Becoming an All-American is an incredible accomplishment. Becoming an All-American as a true freshman means you’re destined for stardom. Derek Stingley Jr. exploded onto the scene and was arguably the best defensive player on one of the best college teams of all time, the 2019 LSU Tigers. He locked down every receiver that lined up across from him and recorded six interceptions. More importantly, his team won a National Championship. 2020 wasn’t as kind to Stingley, as he battled injuries and an illness in what was a weird year all around for most college programs. However, this shouldn’t make things any different for how we evaluate Stingley because he’s such a special talent. As long as Stingley can stay healthy and lock down SEC receivers, it’s safe to consider him a top-five pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Doesn’t matter where he is on the field or who is he guarding, Stingley is going to lock down any receiver he goes up against. It’s rare to see a defensive back at the college level play at a high level in both man and zone as a freshman, but Stingley did just that in 2019. At 6’1″, he has the length needed to match taller receivers and has the speed to stay with smaller slot receivers. If you look at the history of the best cornerbacks in NFL history, they typically took the challenge of shadowing the opposing team’s best receiving option. Stingley has that same ability and shuts down an entire side of the field when he’s out there.
It’s true that Stingley had zero interceptions in 2020, but that’s because teams were avoiding him like how girls avoided me in high school *bad dum tiss*. In all seriousness, the opportunities just weren’t there. However, in 2019 he had six interceptions and showed great hands for a defensive player. It’s unlikely he will be tested much in 2021, but expect to see him create more turnovers. I don’t consider having strong hands a necessity for a defensive back, but when they can cause turnovers it sets them apart from the rest.
While athleticism is a huge advantage for becoming a successful player, being smart is even more important. Stingley does a superb job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and anticipating where a receiver is going to be. He knows the exact moment to break on the ball and make the play. The little things like being aggressive without holding and forcing his receiver to the sideline are small, but important. Guys like Richard Sherman have made millions of dollars and had great careers by using their brains more than their physical gifts. When you combine this intelligence with incredible physicality, you end up with a special prospect like Stingley.
Step Slow Out of Breaks
Because Stingley plays in coverage so tightly, he’s susceptible to falling off balance when a receiver makes one quick move. He’s a little awkward when trying to get back up to speed after slowing his feet down, which you tend to see on occasion with taller defensive backs. Every corner is going to get beat at some point, so him giving up a reception here and there doesn’t worry me. I would like to see Stingley mature a little more physically, getting stronger and improving his footwork. He’s still young so this might be a problem in the short term, but should get corrected.
Stingley missed a handful of games in what was a rather tough 2020 season for him. Is missing a few games a serious thing? No. But if this pattern continues in 2021, then it’ll be time to be concerned. Check back in a few months to see if this is an issue or not.
Derek Stingley Jr. is a once-in-a-decade type prospect at the cornerback position. It’s rare to see a freshman come in and dominate in the manner that Stingley did. He’s such a special athlete that he’s excelled in the few moments he’s had as a punt returner and there are rumors that he will be playing some receiver for the Tigers this fall. Sign me up for that! It’s tough to compare him, but if I had to I would say he’s Jalen Ramsey without the swagger. Ramsey has become arguably the best corner in the league and I see no reason why Stingley couldn’t take that mantle from him in a few years. With another great season, Stingley could become one of the best college defenders in history. As long as he stays healthy and continues to be the anchor for this defense, we can expect to see Stingley be a top-five selection in the 2022 draft.