BATON ROUGE – If college football had the one-and-done, cover cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. of LSU would be entering his third season in the NFL in 2022. He would be nearing his second contract after signing for $33.5 million over four years with a $21.9 million signing bonus in 2020.
In LSU’s 15-0 national championship season in 2019, Stingley was a consensus first team All-American after leading the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions and was No. 2 nationally in passes defended with 21 under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He would have most likely been the first cornerback picked at No. 3 in the first round in 2020 behind LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to Cincinnati and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young to Washington.
But since he was not available, Detroit took Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the third pick of the first round and paid him that $33.5 million over four years with a $21.9 million signing bonus.
Since Stingley had to remain at LSU through his junior season in 2021, he was not eligible for the draft until this year on April 28. He ran an excellent 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash on Pro Day at LSU on Wednesday and looked excellent in the other various drills as well.
But he is no longer considered a top five pick and could even fall out of the top 10 and closer to the middle of the draft. He has not intercepted a pass since 2019 and just played in 10 games since then.
“He’s now going to be a top 10-12 pick,” NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier of WWL Radio in New Orleans said Wednesday. “Derek would have been the third overall pick in 2020. He was a better prospect then than Okudah. He was the most dominant freshman cornerback in my 36 years covering LSU. But for pro scouts, head coaches and general managers, it’s about his long term health and availability.”
For that reason, he could fall to the second half of the first round and make in the neighborhood of $15.6 million over four years with an $8.7 million signing bonus, which is what Alabama quarterback Mac Jones made as the No. 15 pick of the first round last year.
Since the summer of 2020, Stingley’s stock has fallen, as has that of the LSU football program.
Shortly after LSU won it all in 2019, Aranda became Baylor’s head coach.
Then, Stingley had a strange, sudden illness the night before LSU’s 2020 season opener against Mississippi State and missed the game. Mississippi State transfer quarterback K.J. Costello threw for a SEC record 623 yards in a 44-34 win and LSU tumbled to a 5-5 season with the worst defense in school history under coordinator Bo Pelini.
Stingley’s mysterious illness has never been confirmed publicly. It was said only that he had an “allergic reaction.” He returned to the lineup for the next seven games, but after a 3-5 start by the Tigers, he sat out the last two games of the season with an ankle injury.
Stingley and LSU got a new defensive coordinator in 2021, former Minnesota Vikings secondary coach Daronte Jones, but he had no major college defensive coordinator experience, which quickly showed. And Stingley never got going either as he suffered a painful Lisfranc joint injury in his left foot during preseason practices. The Lisfranc injury is basically torn ligaments in the middle of the foot.
Stingley played on the injured foot for the first three games of the 2021 season, but aggravated the injury at practice on Sept. 22, had surgery and missed the rest of the season. He was cleared to prepare for the 2022 draft only three weeks ago.
He was asked on Wednesday how long he has been 100 percent healthy.
“Uh, 100 percent? Uh, uh, it’s been like a couple of days,” he said.
And he ran a 4.37 in the 40!
“I can run faster than that,” he said. “I don’t feel any soreness, so I’m good to go. I just wanted to show that nothing has changed during this past year. All the teams saw how I move after I showed them that I’m still me. Everything’s going to be good.”
Some feel Stingley will still be close to the top five picks.
“Could be early as eighth,” said Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com service on Wednesday, but he is leaving room for a fall. “Top 20 lock.”
NFL teams are still very interested. There were representatives from all 32 teams at LSU on Wednesday, including defensive back coaches from Arizona, Atlanta, Detroit, the Los Angeles Chargers, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle. But all the attention may be because of the questions. Teams tend not to want to spend a high pick on a player with injury histories.
“When you pick that high, you are looking for the most talented and the cleanest prospect you can pick. The question about him is being available for a 17-game season. That’s what is dropping him,” Detillier said.
“Right now, I’m not even focused on that,” Stingley said. “I’m focused on these visits coming up with NFL teams. I have a lot of visits (with NFL teams) – nine.”
There are a lot of questions around Stingley. For one, he probably could have played those last two games in 2020. And should he have tried to play so quickly after the foot injury? He played the first three games last season and made the injury worse. He did not seem interested in talking about his LSU days on Wednesday.
“It was good,” he said only when asked about his experience at LSU as this was his last day on LSU’s indoor practice field.
He was then asked if he could elaborate. “It was good,” he answered.
With the one-and-done in college football, this interview could have been more fun two years ago at this time with that perfect season just over two months removed and devoid of the lingering injury questions.
“Injuries, trying to play through the foot injury, which affected his play, and very questionable defensive schemes by new defensive coordinators after Dave Aranda left took its toll,” Detillier said.
Stingley has never looked like he did in 2019. Neither has LSU, which fired coach Ed Orgeron less than two years after the national championship and replaced him with Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.
“He’s well suited for a variety of zone coverages, but needs to play with much better zeal and toughness in run support,” NFL.com’s draft review stated.
Stingley is out to prove that wrong, and it came up when he spoke with Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley on Wednesday.
“He just told me his whole reason for coming out here was to see if I still had the determination and just the power to go out there and perform,” Stingley said. “When he saw it, he said that’s what he was waiting to see, and that’s what a lot of people are trying to see. They’re not worried about that. They know what I am.”