There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Cincinnati Bearcats’ passing attack in 2019. Desmond Ridder was impressive in his first year as starting quarterback and should be even better. Tight end Josiah Deguara earned an all-conference second team nod last season and for more than just blocking. Top wide receiver Kahlil Lewis may be gone but there is plenty of potential in this year’s pass catching group. Standing in their way will be a host of talented cornerbacks. Below you will find the three best along with some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention: Chris Jackson (Marshall), Darnay Holmes (UCLA), Shaun Wade (Ohio State), Damon Arnette (Ohio State), Jeff Okudah (Ohio State), Zedrick Raymond (Miami-Ohio), Colby Gore (East Carolina), Michael Witherspoon (East Carolina), Tahj Herring-Wilson (UConn), Reggie Robinson (Tulsa), Allie Green IV (Tulsa), Akayleb Evans (Tulsa), Linwood Crump (Temple)
T.J. Carter - Memphis
It’s nothing new to see Carter on this type of list. Now entering his junior season with the Tigers, Carter has been a consistently dominant corner for the past two years, locking down receivers in the American Athletic Conference and beyond. He played well enough to earn second-team all-league honors last season in essentially a carbon copy of 2017 when he was named the conference’s rookie of the year. He tallied 68 tackles, including 58 solo efforts, and also had 12 pass breakups and two interceptions. Although that was a drop from his interception total from the year before, it would be erroneous to think that he didn’t display the same devastating ability to get to and interrupt passes meant for opposing receivers. As he ventures forth this year — including a regular season finale matchup with the Bearcats — Carter should just keep on making passing offenses feel frightened.
Nevelle Clarke - UCF
Clarke will be a redshirt senior this season and he could very well be in the running for AAC defensive player of the year when we hit the postseason. He already has some accolades to admire, having been named to the all-league first team last winter. To get there, he was a key member of UCF’s dominant defense, which allowed only 211.4 passing yards per game and just 6.7 yards per attempt. You would also be wary of letting it fly too deep down the field when Clarke is the the secondary. He piled up 13 pass breakups and also had a pair of interceptions last season. As if that wasn’t enough, he also made quite a few plays in the offensive backfield, posting four tackles for loss, including a sack. Such a combination of brilliant coverage work and aggressive play when called to blitz makes Clarke someone the Bearcats will have to be ready for when they face the Knights on Oct. 4.
Mike Hampton - USF
When putting together this list, I couldn’t get over one statistic. Hampton broke up 16 passes last season, which tied for the sixth-most in the entire country and is the most by any returning player in the AAC. If a cornerback’s primary job is to stop passes from being completed, then Hampton was easily one of the best in the business among AAC players last season. Obviously there is more to the job and that’s partially why Marshall’s Chris Jackson (15 pass breakups) just missed the cut. Hampton added two interceptions, 43 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack to his staggering total of pass breakups and if he replicates that type of production in 2019 — and there’s no reason to think he won’t — then the Bearcats will have quite the challenge on their hands on Nov. 16 in Tampa.