By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
Derek Stingley Jr. worked through position drills at his LSU pro day under the watchful eye of Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley, with many other interested NFL coaches looking on.
Staley is familiar with talented defensive backs, having coached cornerback Jalen Ramsey as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. Then, when Staley became head coach of the Chargers a year later, he inherited Ramsey’s good friend Derwin James.
Staley wanted an up-close look at what a healthy Stingley could do. He came away impressed, according to Stingley.
“His whole reason, he just told me, for coming out here is he wanted to see if I still had the determination and just the power to go out there and perform,” Stingley told reporters after his pro day two weeks ago. “And when he saw it, they got that’s what he was waiting for it.”
Stingley did not do any on-field work at the NFL Scouting Combine because he was still recovering from foot surgery. He told reporters in Indianapolis that he had surgery to repair a Lisfranc fracture on Sept. 29 of last year, having suffered a torn ligament in his left foot during the start of training camp in August before his final season at LSU.
Stingley labored through three games on the injected foot before shutting it down for the rest of the season. He rehabbed the injury and did his pre-draft work at EXOS in Pensacola, Florida, then continued his workouts at EXOS in Dallas. Renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson gave Stingley full clearance during the combine last month.
“All the teams wanted to see how I move,” Stingley said after his pro day. “After I showed them I’m still me, everything’s going to be good.”
NFL observers know how talented and productive Stingley can be. He showed a shutdown corner ability as a true freshman, grabbing an SEC-high six interceptions on the way to LSU winning the national championship in 2019. Stingley finished as a consensus All-American, earned second-team All-SEC honors and was on the SEC All-Freshman team.
Even more impressive, according to reports from his teammates, Stingley regularly held his own against LSU’s spectacular receivers such as Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase during practice that season.
“My style of play is calm and relaxed,” Stingley told NFL.com. “But if I see the ball, I’m going to get excited, and I’m going to go get it.”
Stingley’s early success was anticipated. He played varsity football as an eighth grader at The Dunham School, a private school in his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He finished high school with a jaw-dropping 27 interceptions and was named Louisiana’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a senior.
He also has a family pedigree of football. His grandfather is Darryl Stingley, a 1973 first-round selection by the New England Patriots who played five NFL seasons as a receiver. Stingley suffered a career-ending injury in 1978 at the age of 26, when a head-on collision with Raiders safety Jack Tatum during an exhibition contest left him paralyzed.
Derek Stingley’s father is Derek Stingley Sr., who played football at Purdue and in the Arena League, as well as three years of minor-league baseball. Stingley’s father has been a steady influence as a coach throughout now of his son’s football career.
Stingley has all the attributes to become an elite corner in the NFL. At 6-foot and 190 pounds, he ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard time and posted a 38.5-inch vertical at his pro day. He was upset that he didn’t run faster, even though his 40 was plenty fast for a corner.
Stingley is fluid, has great change of direction and can claim perhaps the best ball skills of any cornerback in this year’s draft. That’s an important characteristic for defensive coaches, with one of their top priorities being to find players who take the ball away. Also, Stingley offers versatility, with the ability to line up on the perimeter or play inside as a slot defender. He allowed just a 41% completion rate during his career at LSU.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Stingley are considered the top two cornerbacks in this year’s draft. Stingley has drawn comparisons to Marshon Lattimore and Stephon Gilmore because of his body type, testing numbers and ability to take the ball away.
One expert who believes Stingley is better than Gardner is former NFL GM Mark Dominik, an analyst for SiriusXM.
“I like Gardner a lot, but I like Stingley better,” Dominik told reporters during a conference call this week. “So the best way to say this: Ahmad has probably got a better floor. Stingley has a better ceiling, so that’s the risk-reward that you have to decide what you want to take.”
The issue for teams that hold a top-15 draft pick is figuring out which player they are getting: Stingley from his freshman season or the cornerback who played only 10 games the past two seasons due to injury and illness? Stingley also missed three games during his sophomore campaign, one to illness and two because of an ankle injury.
Teams need to be comfortable with Stingley’s ability to make a healthy return from his foot injury and his ability to consistently stay on the field during the marathon of an NFL season. What’s more, they want to better understand Stingley’s commitment to becoming a great NFL player.
If he can convince teams to check those two boxes, he should expect to hear his name called early in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
“There’s so much talent in that young man, and it’s so good. So when you watch the early tape, you’re blown away, and to me, he tested out still that same way,” Dominik said. “You’re holding your breath in terms of injury, his face, but that’s where you have your orthopedic doctors really play a huge role for organizations and sit there and say, ‘Is there anything you see here?'”
Staley’s Chargers benefited from James’ slipping down the draft board due to concerns about his foot fracture suffered at Florida State, with the Chargers taking him at No. 17 in 2018.
Could Staley land another defensive playmaker with the 17th pick in this year’s draft?
“Stingley’s 2019 tape is filthy,” said ESPN analyst Matt Bowen, who played defensive back for seven seasons in the NFL. “He’s sticky in coverage with the high-end ball skills to make plays.”
Added FOX Sports NFL analyst Bucky Brooks: “There’s a lot of interest and intrigue to Derek Stingley. But what you’re trying to assess is why was he so great in 2019 and we haven’t seen the same player in 2020 and 2021. … People are trying to figure out who is he and what is he going to do when he gets to the league. ”
For Stingley, the answer is simple: “I just want to be the greatest ever.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.
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