Duke football 2022 positional preview: Defensive backs

Lummie Young IV transferred to Tulane following the 2021 season.
Lummie Young IV transferred to Tulane following the 2021 season.

As the 2022 season rapidly approaches, the Chronicle takes a look at each of the eight major position groups on this Duke roster: Specialists, defensive line, offensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, receivers, running backs and quarterbacks.

It’s no secret that Duke struggled defensively last year. The Blue Devils gave up—on average—39.8 points per game, making them one of the worst defenses in the FBS. This was a bit of a surprise given the sheer veteran talent that former head coach David Cutcliffe had to work with, especially within his defensive backs unit. The 2022 depth chart, however, makes evident that Duke’s secondary will face a lot of turnover. The Blue Devils once again heavily utilized the transfer portal and ushered freshman talent into the program to supplement and form the backbone for Mike Elko’s first season at Duke.

Key Players Lost: Lummie Young IV, Jalen Alexander

Again, Duke’s defensive backs will experience a significant amount of turnover this year, largely due to the transfer portal. The most productive player in the secondary last season was safety Lummie Young IV, who was second on the team in total tackles (64), first in passes defended (seven) and third in forced fumbles (two). The safety transferred to Tulane during the off season as a redshirt senior and there’s no doubt that his aggressiveness and reliability will be missed. 

Similar things can be said about other former Blue Devil safety Jalen Alexander. The Georgia native caused many headaches for opposing receivers; he was sixth on the team for total tackles (42) and tied for second in passes defended (five). In his last game with Duke against Miami (FL), Alexander had an impressive nine total tackles—six solo and three assisted. Like Young, he left via the portal to Louisville for his senior season this past February.

Projected Starters: Jaylen Stinson, Brandon Johnson, Joshua Pickett, Datrone Young, Darius Joiner

The only 2022 projected starter in the secondary that consistently made plays for Duke last year is junior Jaylen Stinson. The safety from Opelika, Ala., had 43 tackles last year—ranking fifth on the team—but only defended three passes. Stinson has also been rather active on special teams as he’s an elite kick returner. In fact, the junior is just 58 kickoff return yards away from being in Duke’s top-10 all time kick returners list. 

However, Stinson will be more important for the defensive backs unit as he’ll be one of the leaders that’ll introduce two sophomores to the starting lineup: nickelback Brandon Johnson and cornerback Joshua Pickett. Johnson and Pickett are both relatively untested Blue Devils that only played in a handful of games last year. 

Fortunately, all of the burden didn’t fall on Stinson to show these young guys the ropes since Duke brought in graduate transfers Datrone Young and Darius Joiner. Young, a cornerback from Iowa State, and Joiner, a safety from Western Illinois, will add some needed maturity to Duke’s secondary.

Dark Horse: Chandler Rivers

One of Duke’s most highly regarded incoming freshmen this year is cornerback Chandler Rivers. During his high school career, Rivers appeared to be an uber athletic pass defender that always got in the face of opposing receivers. In addition to his defensive abilities, Rivers was additionally used in many different roles, including wide receiver. This means that defensive coordinator Robb Smith is getting a fierce, versatile cornerback that will definitely see the field in both conference and non-conference competitions this season, and maybe challenge for the starting role.

For the rest of our Duke football preseason coverage, click here.


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