, Penn State (no touchdowns allowed in coverage in 2023)
  • Mike Sainristil, Michigan (T-3rd in FBS with six INTs in 2023)
  • Chau Smith-Wade, FSU (no touchdowns allowed in coverage in 2023)
  • Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri (17 passes defensed in 2023, T-5th in FBS)

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