WVU Position Glance: Cornerbacks
By Greg Hunter
West Virginia’s cornerback rotation in recent years has been a revolving door with one group moving out just as another was entering. And the following season it goes round and round again.
The Mountaineers’ top three corners in the 2015 season – Daryl Worley, Terrell Chestnut and Ricky Rumph – all departed at year’s end. Chestnut and Rumph were traditional seniors who graduated, while Worley left with a season of college eligibility remaining. Daryl’s choice to leave WVU worked out well for him, as he was drafted in the third round by the Carolina Panthers where he wound up starting 11 of 16 regular season games as a rookie.
With its top three corners gone, West Virginia went into 2016 looking for an entirely new rotation of coverage men. This latest mix didn’t necessarily feature cornerbacks who all came to WVU as freshmen and worked their way up the depth chart, as had Worley, Chestnut and Rumph. Nana Kyeremeh was available as a fifth-year senior, but a knee injury early in his career diminished his athletic skills and left him as primarily a backup and special teams player. So lacking experience at the corner position, the Mountaineers turned to new faces. But rather than going for the baby-faced types, instead they searched from grizzled vets, combining transfers of the junior college, tradition and graduate variety. Thus Rasul Douglas, Maurice Fleming, Antonio Crawford and Elijah Battle moved into the rotation. A former juco transfer, Douglas developed into an All-American, finishing with a nation-leading eight interceptions and ultimately was a third-round draft pick this spring by the Philadelphia Eagles. Fleming (a grad transfer from Iowa) and Crawford (a traditional transfer from Miami) also filled the openings nicely, and Battle (a first-year juco transfer) slowly worked his way up the depth chart as well and ultimately started a handful of games.
Now WVU faces the same situation again. Douglas, Fleming, Crawford and Kyeremeh have all graduated, leaving Battle as the only corner left on the 2017 roster who has ever started a game for the Mountaineers.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
West Virginia again went out looking for a combination of transfers who could provide a quick fix at the cornerback position. What WVU found was another group of older prospects, including a graduate transfer (Corey Winfield) and a couple more jucos (Fontez Davis and Hakeem Bailey). And that doesn’t take into account the returnees rising through the ranks who also figure to battle for playing time at the cornerback spots.
A transfer from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College, Battle is the most experienced corner in West Virginia’s defense, having played in 11 games for the Mountaineers last year, starting three of them. The 5-foot-11, 189-pound native of Linden, N.J., recorded 23 tackles and broke up one pass in 2016. But now rather than just being a small piece of the cog, WVU needs Battle to become a main gear. He exited spring practice as the team’s top corner, and he will try to fight off the competition for one of the two starting corner jobs this fall.
Winfield gives West Virginia another cornerback candidate with plenty of major college experience, though it didn’t come in Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound native of St. Louis, Mo., spent the previous four years at Syracuse, playing in 32 games in that time and starting 20 of them. He started eight games at corner as a sophomore for the Orange in 2015 before an injury sidelined him for the final four. He recorded 30 tackles, two sacks, three pass deflections and two interceptions that season. As a junior in 2016, Winfield started all 12 games for SU at CB, finishing with 41 tackles, five pass deflections and one interception. But at year’s end, with a communications degree in hand, Winfield decided to spend his senior season somewhere other than Syracuse. Ultimately he decided upon West Virginia, arriving in Morgantown for the start of the summer school session on June 5. As a graduate transfer, he’s eligible to play for WVU immediately. (Editor’s note – Winfield was charged with DUI by in Morgantown on June 17. How that impacts his future with the Mountaineers is still unknown. “I have been made aware of the situation,” said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen in a statement released by WVU. “I am gathering the facts at this time and will to continue to monitor. When all the facts are in, I will take appropriate action.”)
On paper, Battle and Winfield appear to be the Mountaineers’ top candidates for the starting cornerback jobs. Between them they’ve played in 43 major college football games. That’s nearly three times more than all the other corners on WVU’s roster combined.
But West Virginia does have options beyond Battle and Winfield – plenty of options, just not experienced ones. Like Battle and Winfield, Mike Daniels is a senior, though unlike his classmates, the Miami, Fla. native doesn’t have nearly as much FBS experience. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Daniels arrived at WVU in 2016 after an All-American J.C. career at Globe Tech Community College, where he had seven interceptions as a sophomore. In his first season at West Virginia, Daniels played in six games and had one tackle. Now he looks to make a considerable leap up the depth chart in his final college campaign.
Two new junior college transfers have also been thrown into the cornerback mix. Hakeem Bailey and Fontez Davis arrive at WVU with three years of eligibility remaining since both redshirted at the juco level as true freshmen in 2015. The 6-foot, 186-pound Bailey, who recorded 40 tackles and five interceptions for Iowa Western C.C., last season, enrolled at West Virginia in January and quickly impressed in spring drills. A 6-foot, 194-pound native of Chatham, Ill., Davis was a late addition to the Mountaineers’ class of 2017, not signing his National Letter of Intent until late March. A former high school running back, Davis made the transition to cornerback at Butler (Kansas) Community College and started to show raw ability at his new position. He had 36 tackles, eight pass break-ups and one interception last year, his first as a full-time corner.
Beyond Winfield and the four former juco transfers, West Virginia does have five younger corners who could possibly wean the Mountaineers off the revolving door cycle at the position in the future. Kevin Williams and Jordan Adams are sophomores who each saw some action last year, though mainly on special teams. Jacquez Adams, Jake Long and Sean Mahone all were true freshmen who redshirted last year, and now will entire the 2017 campaign as redshirts in search of their first college playing opportunities. On top of that, Exree Loe is a true freshman who just enrolled at WVU at the beginning of June. Though the 6-foot-1, 199-pound native of Johnstown, Pa., is big enough to eventually be a safety, he figures to start his West Virginia career at corner to see if he can fit in at that position.
Previously in the Series: