Projected top players by position: Defensive backs

Stephenson safety Javier Morton was the fifth-leading tackler for a region-winning team last season.
Stephenson safety Javier Morton was the fifth-leading tackler for a region-winning team last season.

Two former Sandy Creek defensive backs are playing in the NFL. The latest star in Sandy Creek’s secondary, Brian Branch, will enter college football with higher expectations than either.

Mike Hilton, a cornerback for the Steelers who played at Ole Miss, and Isaiah Johnson, a safety with the Colts who played at Georgia Tech, were all-state players and three-star recruits. They were teammates on Sandy Creek’s first state championship team in 2009, but they were underrated as recruits.

More on position previews

» Quarterbacks
» Running backs
» Wide receivers/tight ends
» Offensive linemen
» Defensive linemen
» Linebackers
» Defensive backs
» Athletes
» Kicking specialists

Branch, on the other hand, is Sandy Creek’s biggest recruit and has soared up the recruiting rankings this offseason — from No. 421 in the 247Sports Composite to No. 105 now — and has committed to Alabama.

Branch is more highly recruited than Hilton or Johnson. In fact, he’s the highest-rated prospect from Sandy Creek since Calvin Johnson in 2003.

“He has all the skills you’re looking for in a DB,” Sandy Creek coach Brett Garvin said. “Very high football IQ. Great returner as well.”

Below are 10 of the state’s best defensive backs for 2019. GHSF Daily will publish its 10 best at each position over nine issues in preseason. The players’ status as recruits is a factor, but the choices are made largely on production as high school players.

• Rashad Battle, Creekside: Battle, a cornerback, intercepted five passes last season and returned two for touchdowns for a Creekside team that improved to 8-4 from 0-10. He had 51 tackles. Battle (6-2, 185) is committed to Maryland.

• Deyon Bouie, Bainbridge: As a freshman on a state championship team last season, Bouie had six interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, and broke up a team-leading six passes. In 247Sports' first recruiting rankings for sophomores, Bouie (5-11, 165) checked in at No. 6 nationally, the No. 1 athlete and the No. 2 player in Georgia.

• Brian Branch, Sandy Creek: Branch is the top-rated safety prospect in Georgia and the consensus No. 8 safety nationally. He had 58 tackles and five interceptions last season. He filled in at receiver and had 368 yards and three touchdowns. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

• Tee Denson, Cedar Grove: Denson was Cedar Grove's best cornerback in 2018, when the Saints won the Class AAA championship. He's also a good tackler. He had 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Denson (6-1, 170) is committed to Pittsburgh.

• Isaiah Dunson, Tucker: Dunson is a top-400 national recruit and the highest-rated pure cornerback among Georgia seniors. He was a first-team all-region player, and his statistics (35 tackles, one interception) show that opposing teams avoided him. Dunson (6-2, 175) is committed to Florida State.

• T. Lee, Buford: Lee is one of two major Division I-committed cornerbacks at Buford. The other is Jalen Huff, who is committed to Georgia Tech. Lee (5-11, 170) is committed Arizona State. Either could make this list. Lee was more prominent in Buford's secondary last season.

• Javier Morton, Stephenson: Morton, a safety, was the fifth-leading tackler for a region-winning team last season. A top-250 national recruit, Morton (6-2, 175) is committed to Alabama.

• Victor Pless, Harrison: Pless is a physical cornerback and three-year starter who had seven tackles for losses last season, one for a safety, and intercepted three passes. Pless (5-10, 175) is committed to Minnesota.

• Rashad Torrence II, Marietta: Torrence, a safety, didn't play last season after the GHSA declared him ineligible, but he started as a sophomore and finished third on the team in solo tackles with 80. He's the No. 38 overall prospect in Georgia and might be higher if not for the sit-out penalty imposed for failing to make a bona fide change of residency. Torrence (6-0, 195) is committed to Florida.

• Nyquann Washington, Colquitt County: Washington is Colquitt's best returning defensive player and a three-year starter. He had 37 solo tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 2018. Washington (5-11, 165) is an uncommitted three-star prospect.

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