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2020 BYU Cougars Position Preview: Cornerback

BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford coaches players during Fall Camp practice. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, Utah – It’s been 27 years since BYU had a cornerback selected in the NFL Draft. You have to go all the way back to Derwin Gray to find a cornerback from BYU selected by the league.

It’s been a long time.

But that could eventually change with the talent that’s building at cornerback for BYU with Jernaro Gilford leading that room.

Like many position groups during the Kalani Sitake era, the cornerbacks have experienced their fair share of ups and downs the past four years. But now they bring a wealth of experience at the top of the depth chart with some intriguing new faces that should bring out the competitive depth in a room that historically hasn’t been known for its depth.

As we approach kickoff for the 2020 BYU football season, let’s take a further look at the BYU cornerbacks for this upcoming season.

Key players at Cornerback

Chris Wilcox, Grad-SR.

No one epitomizes ups and downs more in the Kalani Sitake era more than Chris Wilcox. From being a young freshman that had his fair share of struggles against the likes of Toledo in 2016 to being a lockdown cornerback in 2018, Wilcox is an intriguing prospect that could potentially end BYU’s long drought of NFL Draft picks from the cornerback room.

Last season, Wilcox redshirted appearing in only one game against Idaho State after coming back from a season-ending injury in 2018. Wilcox got banged up again the week after his debut against Idaho State in practice and sat out the rest of the year.

Coaches have brought Wilcox along slowly this fall, but when kick time rolls around against Navy in Annapolis on Labor Day night, look for No. 32 to be one of the starters out on an island.

D’Angelo Mandell, RS-Jr.

Mandell recorded a career-high 21 tackles last season along with a quarterback hurry against Utah State. A junior who has played in 26 games in his BYU career, Mandell has said in the past that he’s become a more confident player since he first arrived at BYU in 2017.

Isaiah Herron, RS-Soph.

After considering a move to an HBCU amid the racial injustices in society, Herron withdrew his name from the Transfer Portal and remained at BYU where he said, “I realized I can have an impact in this state by opening eyes here and help other African Americans in Utah because of the small amount of diversity that’s here. I’m looking forward to using my opportunities here to make a positive impact.”

On the field, Herron is in the mix for a lot of playing time this season after starting in seven games last year.

Cornerback Newcomers

Jacques Wilson, RS-Jr.

Wilson was expected to be a potential two-deep player right away after transferring to BYU from West Los Angeles College. BYU assistant Jernaro Gilford had high praise for the potential of Wilson entering the season but in the first week of camp, he suffered an injury that could keep out for an extended period of time this season.

Micah Harper, Fr.

A talented three-star recruit who comes from a football family, where his dad played for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors during the glory years of the BYU-Hawaii rivalry. Kalani Sitake compared Harper to Dayan Ghanwoloku.

Caleb Christensen, Fr.

Christensen grey shirted last year to have a full year to get ready for college football. In high school, Christensen was one of the fastest players in the state and was a playmaker in the return game on special teams.

Projected BYU Cougars Depth Chart at cornerback

Left Cornerback: Chris Wilcox, Hayden Livingston -OR- Micah Harper – OR- Shamon Willis

Right Cornerback: D’Angelo Mandell, Isaiah Herron, Tavita Gagnier

Burning Questions

How many yards will BYU give up to opponents per pass attempt?

One of the stats that BYU defines success by on defense is the number of yards they give up to opponents on passing attempts. Last year, BYU was 67th nationally giving up 7.5 yards per pass attempt to their opposition. If BYU and these cornerbacks get the number under 6.5, this could be a really impressive group in 2020 stopping the pass.

Could Troy Warner move to cornerback to get the best 11 on the field?

Troy Warner’s move to safety puts him in a better spot to play in the NFL. But, BYU isn’t the NFL and Sitake has talked a lot about getting the best 11 on the field. Wouldn’t the best 11 consists of a secondary that features Chris Wilcox and Troy Warner at cornerback with Zayne Anderson and Chaz Ah You at safety? That’s something to ponder.

BYU Cougars 2020 Cornerback personnel

Seniors

Chris Wilcox

Jared Kapisi

Juniors

Keenan Ellis

D’Angelo Mandell

Shamon Willis

Mitchell Price

Jacques Wilson

Sophomores

Isaiah Herron

Hayden Livingston

Freshmen

Tavita Gagnier

Caleb Christensen

Micah Harper

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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