Over the past few weeks, ACC Network analysts Kelly Gramlich and Eric Mac Lain have been releasing position rankings for every position in the ACC. Late last week, the duo released their cornerback rankings. Gramlich and Mac Lain showed very high regard for two players in Dino Babers’ secondary.
Your eyes do not deceive you. Gramlich and Mac Lain ranked Garrett Williams as the top cornerback in the entire conference, with Duce Chestnut not too far behind at number 3. And there are stats to back it up.
First of all, as a whole, Syracuse gave up the second-fewest passing yards in the ACC last year with Williams and Chestnut at the helm, trailing only Boston College. The Orange also gave up 22 passing touchdowns, which was 7th in the ACC. Yes, it’s middle of the pack, but that was with a true freshman as one of its stalwarts. And that true freshman, Chestnut, is thought of very highly going into Year 2. The secondary was very strong with Williams and Chestnut playing significant minutes last season, it’s reasonable to expect more of the same this year.
Individually, both Williams and Chestnut were among the best of the best statistically in the conference last year. Starting with Williams, the rising fourth-year player had 10 passes defended last year, good for third in the conference. That’s a big reason why he was the 4th best cornerback per Pro Football Focus in the ACC last season. One of the players Williams trailed is now in the NFL, one transferred, and the other had three fewer passes defended than Williams in one more game. Williams’ ranking was already very good. If he intercepts a few passes (zero last year) in 2022, he could very well be the top cornerback in the conference.
As for Chestnut, expectations were sky-high for the former 4-star recruit entering last season. And he did not disappoint. Chestnut got the game ball after SU’s season-opening win against Ohio, something Coach Babers said he had never seen in his career. And he only got better from there. His 11 passes defended and 3 interceptions were either good for or tied for second in the ACC. And he did all of this as a true freshman! If he continues this strong play or even elevates it, the rest of the ACC is going to smell trouble.
In what could be a make-or-break year for Coach Babers, he’s going to be facing some top-tier quarterbacks in the college football landscape, including Devin Leary, Phil Jurkovec, and Aidan O’Connell. The good news is, he’s got Williams and Chestnut at his disposal. When you factor in their performances last year as well as movement in and out of the conference, yes, perhaps Syracuse does have two of the top three cornerbacks in the ACC. They will both certainly need to play like it if this team wants to go to a bowl.