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Could Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. be the future at cornerback for the Steelers?

The Steelers will be in the market for a cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft, and we break down the prospects who will be available.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback is a position that varies so much from year to year. Evaluating a player at this position a year early makes it truly challenging, especially if the corner does not have much experience. However, the primary goal of these breakdowns is to familiarize you with prospects eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft and to wet your appetite for what is ahead this fall. This is exactly why today’s prospect breakdown features Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.

Widely viewed as a five-star recruit out of high school, Booth was the highest rated prospect in his class that signed with Clemson. He played his high school ball in Georgia, starting three seasons for Archer High. During his years in high school, Booth racked up 162 total tackles, 44 passes defended, 13 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. He also contributed as a receiver on occasion, recording 557 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 22 receptions. Booth proved to be a difference maker on special teams as well, as evidenced by his three punt return touchdowns.

His performance as a junior made people take notice, as he was given the honor of being first team all-state. Not only was Booth selected to be a team captain in 2018, but he was also named the county defensive back of the year and Region Specialist of the Year. He has only started four games and played about 400 snaps during his time at Clemson, but after seeing Booth perform better than any other Clemson corner down the stretch last season, many people expect him to be in the first round conversation by the time we get to next April.

What stood out to me the most in Booth’s limited snaps last season was his ability to create splash plays. One thing that separates solid corners from elite corners is that elite corners can create turnovers when they are needed most. Booth has tremendous ball skills and instincts, and he does an excellent job getting good position against opposing wide receivers, forcing them to the outside and putting himself in better position to intercept the ball. Booth is not afraid to get his nose dirty as a run defender either, as he plays with great pursuit and has a non-stop motor. I also love the way Booth uses his length. He is only 6’0”, but he uses his long arms to irritate receivers at the line and swat balls away downfield, making his moves at the perfect time. This play below against Miami is a perfect example.

Booth has superb athleticism and rarely gets beat over the top, even when he plays close to the line in man coverage. In the small sample size last season, not only did he display the speed, quickness, aggression, and physicality needed to play close to the line in press coverage, but he also displayed the instincts and awareness needed to play softer coverages off the line. This stat below shows how well Booth held up in coverage downfield last year.

Again, it was a limited sample size, but it is difficult not to get excited about what is in store for Booth this season as he becomes the team’s top corner.

When it comes to areas Booth could improve in, improving his spacing in zone coverage will likely be high on the to-do list in 2021. He could also afford to strengthen his lower half a little more, as he occasionally struggles keeping himself planted while attempting to make a tackle in the open field. I have seen worse tacklers, but diving less and taking better tackling angles in 2021 will turn him into a complete, well-rounded player and a potential top ten prospect. His lack of experience shows at times, and being the number one cornerback for Clemson will be a much more challenging role, but after what he put on tape last season, there is no reason to believe that he will not show tremendous growth and become an elite corner this fall.

As previously mentioned, there is not a ton of film on Booth, but one game that stood out to me was his impressive performance against Virginia. We are going to look at four specific plays that should give fans a reason to get excited about watching the rising star this fall.

Booth is not able to be seen at the beginning of this first snap, but he is aligned below the screen.

We cannot see what happens at the beginning of the play, but I love how Booth is never afraid to get a hand in the way of a receiver to break up a pass. Timing is a difficult, yet important part of pass breakup attempts. Booth not only anticipates when the ball is going to arrive, but he also anticipates when the receiver is going to make his move for the ball. He times this one beautifully and gets his hand in the way to break up what could have been a big gain.

Booth is at the bottom of the screen in the clip below.

Booth is in man against tight end Tony Poljan. Again, Booth’s ball tracking skills are on display. I also love that he plays aggressive without getting too handsy with the receiver he is going up against. Despite being mismatched against a 6’7” tight end, he gets into good position and gives Poljan no extra room to work with. It looks as if Booth is about to overrun the play, but when he senses the ball being thrown and the tight end beginning to turn his body, he turns around and gets his hand in front of Poljan to swat the ball away. I love corners that get good position against bigger receivers and tight ends. It helps them overcome the size mismatch, and it gives the receiver less room to work with. Booth displays excellent situational awareness and instincts here, forcing the incomplete pass.

Booth is the far right corner on this one.

When receiver Terrell Jana stacks behind fellow receiver Lavel Davis, Booth switches his assignment and matches up against the 6’7” Davis. Booth gets his hands on him within the first three yards of the route, but Davis is able to extend those long arms and create a little early separation. This pass should have been caught, but Booth does what he can given the size mismatch. Davis uses those long strides to keep the little separation he gained earlier in the route, but Booth hangs close and gets in position to make an immediate tackle in the event that Davis catches it. Davis is unable to secure it, and the pass falls harmlessly to the ground. Again, this should have been a completed pass, but I liked how Booth was unafraid to match up and get physical with a receiver that was seven inches taller than him. His aggressive playing style may have allowed Davis to push him off ever so slightly and create that little bit of separation, but his ability to hang close in man coverage and make the receiver earn every inch of separation is something that only true lockdown corners can do.

Here is the last play. Booth is below the screen.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables spices up the play calling here and calls for press bail coverage. It looks as if Booth is in man, but right before the snap, Booth begins to back away from the line of scrimmage and turns his head toward the backfield. He displays fluid hips as he moves while keeping his eyes on the quarterback the entire way, and the quarterback does not read this one well at all. The ball is thrown a little too far to the inside, Booth keeps Lavel Davis to the outside, and Booth is able to come away with an amazing one-handed interception. The instincts and ball skills needed to keep the receiver out of this play and make this catch are not found in every cornerback prospect. Booth has a chance to be special if he can improve the technical issues in his game that are likely due to his lack of experience.

NFL Comparison: Marlon Humphrey

This is a lofty comparison, but in terms of both size and playing styles, I see a lot of similarities that Booth shares with Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Humphrey measured in at slightly over 6’0”, 197 pounds at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, and Booth is currently listed at 6’0”, 195 pounds. Humphrey was a very physical cornerback coming out of Alabama, and he consistently displayed fluidity in the hips and start-and-stop quickness. These traits allowed Humphrey to excel in man coverage and make splash plays in zone coverage. Booth has displayed those same abilities and, in a limited number of snaps, had similar success. Humphrey is one of the best man coverage corners in the NFL, but he has also become very comfortable playing farther off the line of scrimmage and playing with his eyes on the quarterback. There is no denying that Booth is more comfortable in man coverage at this point, but he has shown flashes in zone and will only improve in that area with more experience. Humphrey may seem like an unrealistic comparison, but outside of Derek Stingley, there is no cornerback in next year’s draft with a ceiling as high as Booth’s.

How would he fit with the Steelers?

A lot will likely depend on how much Booth grows as a zone corner in his first full season as the starter, but I love his aggressiveness, athleticism, and instincts. He would be the most athletically gifted corner that Teryl Austin has been given to work with since Darius Slay, and in the event that Keith Butler were to retire and Austin were to take over as defensive coordinator, perhaps the Steelers would not be quite as zone-heavy. If Booth proves to be reliable in zone coverage this season, Steelers fans should have no concerns about his fit with this team. Unfortunately, if he shows too much improvement in zone, I am not sure the Steelers will be able to draft him unless they are picking inside the top ten. Booth has already displayed his ability to cover receivers on an island. If he can improve his spacing in zone, he may be a top ten pick next April.

But what are your thoughts on Booth? Do you think he is a first-round talent? How well do you think he would fit with the Steelers? Be sure to share your thoughts on Booth, the Steelers, all things NFL Draft in the comment section below!