Our 2023 position group previews continue with our final defensive positon group, the cornerbacks. Under the direction of new DB coach Hank Poteat, this talented looks to be arguably the strongest position group on the entire roster, and one that can propel the Cyclones to yet another elite defense.
The only departure from this group is Tayvonn Kyle, who left the program after five years and entered the transfer portal, eventually ending up at Virginia, where he’ll have a good shot to start. He finished his Iowa State career having played in 42 games, registering 76 total tackles, twelve deflections, and one interception.
The tricky part here is that basically any new defensive back that comes into the program gets tried out at both safety and cornerback, and the roster only lists everyone as a general DB, so it’s difficult to parse out who is playing where until we get a depth chart or see them on the field. However, based on his size, I believe Cam Smith is the primary newcomer to the cornerbacks group. At 5’10” and 185 lbs. he’s a little undersized, but not substantially so. It’s always possible he could sneak on the field as a freshman, but there’s just a log jam of talent in front of him that will be tough to beat.
Leaders of the Pack
Without a doubt, the biggest names in the room are TJ Tampa and Myles Purchase. Those two form the best CB duo in the Big 12 and one of the best in college football. Tampa is widely regarded as a potential high-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, possibly sneaking into the first round, and is on a handful of preseason watch lists, including the Thorpe Award. His running mate Purchase is no slouch himself, having started opposite Tampa for the entire 2022 season.
Behind Tampa and Purchase are another pair of talented corners that are capable of spelling the starters for long stretches if need be. Darien Porter, a former wide receiver, is a former high school sprint champion and stands an imposing 6’4”, which is significant size at cornerback. He’s got the long speed required to keep up with receivers on deep routes, so it’ll be up to how he’s developed his vision and instincts.
Right now, I’d project Jontez Williams to be the other backup across from Porter. The redshirt freshman has been spotlighted in some recent social media clips from Cyclone Football, which is usually not an accident. We haven’t seen any snaps from him yet, but if there’s anything I know I can trust, it’s that Iowa State’s defensive backs will be ready to play if they’re on the field.
If there’s one thing at all you could nitpick about Jon Heacock’s defenses, it’s that they don’t generate a lot of turnovers. That’s not necessarily a big issue when your defense is as salty as the Cyclones have been for the entire Campbell era, but it’s another part of the overall defensive game where Iowa State could be gaining ground and giving their young offense more help.
Fortunately, having an elite secondary is the easiest way to do that. When your secondary is dependable and can be trusted to deal with opposing players one-on-one, you can use other players to jump passing lanes and try to force a few extra turnovers. Iowa State’s cornerbacks have typically not generated many picks because Heacock likes to keep the ball in front of the defense by not gambling often, but if there’s ever a time to try to dial up some pressure and force a few more interceptions, this is it.
The corners and safeties are plenty talented and experienced to do it, and giving the offense more possessions while they’re still growing and coming into their own could be extremely valuable.
I’m fully expecting this group to perform as one of the best handful of secondaries in America this season, but I think the opportunity is there to turn this group into an extension of the offense through turnover production. Keep your eye on #2.