March 18, 2022

Why Clemson's Andrew Booth Jr. is 2022 NFL Draft's Most Underrated Corner

If you don't know the name Andrew Booth Jr, it doesn't necessarily mean you haven't been paying attention to the pre-draft process.

The cornerback has been conspicuously absent during pre-draft events. He did not work out during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine because of a calf injury and was not featured Thursday at Clemson's pro day. 

Booth has flown under the radar compared to Cincinnati star Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, who was the focus at the position in Indianapolis and has seemingly emerged as the consensus top player at the position.

Though Booth has not received the same level of his attention, the tape from a stellar career with the Tigers is that of a player who has an excellent case for being considered the most complete player in the class at his position.

The cornerback archetype

Booth has the ideal size for a modern-day NFL cornerback at just over 6-feet-tall and 194 pounds, with his arm length allowing him to excel consistently in press coverage. When playing press, he gets his hands on receivers early and uses his arm length to help him stay in phase with receivers downfield.

At the catch point, Booth is ultra-competitive and will lean on his frame when competing with receivers for the football. However, it would be wrong to assume Booth is solely reliant on his physicality.

While he occasionally gets a little high in his backpedal, Booth has demonstrated impressive fluidity in his hips to turn and run with receivers and possesses the long speed to prevent them from gaining significant separation from his coverage.

And, for as much as his size is a benefit at the catch point, Booth's on-ball production – which saw him make five interceptions and record nine pass breakups over his last two seasons – was as much a result of his success in finding the ball early as it was a product of his physical attributes.

Booth displayed his ability on this pass breakup from Clemson's game with Wake Forest last season. He is patient and controlled in his backpedal, gets his hands on the receiver as he turns and finds the ball well before the wideout, who commits offensive pass interference to prevent Booth from hauling in an interception.

What makes Booth so attractive as a prospect, however, is his versatility in playing different coverages.

In the zone

Indeed, not only is Booth extremely reliable in press-man, but he is also an assured and confident zone corner who does a superb job of keeping his eyes to the quarterback and is adept at efficiently diagnosing when to change his coverage assignment.

One of the best examples of his comfort in zone came on a play against Wake Forest where he surrendered a completion.

Booth is already communicating prior to the snap and directs his teammates mid-play as the outside receiver works inside and the tight end works to the flat and then upfield to become his assignment. Though Booth pins Wake Forest's Brandon Chapman to the sideline, an outstanding catch sees the pass completed.

There are weaknesses to Booth's game. He has endured some struggles against quicker-footed receivers and is susceptible to double moves, while a lack of elite top-end speed has seen him have issues recovering separation when he does surrender it on downfield routes.

But those deficiencies should not overshadow a well-rounded skill set that has allowed Booth to develop into a pass defender ideally suited to the modern NFL.

His abilities against the pass are complemented by his prowess as a run defender.

Running downhill

Whether he is attempting to bring an end to a run play or stop screen passes – which are in essence an extension of the run game – Booth is extremely aggressive in attacking blockers and flies to the football when he sees an opportunity to do so.

Booth can wrap up ball carriers but is also capable of delivering the big hit, as he did on this screen pass in Clemson's season opener with Georgia.

He reacts instantly to the motion of the running back, surging downfield and easily evading the block by the receiver to floor James Cook in the backfield before he has any kind of chance to advance the ball.

In a league that is increasingly reliant on two-high safety coverages, Booth's proficiency in zone has arguably never been more valuable, while his dependability in man will theoretically enable allow the team that drafts him to play more one on one coverage and blitz with less fear of being burned for doing so.

Despite his multi-faceted strengths in coverage and upside against the run that is far from a given with corners, Booth is viewed by most observers as a late first-round pick.

Booth has an average position of 25.6 on the consensus big board compiled by Marcus Mosher. Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Booth 18th on his board, but no other analyst on the list compiled by Mosher has him higher than 20th.

That is in part a reflection of the depth in this draft at the non-quarterback positions, but his position on the consensus board seems unduly low for a player whose coverage versatility figures to afford the defense he lands on the opportunity to be more flexible.

Should the assessments of the draft community prove prescient, then one of the top teams in the NFL from last season may have the chance to steal a pro-ready corner late in round one.

Between his talents as a man and zone defender, his physical gifts, his ball skills, and his run defense, Booth may be the most well-rounded corner in this draft.

The apparent consensus among draft analysts about where he belongs on the board indicates Booth may also be the most underrated corner in the class.

Among the corners in the first-round mix, Booth is somewhat of the forgotten man, but that is unlikely to be the case for long if he indeed falls into the lap of a team ready to contend.

Photo: Getty Images