Defensive backs can be more difficult to evaluate than other positions, because stats are often misleading. A cornerback may rack up a lot of tackles, but that could mean he's being targeted often. Or one may have unimpressive stats across the board, but that's because quarterbacks don't bother going toward that side of the field.
So, here we'll try to cut through the noise and attempt to rank the top 20 cornerbacks (top) and top 20 safeties (bottom of the page) entering the 2015 college football season. With players like Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, Tre'Davius White, Kendall Fuller, Mackensie Alexander, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tony Conner, the recruiting class of 2013 in particular has delivered a ton of talent in defensive backfields, which should have NFL types excited for next spring's draft.
20. Maurice Canady, Virginia. The Cavaliers had impressive talent in their secondary last year, and while safety Anthony Harris is gone, they'll still return the terrific combination of Canady at corner and Quin Blanding at safety. Canady, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior, was named second-team All-ACC last year, starting all 12 games and finishing with 12 pass breakups, three interceptions, a forced fumble and 37 tackles. He brings nice athleticism and ball skills to the position, although he could stand to be a bit more physical.
19. Fabian Moreau, UCLA. It's hard to tell what exactly UCLA has in its secondary, and now they'll be under the guidance of a new coach in Tom Bradley, the longtime Penn State defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach. Moreau, a prep running back, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last year, but he was inconsistent and could struggle against quicker receivers. Teammate Ishmael Adams earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, but he's 5-foot-8, 180 pounds and a better return man than cover corner. In fact, Adams is set to be bumped inside to nickel back -- a more natural fit -- with junior Marcus Rios overtaking him on the outside. Much of the attention on Adams was due to his big game in a high-profile matchup with Arizona State, in which he returned a kick and an interception for a touchdown. Adams would be a better fit in a ranking of all-purpose players, while Moreau, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, has the higher ceiling as a pure cornerback, even if he hasn't yet lived up to the hype bestowed upon him by coach Jim Mora last offseason. This a deep group with a lot of raw talent, but Bradley's job will be smoothing the edges.
18. William Jackson, Houston. The Cougars boasted a stellar pass defense last year, which is a big reason why defensive coordinator David Gibbs got offered a job at Texas Tech. Their best weapon is Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior who transferred from the juco level in 2013. He had 10 pass breakups, 37 tackles and two interceptions last year, and he brings length and quickness to the Houston defensive backfield, with NFL potential.
17. Eric Murray and 16. Briean Boddy-Calhoun Minnesota. The Gophers have developed into a solid program under Jerry Kill without having individual stars. Murray and Boddy-Calhoun, a terrific cornerback duo, may be the closest thing Minnesota has to big names, as both earned All-Big Ten honors last year. Murray is a 6-foot, 196-pound senior who had seven pass breakups and 69 tackles last year, showing off a physical, aggressive style. Boddy-Calhoun is a 5-foot-11, 188-pound senior who transferred from the juco ranks in 2012. He had five interceptions, nine pass breakups, two forced fumbles and 51 tackles. They're cornerstones of a defense that allowed 6.2 yards per pass attempt in 2014.
15. Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys' pass defense frequently got burned last year, but Peterson has proved to be a reliable presence among the inconsistency. He has started the last two years, finishing 2014 with 11 pass breakups, two interceptions and 59 tackles. Now a senior, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Peterson is by no means big, but he plays bigger than his size. Peterson is most known for shutting down West Virginia star Kevin White, who had three catches for 27 yards against Oklahoma State after finishing with over 100 yards in each of his previous seven games.
14. Will Redmond, Mississippi State. Redmond is in the strange position of being a hyped, NFL-coveted senior who has never started a game. How? The former four-star recruit has thrived as a nickel back, which might as well be listed as a starter in modern football. The 6-foot, 186-pound Redmond had 51 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups last year, turning heads with his exceptional speed and explosiveness Now, he'll likely move into a more prominent rule, coming a long way in a career that started with having to forfeit his redshirt season, then serve a five-game NCAA suspension in 2013.
13. Jonathan Jones, Auburn. Injuries have limited Jones in his career, as a broken ankle cost him the early part of 2013, and now he's coming off spring foot surgery. In between, though, he put together an All-SEC campaign in 2014 as a junior, despite the larger problems on Auburn's defense. He picked off six passes and broke up 12 more, and he also forced a fumble and finished with 36 tackles, starting all 13 games. The 5-foot-10, 181-pound senior has proved to be an effective playmaker, and his profile should rise in what will be a deeper defense that's also now coached by Will Muschamp.
12. William Likely, Maryland. One of the Terps' two first-team All-Big Ten selections in their first year in the conference, Likely made a difference on both defense and special teams. He intercepted six passes, returning two for touchdowns; he finished with 83 tackles; he returned a punt for a touchdown and averaged 11.1 yards per return; and he returned a kick for a touchdown and averaged 31 yards per return. Likely is only 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, which will hinder his pro potential as a defensive player, but if nothing else he's proved that he can make an impact as a return specialist too.
11. Eli Apple, Ohio State. One of the big changes for Ohio State last year was the improvement of its secondary after the Buckeyes proved to be too big-play prone in 2013. Urban Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to fix it as co-defensive coordinator, and Ash was granted the services of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Apple, who had redshirted upon arriving on campus in 2013. Apple started 14 games as a redshirt freshman, and he quickly became an impact player, finishing with three interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a fumble return for a touchdown and 53 tackles. He's the clear top corner here now that Doran Grant is gone.
10. Cameron Sutton, Tennessee. Youth has held back the Vols over the last couple years as Butch Jones turns over the roster, but now Sutton is one of the biggest rising stars. While a sleeper as a recruit in the class of 2013, the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Sutton has become a key player for a team that is on the upswing, and he'll be one of the SEC's top defensive backs as a junior. The Vols were sturdy against the pass last year, and Sutton led the way, finishing with three interceptions, 13 pass breakups, a forced fumble, four tackles for loss and 37 tackles. He also chipped in on special teams, returning a punt for a touchdown against Vanderbilt.
9. KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame. Russell returns to campus after an academic violation cost him a season -- just like Everett Golson. He was projected to be one of the top cornerbacks in the country last year, and now he'll try to reclaim the hype as he rejoins the team in the second year under aggressive defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. VanGorder should be much more successful in creating pressure this year with a healthier, deeper defense, and Russell's quickness and physicality should allow him to thrive, even after a year away.
8. Tre'Davius White, LSU. LSU is a defensive back factory. Jalen Collins was a second-round pick this spring despite starting only 10 games in three years. One of the reasons why his role was limited is White, who has started 24 games in his first two years for the Tigers. The 5-foot-11, 191-pound White is a smooth athlete who changes directions quickly and can make plays on the ball, even if he had only two picks and six pass breakups last year. He's also a punt returner, averaging 10.9 yards per return with a touchdown in 2014.
7. Danzel McDaniel, Kansas State. Bill Snyder loves plucking stars from the juco ranks, and he's succeeded again with McDaniel. A 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, McDaniel earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in his first year as a Wildcat in 2014, showcasing an aggressive, physical style in, which has also served him well in the running game, and also possessing some quickness. He had 59 tackles, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception last year, and he's the type of player who could probably develop into a safety if needed.
6. Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma. One of the more aggressive cornerbacks in college football, Sanchez is fond of taking chances -- and it often pays off. He intercepted six passes last year, also recording 43 tackles and eight pass breakups. While his style of play will cause him to occasionally get burned, Sanchez has proven to be an effective ball hawk for the Sooners, a style that could prove even more effective in his junior season if Oklahoma's pass rush plays up to its potential.
5. Adoree Jackson, USC. A five-star recruit in the class of 2014, Jackson was listed as an athlete out of high school, and that's exactly what he's doing at USC. He's primarily a cornerback, but the Trojans are using him at wide receiver, with the hope that he's the next Chris Gamble/Charles Woodson type. Also a star long jumper on the track team, Jackson started 10 games at cornerback last year, finishing with 49 tackles, nine pass breakups, a forced fumble and four tackles for loss. He averaged 29.7 yards per kick return, taking two back for touchdowns. And he caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. While he's potentially one of the best cornerbacks in the country, his role on offense could expand as well. Jackson is one of the best athletes in college football, and USC wants to get him on the field as much as possible.
4. Mackensie Alexander, Clemson. A blue-chip recruit in 2013, Alexander had to redshirt as a true freshman because of a preseason injury. While his insertion into the Clemson lineup was delayed by a year, he proved to be an impact player upon sliding into a starting role for one of the nation's top defenses last year, even if the stats don't show it (which can be the case for top cornerbacks). Alexander had six pass breakups and 21 tackles in 13 starts, which mostly means that nobody threw at him. Now, he'll be tested as Clemson tries to replace much of its defensive front, including star pass rusher Vic Beasley and disruptive tackle Grady Jarrett.
3. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. If the last name and school sound familiar, they should: Safety Vincent Fuller was a fourth-round pick in 2005. Receiver Corey Fuller was a sixth-round pick in 2013. Cornerback Kyle Fuller was a first-round pick in 2014. All played at Virginia Tech; all are brothers. Kendall Fuller, the youngest, has a chance to be as good or better than any of them. A second-team All-ACC pick as a freshman and an All-American last year, Fuller is a 6-foot, 197 pound junior who heads up what has been an excellent secondary, as part of an excellent defense overall that also benefits from its strong pass rush. Physical and instinctive, Fuller has eight career interceptions and 26 pass breakups.
2. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida. One of the top recruits overall in the class of 2013, Hargreaves has been a star since the moment he arrived in Gainesville. He started the final 10 games of his freshman season and earned All-SEC honors, then became an All-American last season. At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, he's not huge, but he's the total package otherwise, a quick, instinctive cornerback who plays well in run support and is a lockdown cover man. He did give up some plays to Amari Cooper last year, but everyone gave up plays to Cooper. Otherwise, he's been consistently great, with six interceptions and 24 pass breakups in his two-year career.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. Ramsey can do anything Florida State asks him to do. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound junior started all 14 games for the Noles at cornerback in their 2013 national championship season as a freshman. Last year, he moved to a hybrid Star position, replacing All-American Lamarcus Joyner, and he proved to be a valuable asset in all facets of the game. In fact, he basically single-handedly beat Miami, with a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, four pass breakups, a blocked extra point and a game-ending interception. Stellar in run support, rushing the passer and in coverage, Ramsey finished with 80 tackles, two interceptions, 9 ½ tackles for loss, three sacks, 12 pass breakups and three forced fumbles, playing the role of Swiss Army knife for a young and injury-depleted defense. This year, he'll move back to cornerback, but it really doesn't matter where he lines up: He's a tremendous athlete, and one of the best all-around football players in the country.
Honorable mention (alphabetical order): Ishmael Adams, UCLA; Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State; Lloyd Carrington, Arizona State; Blake Countess, Auburn; Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech; Tracy Howard, Miami; Cyrus Jones, Alabama; Cre'von LeBlanc, Florida Atlantic; Cole Luke, Notre Dame; Wayne Lyons, Michigan; Lafayette Pitts, Pittsburgh; Jimmy Pruitt, San Jose State; Kevon Seymour, USC; Nick VanHoose, Northwestern; Daryl Worley, West Virginia
20. Max Redfield, Notre Dame. Call this a projection. Redfield came to Notre Dame from California as a five-star recruit in the class of 2013, and he's now on the verge of stardom for a team on the rise entering 2015. Last year, he finished second on the team with 68 tackles, but he was inconsistent in coverage and even got benched for a couple games in the middle of the season. He finished the season on a high note with 14 tackles in the bowl against LSU, and with what should be a much better defense around him this fall, Redfield has a chance to become a steady performer and possibly a star.
19. Jamal Golden, Georgia Tech. Golden has proved to be a terrific athlete on special teams -- he returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2012 and average 14.6 yards per punt return -- and he's put those traits to use as a rising star at safety. His development was put on hold thanks to a shoulder injury that limited him to three games in 2013, but he returned last season to post 61 tackles, four interceptions, four tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
18. Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State. As a first-year starter in his sophomore season last year, Sterns became a key playmaker for the Cowboys, leading the team with 103 tackles. He also had 5 ½ tackles for loss and four pass breakups. Despite Oklahoma State's problems in pass coverage, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Sterns proved to have a knack for flying around the ball, and with a more experienced defense returning overall, he should help push the Cowboys to a higher level in 2015.
17. Darian Thompson, Boise State. Thompson has started 32 games in his Boise State career, and he's one of several veteran standouts returning to what should be an excellent defense. Thompson -- who is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds -- broke out last season, recording seven interceptions, 71 tackles and five tackles for loss as an aggressive playmaker with good closing speed for his size and instincts that have turned him into a ball hawk.
16. Nate Gerry, Nebraska. Gerry played linebacker as a freshman in 2013, then moved back to safety and became a standout at the position as a sophomore last year. He started all 13 games, finishing second on the team with 88 tackles, and he also had five interceptions, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick return for a touchdown. Once an undersized linebacker, he's now a big playmaker at safety, and one of the key players for a Huskers team with hopes of winning a division title.
15. Jordan Simone, Arizona State. Simone has become an unexpected star of the Sun Devils defense. He began his career at Washington State, then transferred to Arizona State as a walk-on. He was awarded a scholarship last August heading into his junior season, and in his first year seeing playing time, he became a starter and racked up 100 tackles and two interceptions, proving to be a valuable tackling machine.
14. Jordan Lucas, Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a wealth of rising talent in their secondary, with Lucas as the established standout. There will be one difference this year: After starting 25 games the last two years at cornerback, the 6-foot, 199-pound senior will move to safety to finish his career. It's a transition that should go smoothly. Lucas has brought physicality and sound tackling to the position, finishing last season with 58 tackles, nine pass breakups and two sacks for one of the top defenses in the country.
13. Orion Stewart, Baylor. The secondary was the weak link of the Baylor defense last year, but with an outstanding line up front and all four starters returning to the defensive backfield, things may go more smoothly in 2015. The centerpiece of the secondary is Stewart, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who developed into an impact player over the course of his sophomore season. He finished with 81 tackles and four interceptions, and while shoulder surgery has limited him this offseason, he's in line to be a key playmaker for a playoff-contending Baylor team.
12. Michael Caputo, Wisconsin. Caputo has made 27 starts in three seasons, proving to be a solid all-around weapon for the Badgers defense. He's capable of lining up in the box and playing the run, but he can also drop back in deep coverage. At 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, he brings size and aggressiveness to the position, and he led the Badgers with 106 tackles last season, finishing with six for loss plus an interception, six pass breakups and two force fumbles.
11. DeVon Edwards, Duke. While only 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Edwards has been an all-purpose playmaker for the Blue Devils the last two years. He's been one of the ACC's top kick returners the last two years, with three touchdowns, and he also returned two interceptions for touchdowns as a freshman (in the same game against N.C. State, along with one of the kick returns). That's not all he can do: Last season, he had 133 tackles, 7 ½ tackles for loss, nine pass breakups and five forced fumbles, teaming with Jeremy Cash to form a lethal pair of safeties for a very solid pass defense.
10. Jalen Mills, LSU. Mills has had a tumultuous career, with NFL hype marred by last summer's battery charge (which is set to be dropped pending completion of a pretrial program). He somewhat surprisingly returned for his senior year, with 39 career starts under his belt, first at cornerback and now at safety. The 6-foot, 194-pound Mills recorded 62 tackles, five pass breakups and an interception last year, and he should be set for a stronger senior season as he's grown more comfortable at safety.
9. Deon Bush, Miami. A 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, Bush has had an up-and-down career. He was a part-time starter his first two years on campus, then moved into a full-time role last year in which he started all 11 games he played, finishing with 53 tackles, two interceptions and five forced fumbles. While he can be beat in man coverage, he's a physical player with explosive straight-line speed, all of which will be even more important this year with the holes the Canes have to fill in front of him in the front seven.
8. Budda Baker, Washington. The Huskies defense boasted several NFL-caliber stars last year, but all of them are gone: Shaq Thompson, Marcus Peters, Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. So now it's Baker's turn to step into the spotlight. A blue-chip recruit in the class of 2014, Baker immediately stepped into a starting role as a freshman. While only 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Baker is a tremendous athlete who finished third on the team with 80 tackles, also breaking up six passes, forcing two fumbles and picking off one pass that he returned 44 yards in the Cactus Bowl.
7. Jamal Adams, LSU. The Tigers are always so deep at defensive back that they have a habit of churning out stars before they're even starters. As a freshman, Adams started only twice, but he came onto the field in nickel packages and quickly stood out. He's 6-foot, 206 pounds, and he finished his debut season with 66 tackles, five tackles for loss and five pass breakups, all of which overshadows his flop to end all flops against Florida. He'll step into the starting strong safety role this year, bringing aggressiveness and hard hits to the Tigers defense.
6. Dante Barnett, Kansas State. A standout the last two years for the Wildcats, Barnett is a 6-foot-1, 186-pound strong safety who has proved to be capable of making an impact in pass coverage while also being aggressive against the run. He's the team's leading returning tackler (77), and he had three picks, four tackles for loss and eight pass breakups. He teams with corner Danzel McDaniel to form one of the nation's top secondary duos.
5. Karl Joseph, West Virginia. Joseph provides a big boost to the Mountaineers by returning for his senior year, with a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in college football. While just 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, Joseph is a fearless presence in the middle of the field, bringing energy and aggressiveness to a defense on the rise. He was West Virginia's defensive player of the year as a freshman in 2012, and he's started 38 games in his career. Joseph was named first-team All-Big 12 last year with 90 tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception.
4. Quin Blanding, Virginia. Despite Virginia's struggles, coach Mike London earned himself some patience in part by landing a handful of heralded recruits. Blanding made the most noticeable impact from day one last year. A five-star recruit, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Blanding started all 12 games as a true freshman. He led the team with 123 tackles, and he also finished with three interceptions and six pass breakups. With fellow safety Anthony Harris gone, Blanding is now the unquestioned star of the defense, a unit that looked really good at times last year. He's a hard hitter with range in coverage, and he likely has a bright NFL future.
3. Tony Conner, Ole Miss. Part safety, part cornerback, part linebacker, Conner has thrived in a role that essentially puts him in the slot in the Rebels' 4-2-5 defensive scheme. These player rankings have been littered with stars from Ole Miss' recruiting class of 2013, and Conner is another one. A 6-foot, 215-pound junior Conner can contribute in a variety of ways, dropping back in coverage, blitzing off the edge and containing the run on the outside. Last year, he was named second-team All-SEC, finishing with 69 tackles, nine tackles for loss and an interception and proving to be one of the nation's hardest hitters.
2. Vonn Bell, Ohio State. The journey hasn't always been smooth for Bell, who dealt with a knee injury last offseason and got off to a slow start upon becoming a starter, but by the end of the year, he was one of the top playmakers in the country at safety. That's pretty much what happened across the board for Ohio State as it suddenly gelled and sprinted to a championship. Bell, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior who Urban Meyer swayed north from Georgia, was the Buckeyes' second-leading tackler, with 92, and he also had six interceptions and six pass breakups.
1. Jeremy Cash, Duke. The Blue Devils start three safeties, and Cash fills what's essentially a hybrid linebacker/slot corner role. He's a versatile playmaker, one who displays superior instincts and recognition skills. After opening his career at Ohio State, Cash has made over 100 tackles each of the last two years for Duke, posting 111 tackles, 10 ½ tackles for loss, 5 ½ sacks, seven pass breakups, two interceptions and four forced fumbles in 2014. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior seemingly has a hand in every play, and he's been a big part of Duke's rise the last few years.
Honorable mention (alphabetical order): Marcus Allen, Penn State; Nate Andrews, Florida State; Reggie Daniels, Oregon; Trae Elston, Ole Miss; Jonathan Ford, Auburn; Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville; Eddie Jackson, Alabama; Jayron Kearse, Clemson; Derrick Kindred, TCU; Tray Matthews, Auburn; Quincy Mauger, Georgia; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan; Tyvis Powell, Ohio State; Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame; Weston Steelhammer, Air Force; R.J. Williamson, Michigan State; Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech