Perhaps the most criticized defensive player in some time for the Texas Longhorns, safety Caden Sterns leaves the Forty Acres with hopes of a more successful career at the professional level than in college.
A highly-touted, five-star recruit from Cibolo Steele, Sterns made an immediate impact on the field for Texas as a freshman. Starting in all 13 games as a true freshman for the first time in Texas history since Blake Gideon, Sterns earned first-team All-Big 12 honors along with being named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.
His phenomenal first season saw him tie the school freshman record with four interceptions while also recording 62 total tackles (46 solo), with one sack, and four pass deflections. Unfortunately, those were all career highs and Sterns never matched the lofty expectations that came after his standout freshman season.
Part of the blame can be placed on injuries, which saw Sterns miss four games in his sophomore season. After suffering a high ankle sprain in preseason camp, Sterns injured his knee during the game against Oklahoma State. When he returned to the field, he still accumulated 59 total tackles in nine total games (three tackles shy of his freshman mark in which he played 13 games), but failed to record an interception.
Sterns was plagued by off-and-on injuries during his final season at Texas, missing last year's Red River Showdown against Oklahoma due to a toe injury. He ended up concluding his collegiate career as Texas lost to No. 13 Iowa State, appearing in only nine games with 52 total tackles (30 solo), one interception, and three pass deflections.
It’s tough to decipher Sterns’s level of play the last two years without knowing if he was ever truly healthy after the knee injury he suffered in the Big 12 championship game in 2018. Regardless, Sterns went from a no-brainer first-round draft pick to a projected day three selection in two years.
What made Sterns look like a future NFLer was his playmaking ability along with aggressiveness, physicality, and speed.
Whether it was picking off opposing quarterbacks five times, blocking field goals, or laying out receivers and running backs, Sterns makes his presence felt on the field when at his best.
He has the speed, size, athleticism, and mentality to play on Sundays. But does he have the consistency? And can he stay healthy?
Sterns was versatile at Texas, playing man and zone coverage while also being used in different alignments. He’s shown promise as a run-stopping safety, but too often takes poor angles or overcommits, resulting in missed tackles.
Sterns will fall in the NFL Draft compared to his projections just a few years ago but helped himself with a strong showing at the Texas Pro Day. He clocked a 4.40 second 40-yard dash along with a 42-inch vertical leap.
Whether or not that’s enough to move him up, Sterns can turn into a draft-day steal if everything comes together for him.
ESPN ranks Sterns as the 164th-best player available while PFF ranks him 182nd in their latest big board. The majority of mock drafts currently have the safety being drafted on the third day, somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds.