The TCU defense will enter 2020 needing two new starters at the cornerback position after losing both Julius Lewis and Jeff Gladney, who the Minnesota Vikings took in the first round of last month’s NFL Draft. Both players were with the program for five years, and while their shoes will be big to fill, the Horned Frogs have a pair of up-and-comers who earned their first crack at Division I competition this past season, as well as some upperclassmen who could step up and make an impact.
Gladney ended his collegiate career as one of the best cornerbacks not only in the Big 12, but all of Division I football. He started 42 games for TCU, finishing his senior season with 15 passes defended (second-most in the conference) and 14 pass breakups (most in the conference). Pro Football Focus rated Gladney as the No. 1 corner in college football during his junior season, where he held a 46.9 opposing passer rating.
Jeff Gladney over the last two seasons on contested targets (@PFF)— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) February 14, 2020
45 contested targets forced (most)
5 first downs
27 forced incompletions
this man @JGreatness_12 has some elite speed, which made it near impossible for opposing receivers to obtain separation pic.twitter.com/JqwHGG8EV8
Lewis started 29 games for the Horned Frogs, but injuries hurt him throughout his collegiate career, as he missed time during the 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons. Lewis peaked during the 2018 campaign, where PFF ranked him second in the Big 12 (behind only Gladney) in allowing only one reception for every 15.4 coverage snaps. Combined, Lewis and Gladney ended their TCU careers with 71 starts.
2020 will likely feature an open competition for TCU’s two starting cornerback sports, but two sophomores who earned game reps this past season could have a step up on their teammates. One of those sophomores is Kee’yon Stewart, who became a starter for the final six games of the 2019 season after Lewis went down with an injury. Ironically, Stewart became TCU’s first true freshman to start at cornerback since... Julius Lewis in 2015.
#TCU's William Koehler Achievement Award: @TCUFootball's Julius Lewis!— TCU Athletics (@TCU_Athletics) May 5, 2019
Julius has overcome three significant injuries in his career, and has tackled them all and is working towards a big 2019 season. pic.twitter.com/oVFLjJRqSW
On the other side could be sophomore Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of Horned Frog and NFL legend LaDainian Tomlinson. Tre’Vius appeared in all 12 games this past season, and he consistently remained No. 2 on the depth chart behind Gladney. TCU will also have redshirt junior Noah Daniels back healthy after he missed the 2019 season with an injury. Daniels has experience after appearing in 13 games during the 2018 campaign.
Rounding out a potential four-man group at the cornerback position is former JUCO player Tony Wallace, who preserved a redshirt season with only two appearances in 2019. Daniels (6-foot, 205 pounds) and Wallace (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) possess more size than the two sophomores Stewart (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) and Hodges-Tomlinson (5-foot-9, 171 pounds), but experience will matter in a conference featuring several high-powered passing offenses.
Ultimately, TCU could see a mix of cornerbacks take the field this coming season, and it’s likely the depth chart will evolve as the season approaches. If you recall, Daniels and Wallace entered the summer of 2019 as No. 2 corners behind Lewis and Gladney before Stewart and Hodges-Tomlinson took their spots on the chart before the fall. Regardless, head coach Gary Patterson will be working with a relatively unproven group as the Horned Frogs gear up for their season-opener against California.