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2021 AAC Preseason Position Previews: Defensive Backs

Covering receivers isn’t easy, but the AAC has some guys that are really good at it.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re in the AAC, chances are your life isn’t too much fun if you’re not playing offense. Guarding the talent this conference brings in to catch the ball makes for long days and tough assignments as a defensive back. Yet we’ve actually seem some talented players emerge at the position over the years. Tulsa loses two of their best as Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV transfer to Missouri, but a number of other teams return players with all-conference talent, and one has a future first round pick on roster.


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1. Cincinnati: Honestly, this list should have a ton of space between the Bearcats and everyone else. That’s how good the are on the back end. Their secondary is loaded once again even with the losses of Darrick Forrest and James Wiggins. Ja’Von Hicks is a ball hawk who’s already proved he can fill one of the spots, and Bryan Cook thrived in his limited time when Wiggins was hurt. Corner Coby Bryant shocked everyone by returning, and he joins Ahmad Gardner to give Cincinnati two of the best cornerbacks in the country.

Second Tier

2. ECU: Ja’Quan McMillian and Malik Flemming both possess shutdown ability. McMillian led the team with four interceptions last year, meaning Flemming will be busier this season. Shawn Dourseau takes one of the safety spots after starting their last year, and he’s joined by North Carolina transfer DJ Ford. The staff could not stop talking about Ford in the spring, and he gives them a long, rangy, and smart defender at safety.

3. Memphis: The loss of TJ Carter hurts the most, but it’s still an experienced group full of potential. Quindell Johnson has All-American potential at safety, and gives MacIntyre flexibility on the backside of the defense. Rodney Owens will be next to him, but La’Andre Thomas returns too and could play multiple spots in the secondary. Jacobi Francis returns at corner, and Michigan State transfer Julian Barnett already looks physically imposing to replace Carter.

4. Houston: Damarion Williams and Marcus Jones have corner locked down, but guys like Jayce Rogers, Kelvin Clemmons, Texas Tech transfer Alex Hogan, and Art Green should all rotate in. Gervarrius Owens and Thabo Mwaniki could start at safety, but Hasaan Hypolite, Gleson Sprewell, and Garrison Vaughn will all challenge them.

5. Tulane: Jaylon Monroe is back, and figures to be joined by Kansas State transfer Lance Robinson. Macon Clark was solid at nickel for the Green Wave, and also has the ability to move back and give the secondary some depth at safety. At safety, Larry Brooks returns and should be joined by Colorado transfer Derrion Rakestraw, who the coaching staff was raving about in the spring.

6. Navy: Cornerback Michael McMorris returns his all-conference play, and Marshall’s versatility gives them another cover guy when needed. Safety Kevin Brennan finished second on the team in tackles last season, and fellow safety Mitchell West finished fifth. Caleb Clear will be the guy opposite McMorris, and should see teams test him often as they avoid McMorris’ side.

7. Tulsa: Allie Green IV and Akayleb Evans hit the transfer portal, putting a serious dent at the position. TieNeal Martin saw some time at multiple positions last year, and Tyon Davis was decent as a backup. Bryson Powers could allow Martin to slide to corner, but a once experienced group suddenly finds themselves in need of it. This remains a good defense, but more new pieces need to step up.

8. UCF: Davonte Brown, Zamari Maxwell and Derek Gainous all saw significant playing time last year, with mixed results. This is a young group that struggled at times last season, but could take a step forward in 2021. Brown is a speedster who can run with any receiver, and Gainous is an All-Conference talent, but there will be plenty of competition to ensure that no one is satisfied. Jermaine McMillian is set to join Gainous at safety, and Dyllon Lester will be slated at nickel.

Wait and See

9. SMU: The secondary will be experienced, led by Brandon Crossley and Ar’mani Johnson at corner. Crossley led the team in interceptions with four. Chevin Calloway and Chace Cromartie both bring back two years of experience, and that plays a huge role in the success of the secondary.

10. USF: Auburn transfer wide receiver Matthew Hill switched sides and joins the Bulls secondary as a big safety who will be raw at the position. Miami transfer Christian Williams, Rutgers transfer TJ Robinson and Kansas State transfer Will Jones already made an impact in spring, and lock up the nickel and corner positions

11. Temple: Temple lost its best cover corner in Linwood Crump to Colorado State, leaving a big hole in a secondary that used to be the most versatile part of the defense. UConn transfer Keyshawn Paul and returner Jalen Ware are set to take over at the position. Safety DeJuan Dandridge joined the team as a walk-on this spring after playing at Robert Morris, and appears set to join Amir Tyler at the position. Chauncey Moore will see more time at nickel this season.