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Best ACC CB: Exum vs. Cockrell

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Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images.
Photo by Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images.

It was well-established last year that David Amerson was the best cornerback in the ACC. After setting an ACC record with 13 interceptions in 2011, expectations were high that the senior would once again be a dominant force. Although he did get lit up in North Carolina State’s high-profile opener against Tennessee, Amerson bounced back to have a tremendous season, co-leading the ACC with five interceptions.

Now that Amerson has graduated to the Washington Redskins, the title for best corner in the ACC is vacant heading into the 2013 season. I personally believe it comes down to a pair of outstanding seniors: Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum and Duke’s Ross Cockrell. Let’s have a quick look at their backgrounds and see if we can decide who is better.

The Case For Antone Exum

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 225 pounds.

A former safety, Exum made the transition seamlessly for the Hokies in 2012. Exum led the conference in passes defended (21) and earned second-team all-ACC honors for his efforts. Exum is a high-character athlete and leader on the defensive side of the ball. Exum has all the tools to succeed. His size is big enough to cover the more physical receivers in the ACC while he can keep up with anyone with his speed. His instincts also jump off the page. The Hokies have one of the best starting corner tandems in the entire country with Exum and Kyle Fuller.

Exum is a solid mid-round NFL prospect. As shown in the 2013 draft, teams load up on corners in an attempt to counteract the explosive offenses that are prevalent today. His ability to play both corner and safety makes him even more attractive.

Exum tore his ACL in January in a pick-up basketball game and was projected to miss six-to-nine months. As of now, the team is targeting a return against East Carolina the third week of the season. That unfortunately means he will miss the Hokies' showdown with Alabama, which would have been an outstanding opportunity to showcase his skills to a national audience.

The Case For Ross Cockrell

Measurables: 6-foot, 180 pounds.

Cockrell is a flat-out playmaker. Put on a tape of any of Duke’s games from last season and you will see Cockrell flying around the football. Playing on a porous defense didn’t stop him from being a force in the secondary, totaling five interceptions and 18 passes defensed in 2012.

After watching film on Cockrell, it quickly becomes apparent that his size can sometimes be a  hindrance in the running/quick pass game. Although an excellent man-to-man corner, Cockrell doesn’t like contact and has difficulty fighting through blocks. That may affect his draft status for next April.

On any traditional routes however, Cockrell shadows his receiver and usually forces quarterbacks to look in another direction. Quarterbacks have to make near-perfect throws to beat him in single coverage.

The Winner

After watching game footage of both players from last season, Cockrell comes off as more impressive, and gets the slight nod here. Playing corner in college football is one of the most difficult positions on either side of the ball. Offenses are obsessed with spacing and forcing defenders to win 1-on-1 matchups. Sometimes gravity prevents the defenders from doing anything to stop ball-carriers. For Cockrell to be such a dynamic player at his size really is a testament to his raw talent. While “Cockrell Island” doesn’t quite have the same ring, throwing his way in the fall should be highly discouraged.