NFL draft: LSU CB Derek Stingley's good pro-day workout puts him back in spotlight
In a draft class sorely lacking blue-chip talent, two of the more naturally gifted, higher-end prospects remain in a state of semi-limbo as NFL teams try to get to the heart of who they are as people.
The first is Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux. The second is LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
"Talent-wise, they might be 1-2 — or close to that — in this class," one veteran talent evaluator said. "You just need to have a clear vision of who they are and what you can expect [from them] when they come into your building."
There was hesitancy on Thibodeaux at the NFL scouting combine last month, and though the draft order has changed a few times since then, some of the question marks remain.
Now Stingley is back in the spotlight during the pre-draft cycle. Stingley's scouting report shows how much talent he possesses, but nailing his workout at LSU's pro day was viewed as significant coming off a nagging foot injury last fall.
Stingley was recently cleared to work out Wednesday. The 6-foot, 190-pound corner suffered a Lisfranc injury in practice on Sept. 20, ending his 2021 season and shelving his workouts prior to this.
At the combine, Stingley told media that he was given a recovery timetable of "four to six months" for the injury, and that he wasn't ready to perform in Indianapolis. We are now at the 6.5-month mark from the injury to Wednesday's workout.
Stingley ran well in the 40-yard dash, with times ranging from 4.37 to 4.44 seconds on his two attempts, according to media reports.
Derek Stingley with a 4.37 per the board at #LSU pic.twitter.com/3BVyqNa39W
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) April 6, 2022
He also turned in a 38.5-inch vertical jump (which would have been the fourth-best CB number at the combine) and a 10-foot-2 broad jump (which would have been the eighth-best CB combine number). And there was a good crowd on hand to watch Stingley work.
All 32 teams in Baton Rouge for LSU pro-day. Top decision-makers are Steelers GM Kevin Colbert & HC Mike Tomlin, Commanders GM Martin Mayhew, & Chargers HC Brandon Staley.
Nine DB coaches here to workout junior CB Derek Stingley Jr: AZ, ATL, DET, LAC, NYJ, NYG, PHI, PIT, SEA pic.twitter.com/bxRXbf77dH
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 6, 2022
The combine allowed Stingley to conduct interviews with teams. And getting to know Stingley — and more important, signing off on him — could be the difference between him cracking the top 10 picks and sliding.
"The thing with Derek is, there's not one picture here," a source close to the LSU program told Yahoo Sports, "there are several."
Derek Stingley's trying past 2 seasons
One reason why there is hesitancy on Stingley is the fact that he hasn't played a lot of football the past two seasons, relatively speaking.
Following his eye-opening freshman campaign in LSU's championship season of 2019, Stingley was roundly viewed as a future top draft pick. As one former staff member said at the time, "I wish you could see [Stingley] and Ja'Marr Chase go at it in practice. One guy wins, the other comes right back the next rep. I have the best job in the world. I get to watch Derek Stingley and Ja'Marr Chase go head-to-head every day. You're looking at two future top-five picks right there."
Chase was the fifth pick in the 2021 draft, now coming off a brilliant rookie season. Stingley's fate remains up in the air.
Following his six-INT, 21-PD, 15-game freshman season, Stingley has played 10 college games, intercepting zero passes and defending five more. There are some extenuating factors that led to this.
In 2020, Stingley first suffered a foot injury and missed the final two games of the season. He also missed the opener — a home loss to Mississippi State — after a "non-COVID hospitalization."
A team source indicated that Stingley had a bout with anxiety but recovered quickly and wasn't affected thereafter.
There also had been talk of Stingley moonlighting at wide receiver a bit, but as the source close to the program said previously, "That was never a real thing. It was a distraction was what it was. Was he going to take snaps away from Kayshon Boutte? All that [talk] did was put [Stingley] in an unfair spotlight."
In 2021, Stingley appeared poised to dominate again. Stingley represented LSU at SEC Media Days. He worked through a hamstring issue but was ready to go for the season.
Stingley's struggles in an often-cited game — the Tigers' season-opening loss at UCLA — have been a sticking point for some NFL talent evaluators, as he allowed a 45-yard touchdown and had tackling issues in that game. One source noted that "no one played well" for LSU that day, and some travel issues certainly had something to do with it.
LSU took a long bus ride to Houston early before the UCLA game to get out of town prior to Hurricane Ida making landfall. Then the team's charter flight was delayed six hours on the runway because of a ballast issue, which forced the team to unpack and repack the entire flight before taking off.
"None of the players slept before UCLA," the source said.
Stingley was back in top form the next two games versus McNeese State and Central Michigan, making one of the best plays of that season in the CMU game. He blew up running back Darius Bracy 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, forcing a fumble that was run back for a touchdown.
It would be the final big play of his college career. Three days later in practice, Stingley's season was over with the non-contact foot injury.
"You don't normally lean on tape that's that old as much, but it's what we're doing," the evaluator said. "You see how he played that  season and it's a reminder of what he can be when he's right."
Which NFL teams might be the right fit for Stingley?
As is the case with Thibodeaux, teams have wanted to feel more comfortable with the person than anything else. Stingley's injury concerns added a football layer to the equation that was different from Thibodeaux, but people Yahoo Sports has spoken with throughout the process don't believe either possesses what teams would characterize as more traditional character problems.
The interest in Stingley remains high as we close in on the 2022 NFL draft, especially now that he's answered the health questions at the workout, even if some fog lingers around his ultimate landing spot.
A few teams believe Stingley could fall into the teens of Round 1 given some of the uncertainty of his recent play. One league source said that two teams that have done a lot of work on Stingley leading up to the draft have been the Seattle Seahawks (owners of the No. 9 overall pick) and Houston Texans (Nos. 3 and 13 in Round 1).
"Not sure he's in play at No. 3, but if Houston goes offensive line or some other [non-cornerback] position, I really think he could go at 13, if he's even still on the board," the source said. "I don't know that he's falling past that spot. He's too good.
"Especially for this draft, who else are you taking there? A second-round talent? I guarantee, unless something quirky happens up top, [Stingley] would be the best talent available by a mile at that spot if he's still there. That's their second first-round pick, and you could see them taking the [high-floor prospect] at three, and then Derek would make a ton of sense with the next one."
A scout from a team picking outside the first half of Round 1 laughed last month when asked about Stingley's projection and where he could end up.
"Marcus Peters and Jalen Ramsey were nitpicked coming out, and sometimes this is just what [teams] do: overthink it," he said. "I hope they do it again and we take him. I hope teams get too in the weeds on [Stingley] and let him fall because they'd be making a mistake if they did."