Scouting Florida’s 2020 Opponents: Ranking the defensive backs

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LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (24) intercepts the ball from Georgia wide receiver George Pickens during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship game, in Atlanta. Stingley was selected to The Associated Press All-America team. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

 The Florida-LSU rivalry seems to grow bigger and more bitter every passing year. And part of that rivalry now is the ongoing argument over who is the real DBU.

 Is it the Florida secondary? Or the LSU back end?

 Given the steady stream of defensive backs going from UF and LSU to the NFL over the past several years, there’s a strong argument for both schools. This season should be no different.

 Once again, the UF secondary is expected to be a team strength, led by cornerbacks Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elam and experienced safeties Donovan Stiner, Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart and Trey Dean.

 LSU’s secondary also has the potential to be elite in 2020. The Tigers have two of the best defensive backs in the SEC — All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and playmaking safety Jacoby Stevens.

 Here’s a look at the top 10 defensive backs the Gators will face in 2020:

  1. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU — It’s almost unfathomable that a true freshman could be the best cornerback in college football. But that’s exactly what this guy was last season. Stingley never looked or played like a freshman. He looked more like an experienced NFL corner the way he blanketed receivers week in and week out. He earned All-American honors after a dominant season in which he intercepted six passes, the most in the SEC, and broke up 21 passes. A true sophomore figures to be college football’s best corner in 2020.
  2. Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina — You could put together a season highlight tape of this guy from just one game last season — USC’s overtime upset of Georgia in Athens. In what has to be one of the greatest cornerback performances in SEC history, Mukuamu intercepted UGA quarterback Jake Fromm three times. One of those picks he returned 53 yards for a touchdown. His third and final pick came in overtime. He’s a big (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), rangy DB who obviously knows how to make plays.
  3. Jacoby Stevens, S, LSU –– This playmaking safety has the size of a linebacker (6-1,228) and the speed of a cornerback — a combination that makes this guy one of the best defensive players in the SEC. He’s coming off a dominant season in which he recorded 85 tackles, 8.5 tackles for losses, five sacks and three interceptions.
  4. Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State — When you watch this guy play, the way he makes plays all over the field, it’s easy to understand how he could lead the Seminoles in tackles, which he did last season, piling up a remarkable 101. He’s big (6-4, 212) and sturdy against the run. He’s also solid in pass coverage. Along with hitting the century mark in tackles, he also intercepted three passes, forced two fumbles and broke up three passes last season.
  5. Richard LeCounte, S, Georgia — Fast, physical and instinctive, LeCounte plays with a lot of energy and makes a lot of plays, both along the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Last season, he intercepted four passes, forced two fumbles, had 4.5 tackles for losses and broke up three passes. He always seems to play well against the Gators.
  6. Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia — Stokes and LeCounte give the Bulldogs’ an impressive one-two punch in the secondary. Stokes led the team in pass breakups with nine last season. He forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown against Tennessee. He was a second team All-SEC selection in 2019.
  7. Brandon Echols, CB, Kentucky — Echols is one of the most consistent cover corners in the SEC. In press coverage, he was targeted 23 times last season, and gave up only eight receptions for a total of just 95 yards.
  8. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State — After getting off to a relatively slow start in his FSU career, this highly rated prospect coming out of high school began his breakout last season, recording 48 tackles and breaking up 14 passes, most in the ACC. He was the only Power 5 defender last season to break up 14 passes and record 45 or more tackles.
  9. Shawn Shamburger, CB, Tennessee — Playing the nickel position in the secondary, Shamburger is one of the biggest playmakers on the Vols’ defense. Last season, he had 47 tackles, 4.5 for losses, three sacks, an interception and two pass breakups. He was also good in coverage, giving up only 45 yards or less in receptions in every game.
  10. Akeem Dent, S, Florida State — This highly rated prospect coming out of high school had an immediate impact as a true freshman last season, starting five games and breaking up seven passes. He seems primed for a breakout season in 2020.