In this week-long series, NFL Network analysts examine the notable Year 2 players at different position groups who are poised for a breakout campaign in 2022. Today, former 14-year NFL defensive back DeAngelo Hall spotlights three cornerbacks.
There's no disputing the breakout season enjoyed by one rookie cornerback in 2021. His name? Denver's Patrick Surtain II.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was a huge reason the Broncos ranked eighth in total defense and third in scoring defense. He arrived super-polished, carrying an NFL pedigree as the son of Patrick Surtain, who racked up three Pro Bowl nods in his 11 seasons in the league. The younger Surtain was so impressive statistically in 2021, allowing the second-lowest passer rating in coverage (69.7) among 42 players with at least 75 targets in coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Only J.C. Jackson, who signed a megadeal with the Chargers this offseason, outperformed him in the metric (47.8).
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound corner is patient at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't panic. And there are rarely missteps in his game. Surtain came into the league as a technically sound defender, and it's no surprise he led all rookies with four interceptions -- returning one for a 70-yard touchdown in a Week 12 win over the division-rival Chargers -- and tied (with Eric Stokes) for the most passes defensed (14) last season.
Let's get to three of Surtain's draft classmates who are poised to break out this year, including two guys whose fathers also played in the league.
Year 1: 3 games | 1 interception | 1 pass defensed | 5 tackles
I was gutted when Horn's 2021 season ended in Week 3 with a foot injury. Until that point, he looked smooth and comfortable, and his production proved it. On 69 coverage snaps in three games, Horn allowed two catches for 18 yards and had one INT, according to Next Gen Stats. Coming into this season healthy with a dawg mentality, he's poised to pick up right where he left off. I've watched him in training sessions this offseason and in training camp, and his competitiveness is off the charts. He competes on every drill, exercise and play and, honestly, that tenaciousness reminds me of how I played. (That's probably why I like him so much.) As great as Surtain was last season, we have to remember that Horn was the first cornerback taken off the draft board, selected eighth overall by Carolina. These two guys are 1A and 1B. Horn, son of former 12-year NFL receiver and four-time Pro Bowler Joe Horn, is well on his way to becoming an elite player, and that starts with blanketing No. 1 receivers weekly in the NFC South this fall.
Year 1: 12 games | 2 interceptions | 11 passes defensed | 1 tackle for loss | 43 tackles
Sticking with the trend, the apple didn't fall far from the tree with Samuel. His father, Asante Samuel, was one of the best ballhawks of his generation, leading the league in interceptions twice during his 11-year pro career. Samuel Jr. has the same body control and ball skills to be a pick machine in this league, already having nabbed two interceptions in his first season with the Chargers. As a smaller cornerback (5-10, 180 pounds), he took some lumps as a rookie when adjusting to the pro level, allowing 36 receptions on 54 targets for 441 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 88.6 in coverage, per NGS. Samuel has a real opportunity to make plays this fall playing opposite shutdown corner J.C. Jackson and behind a top-tier pass rush that features Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack.
Year 1: 16 games | 1 interception | 14 passes defensed | 55 tackles
With premier cover corner Jaire Alexander missing 13 games last season, Stokes was forced to step up and cover WR1s for the Packers' D. The first-round pick rose to the occasion and played well in Joe Barry's scheme, allowing the second-lowest rate of open targets among all cornerbacks with 25-plus targets (24%) and a passer rating of 78.8 in coverage (second-lowest among rookie CBs in that group), per PFF. He also was one of the 15 highest-graded cornerbacks by PFF in the NFL from Week 12 on (among those with a minimum of 100 snaps). With Alexander back in the mix for 2022, Stokes will be tasked with locking down No. 2 receivers, and there's no doubt he'll excel after the experienced gained last season. Stokes is confident in his ability and doesn't panic -- a great characteristic of a young DB.
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