2024 ACC SAF Rankings: SMU’s Isaiah Nwokobia Is More Than Just a Newcomer

    Shutdown corners come in all shapes and sizes, and that's clear to see in the 2024 ACC CB Rankings. But who is the best of the best?

    Several top-tier safeties left the conference by way of the NFL Draft, transfer portal, and graduation, but even more return. Yet, it’s a newcomer who leads the 2024 ACC SAF Rankings.

    ACC 2024 SAF Rankings

    10) Devan Boykin, North Carolina State Wolfpack

    After serving as a slot defender in 2022, Devan Boykin earned the starting deep safety role in 2023. His 54 total tackles weren’t enough to write home about, but he did snag three interceptions and was rarely beaten over the top.

    Although he suffered a torn ACL in the bowl game and could miss some time, Boykin is one of the best in conference when healthy.

    9) Corey Thomas Jr., Virginia Cavaliers

    Corey Thomas Jr. joined the Akron Zips as a three-star recruit — and the eight-highest-ranked prospect in program history — in the 2019 class. He was a three-time all-conference performer for Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh, PA, playing safety, WR, CB, and LB. Despite his pedigree, it took Corey Thomas Jr. four years to find his role on the defense.

    Much of that had to do with his then-6’4″ and 190-pound frame and Akron’s inability to develop him at one position.

    Regardless, Thomas earned a call-up to the ACC by blowing up run plays from the second and third levels and shutting down the areas he was covering. His 47 tackles and three PBUs don’t seem all that impressive, but turn on the tape, and you’ll see why Virginia sought his services.

    8) Devin Neal, Louisville Cardinals

    Kansas’ 1,000-yard RB isn’t the only Devin Neal you need to know. The Louisville safety racked up 74 tackles, four INTs, and six more PBUs in 2023 and is primed for another standout campaign.

    Neal’s 6’0″ and 210-pound compact build delivers bruising hits coming downhill, but he will need to eliminate miscues on deep shots from his free safety alignment.

    7) Alijah Clark, Syracuse Orange

    There’s a reason Alijah Clark has slowly made his way onto summer scouting boards. The 6’1″, 186-pound DB is versatile, possessing the movement skills and length to produce at most alignments.

    MORE: 2024 ACC Regular-Season Win Totals

    Clark keeps his pad level low in coverage and has no issue keeping up with WRs at the break. And against the run, he quickly diagnoses holes and fills them with gusto.

    6) Jonathan McGill, SMU Mustangs

    The first of two SMU DBs on the 2024 ACC SAF Rankings, Jonathan McGill provided stellar play after transferring from Baylor. He instantly became a team captain and notched nine PBUs and one INT in his first season. Now, he’ll help ease the Mustangs’ move up from the AAC to the ACC.

    5) Shyheim Brown, Florida State Seminoles

    Florida State’s depth chart was ravaged by NFL Draft declarations and exhausted eligibility, but Shyheim Brown returns to stabilize the secondary. He started all 14 games in 2023, registering 53 tackles, two sacks, one INTs, four PBUs, one fumble recovery, and two QB hurries.

    At 6’2″ and 213 pounds, he has no issues stonewalling ball carriers near the line of scrimmage or wrapping up on the move. And if that wasn’t enough, Brown is also a stalwart on special teams.

    4) R.J. Mickens, Clemson Tigers

    The son of nine-year NFL veteran Ray Mickens Sr., R.J. is a veteran himself on the 2024 ACC SAF Rankings. Back for his fifth and final season, Mickens has started since 2022, operating primarily in the box and at deep safety. He’s at his best crashing in run defense and making secure tackles all over the field.

    I’d also be remiss for not mentioning projected starting safety Kylon Griffin and slot DB Khalil Barnes. Griffin saw the field as a reserve last season but still snatched two INTs, and Barnes is already one of the best slot defenders after a multi-forced fumble and multi-INT true freshman campaign.

    3) Justin Barron, Syracuse Orange

    Justin Barron has started since 2021, but he took his game to a new level in 2023. After generating 90 tackles, five TFLs, one INT, seven PBUs, and three forced fumbles, he earned an All-ACC honorable mention.

    Yet, if Barron produces a similar statline in 2024, he’ll receive first or second-team honors. At 6’4″ and 231 pounds, NFL scouts will have their eyes on Syracuse’s defensive leader all season long.

    2) Jonas Sanker, Virignia Cavaliers

    Not much went right for Virginia last season, but that didn’t stop Jonas Sanker from having a career year. He absolutely stuffed the stat sheet, recording 107 tackles (third most in the ACC), 11 PBUs, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 2023.

    Sanker is best deployed closer to the line of scrimmage, as his usage with the Cavaliers shows (the majority of his snaps come from the box).

    1) Isaiah Nwokobia, SMU Mustangs

    The Mustangs finished No. 1 in the AAC in points allowed per game (17.8), and Isaiah Nwokobia was a large reason why. He tied for the conference lead in INTs (four) while returning two for TDs.

    KEEP READING: 2024 ACC QB Rankings

    While Nwokobia has the physical tools to disrupt all areas of the field, it’s his vision and instincts that allow him to do so at a high rate. Much like SMU, he’s ready for the transition to the ACC — but the ACC might not be.

    2024 ACC SAF Rankings | 11-20

    11) Tamarion McDonald, Louisville
    12) Donovan McMillon and Javon McIntyre, Pittsburgh
    13) Nick Andersen, Wake Forest
    14) Craig Woodson,
    Cal
    15) Antavious Lane, North Carolina
    16) Mishael Powell and Isaiah Taylor, Miami
    17) Davonte Brown, Florida State
    18) Clayton Powell-Lee, Georgia Tech
    19) Scotty Edwards, Stanford
    20) Jaylen Stinson, Duke

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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