Three ways Kansas football can try to replace starting cornerback Karon Prunty
There really is no one way to replace cornerback Karon Prunty, but head coach Lance Leipold and the rest of his staff are going to have to try in their first year leading the Kansas football program.
Prunty, a starting cornerback, announced on Sunday that he was leaving the program and entering the transfer portal. Despite being just a freshman, Prunty was one of three players to start every game for the Jayhawks during a winless campaign in 2020.
The decision makes sense for Prunty. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound cornerback from Portsmouth, Va. was tied for first among all FBS freshmen with 10 pass breakups on the year. He was named to 247 Sports’ True Freshman All-American team last fall, and figures to be a lockdown corner wherever he ends up this season.
But it is obviously a huge blow for the Jayhawks, who appeared to have their roster mostly completed at this stage of the offseason. It had been nearly a month since starting defensive linemen Marcus Harris and Da’Jon Terry entered the transfer portal. They both ended up at SEC schools, with Harris going to Auburn and Terry headed to Tennessee.
So the Jayhawks have been here before, but the loss of Prunty might be the toughest yet given his skill set and the importance of the cornerback position in today’s game. That said, here are three ways Kansas could replace Prunty’s presence on the back end of its defense:
A leap in production for Duece Mayberry
As the only returning cornerback with more than 50 snaps for KU last year, Duece Mayberry will play a big part in how the Jayhawks can move on in life without Prunty.
Like Prunty, Mayberry contributed to KU’s defense as a freshman in 2020. The 6-foot, 173-pound corner from Tulsa, Okla. played in all nine games. Mayberry broke up three passes and recovered two fumbles to go along with 11 total tackles on the year.
Still, it will take some substantial growth from Mayberry for him to come close to what Prunty provided last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Prunty posted a total grade of 67.2 and a coverage grade of 66.5 last year. Quarterbacks only completed 38.5% of their passes when they threw at Prunty.
Mayberry, meanwhile, recorded a defensive grade of 60.9 and a coverage grade of 58.6 in his rookie campaign. Opposing signal callers completed 50% of their passes against Mayberry, who logged a total of 247 snaps.
There is reason to believe that Mayberry will make a jump this year, thanks in large part to how he closed out last season. After giving up a pair of catches for 45 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State, Mayberry only surrendered one reception for nine yards over the final three games of the season.
If Mayberry can carry that momentum into 2021, it will go a long way in helping the Jayhawks replace their lockdown defender.
Instant impact from freshman CB Jacobee Bryant
As Prunty just demonstrated last year, freshman players can become a focal part of the team early on. If at least one player does that this season, it will definitely help out KU’s defense in a big way.
Freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant might just be the guy to do that this year.
Bryant, who is listed at 6-foot and 170 pounds, was a three-star recruit in the 2020 class and signed with KU in February. He is from Evergreen, Alabama and was the No. 28 recruit in the state of Alabama by Rivals. He chose Kansas over offers from Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
In his high school career, Bryant helped Hillcrest High School win a Class 3A state championship in 2017. As a junior in 2018, Bryant recorded eight interceptions, and took five of them back to the house for touchdowns, to go along with 38 total tackles.
Bryant was already generating some buzz from veterans during spring practices, and then he delivered during what was essentially his Jayhawk debut at KU’s spring game on May 1. He made the biggest play of the game with a pick-six, where he undercut a comeback route and intercepted a pass from Jalon Daniels.
So there was reason to believe Bryant was going to be a huge part of KU’s cornerback room already, but those chances have certainly increased now. And it will probably be pivotal for KU’s defense this fall.
More has to fall on Kenny Logan’s shoulders
There are other cornerbacks who will need to step up, but you could make an argument that this means safety Kenny Logan Jr. will be even more important to KU’s defense now.
Logan was already in line to be the leader of the defensive unit, though Prunty and Harris both figured to be staples of that group before they decided to leave. So this means Logan is really going to have anchor things on the back end.
During his sophomore season last year, Logan made eight starts and led KU in tackles with 58 on the year. Logan also broke up three passes and made two interceptions, while giving up nine receptions on 16 targets.
Per PFF, Logan lined up in the box on 190 snaps and did a great job of flying upfield when having to play the run. He also posted a coverage grade of 61.8 on 200 coverage snaps, lining up as a free safety or in the slot most of the time.
That versatility is now more important than ever before with the recent departures, as Logan has the ability to make plays all over the field. If he is somehow able to do even more for KU's defense, though, it might just be enough to help fill the gaping hole left by Prunty.