Clemson CB Andrew Booth could be atop the Chargers’ draft come April.
It takes a certain type of athlete with the right mentality to play the cornerback position.
Playing cornerback is an exhaustive job. Cornerbacks need to be incessantly attentive to the slightest movements and change in direction from the wide receiver lined up across from them. They need to be fluid enough to process that action while backpedaling at high speeds, while also quick enough to erupt out of that motion and propel themselves toward the ball. On top of that, the player needs to armor himself with the necessary mental fortitude to rebound after a lapse in coverage and continue to attack each play with the same steeliness and precision as before.
Those that can perform all of the taxing elements of the cornerback position at a high level typically are not afraid to broadcast their superiority. The position group is known for housing the most vocal and self-assured players in football. Once they step foot on the field, they believe there is no better talent in the world that can challenge them.
Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. represents that generalization to the maximum. A 6’0” boundary man, Booth brings his swagger with him at all times as he goes toe-to-toe with his opponent. There seems to be no off button to his flow of energy – Booth is eternally amped up and displays a ravenous demeanor to shroud his assignment into obscurity. When the defense delivers a stop or a turnover, Booth breaks into ecstatic applause and radiates contagious enthusiasm. If he gives up a catch or manages to allow a ball carrier to slip his grasp, Booth is noticeably hard on himself and he desires perfection on every snap.
A former five-star prospect who was a unanimous top 50 recruit nationally, Booth earned his stripes in Clemson’s depth behind a talent-laden secondary that included future Atlanta Falcons first-round pick AJ Terrell. By the end of his sophomore year, he had garnered a reputation as one of the flashiest players in the country with sensational plays on the ball both defending the pass and the run. Booth closed out his final year playing for the Tigers as a First Team All-ACC selection alongside teammate Mario Goodrich. He recorded 75 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and five interceptions in 35 games.
Booth is a player that is noticeably long-limbed on tape, with his arms dangling past his knees as he sets up before each play in a low and compact stance. He is able to leverage that outstanding length in coverage, using his reach at the line to jam effectively and posing as a hassle for receivers to wipe away down the route stem. But where Booth’s length is most noticeable is when the ball is put up in his direction. When combined with his blue-chip athleticism, Booth’s traits have produced a number of stupefying interceptions and pass breakups.
Exceptional at tracking the ball and timing his leaps to contest the catch point, Booth possesses ungodly body control that allows him to contort himself mid-air and extend his reach in front of the receiver. Booth is ultra-physical and always goes up aggressive with the idea he has as much right to the ball as the man he is guarding. Booth is no stranger to winning these bouts, frequently taking steps to position himself advantageously to make a play.
Against Miami in 2020, Booth showcased his dynamic playmaking ability with a jaw-dropping pass breakup. Miami decided to test Booth’s vertical stoutness in man coverage with a sideline go route. Booth’s eyes stayed locked to the quarterback as he watched the throw the entire way, letting his peripheral vision and great sense of awareness blanket the receiver. When the throw arrived, Booth sprung into the air and rotated 180 degrees while traveling backward in a feat of acrobatic insanity. The ball glanced harmlessly off the palm of his outstretched hand as Booth tumbled back to the ground, hardly regaining his balance as he burst into celebration.
What also helps Booth create a new highlight reel practically every game is the unquestionable truth that he can flat out move. Booth has spider-like agility that gives the impression that he glides around the field. His hips are loose and fluid, allowing him to be hyper-reactive to the developments of the receiver’s route. Booth’s quick, active feet are responsible for his explosive burst that rapidly closes the distance between him and his assignment. He has the range and athletic makeup to be successful in any type of coverage on multiple levels of the field.
Take this interception against Pitt in 2020, for example. Booth is playing the right side of the field in Cover 3 cloud, a coverage where he along with two other defensive backs each are responsible for a deep third of the field while an underneath corner and linebacker manage the flats. This alignment allowed Booth to read the quarterback, probable 2022 first-round selection Kenny Pickett, ultimately tracking his eyes to the middle of the field as Pitt attempted to execute a flea-flicker. Booth cleanly broke out of his bail and came across the field to float for the ball.
In his junior season, Booth made significant strides to rely less on his athletic gifts and incorporate play recognition and twitch into his game. That emphasis resulted in him being a force not only as a run defender but an overall disruptor, routinely beating blocks with his downhill speed and thwarting screen passes instantaneously. Booth backs up his instincts with a textbook tackling form and internal desire to punish the ground game without yielding a single yard.
On 3rd-and-4 in the fourth quarter of Clemson’s opening matchup against Georgia this season, the Bulldogs attempted to move the chains with a simple swing pass design. Booth saw the running back motion out of the backfield and began his transformation into a heat-seeking missile. Booth came screaming downfield past the receiver that was supposed to block him and upended the running back, effectively blowing up the play. Of course, Booth wasted no time exhibiting the trademark flair of the position as he soaked in the response from the crowd.
With just one full season as a starter under his belt, there are definitely areas Booth will need to tidy up to become a reliable and trustworthy cornerback capable of holding his own against the best in the NFL. At times, he will get too greedy staring down the pass, which leads to larger cushions of space he is unable to evaporate in time to prevent the catch on routes that break inwards or back to the quarterback. His long speed from the moment he decides to turn and run seems to demand a lot from him. There are also moments on film where Booth becomes a lunger and antsy to provide contact in both press and off coverage when it is not particularly needed. That restlessness can force him into recovery mode if he is not accurate with his strike.
Overall, Booth is an animated prospect at the cornerback position whose high-octane personality, excellent length, and seamless movements skills will permit him the opportunity to flourish in either an outside or inside role at the next level. Booth brings unteachable ball skills as well as a keen understanding of angles and trajectories when tracking the pass to manufacture turnovers. He is relentless from snap to whistle in order to get the defense off the field as soon as possible.
Booth’s freakish athleticism and fluidity have propelled him into first-round consideration, as well as the conversation for the top cornerback in the draft, and he would be a welcome addition to a Chargers squad looking to invest in nimble cover men alongside Asante Samuel Jr.