2023 NFL Draft Position Review: Cornerbacks

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2023 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2023 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 20, 2023. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Cornerback Class
Early-round talent: B
Mid-round: B+
Late-round: B+
Overall grade: B+

Merging the 2023 and 2022 prospects
Derek Stingley
Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner
Christin Gonzalez
Joey Porter Jr
Devon Witherspoon
Trent McDuffie
Kaiir Elam
Roger McCreary
Kyler Gordon
Kelee Ringo
Tyrique Stevenson
Deonte Banks
Cam Smith
Andrew Booth
Alontae Taylor
Emmanuel Forbes

Just to be clear, this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts, and NFL coaches who know way more than I do.

The cornerback class for the 2023 NFL Draft does not have high-end talent like last year’s did, but the 2023 NFL Draft features more of depth and a better group for Day 2.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Stingley and Gardner would better prospects than this year’s top trio of Gonzalez, Porter and Witherspoon. McDuffie and Witherspoon are comparable in caliber as prospects. Elam, McCreary and Gordon were better prospects than Ringo, Stevenson and Banks. Smith and Forbes are similar caliber prospects to Booth and Taylor.

Safest Pick: Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Previous Picks:
2022: Trent McDuffie
2021: Jaycee Horn
2020: Jeff Okudah
2019: DeAndre Baker
2018: Denzel Ward
2017: Adoree’ Jackson
2016: Vernon Hargreaves
2015: Trae Waynes
2014: Justin Gilbert
2013: Dee Milliner

Over the past decade, there have been a lot of first-round corners who were busts or disappointment, so that illustrates that top cornerback prospects are still risky selections. Gonzalez may not have the shutdown ability of players like Stingley and Gardner had last year, but Gonzalez has a skill set where his size and speed are comparable to those guys. Gonzalez can play any coverage technique, like off-man, press-man, or zone. He also is big, fast and athletic to run the route and prevent separation. If Gonzalez gets a little better and plays with a little more tenacity, he could be one of the better corners in the NFL. Still, Gonzalez looks like the safest corner prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft to turn into a quality starter.

Biggest Bust Potential: Kelee Ringo, Georgia
Previous Picks:
2022: Kaiir Elam
2021: Asante Samuel Jr.
2020: Trevon Diggs
2019: Trayvon Mullen
2018: Anthony Averett
2017: Chidobe Awuzie
2016: William Jackson
2015: P.J. Williams
2014: Bradley Roby
2013: David Amerson

I think Ringo is a risky pick for the first or second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. While there is no doubt that he has an excellent combination of height, weight and speed, he has some serious stiffness and struggles to change direction. His issues were given clear evidence late in the 2022 season when Ringo gave up a lot of separation and was torched by the LSU receivers in the SEC Championship Game. I think offensive coordinators are going to identify this weakness with Ringo and could exploit it where receivers are consistently get open versus him with separation out of their breaks. With the speed, explosion and athleticism of NFL receivers, Ringo looks like a dangerous pick who has bust potential.

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Off-Man-Coverage Ability
NFL prototype: Marlon Humphrey, Ravens
  1. Christian Gonzalez
  2. Devon Witherspoon
  3. Emmanuel Forbes
  4. Deonte Banks
  5. Joey Porter Jr.
  6. Kelee Ringo
  7. Cam Smith
  8. Tyrique Stevenson

Recap: The consensus thought around the league, the most important two positions on a defense are an elite pass-rusher off the edge and a shutdown cornerback. The NFL is driven by passing, and a shutdown corner can limit the opposition’s ability to score points by taking the best receiver away from a quarterback. Teams throughout the league are searching hard for that kind of cornerback talent. Playing off-man coverage is more challenging than press-man because off-man coverage requires loose hips and the agility to turn quickly. NFL offenses use lots of bunch formations to force cornerbacks into off-man coverage whether they want to play it or not.

The top three in this category are the clear best at off-man duties. Gonzalez is the top because he is very natural in off-man coverage. Gonzalez is fast and fluid, possessing smooth athleticism to turn. He is very adept at running the route to prevent separation. Witherspoon is instinctive to anticipate the route and maintain tight coverage while staying in the hip pocket of receivers. Forbes has smooth movement skills and speed, but it are his awareness and instincts that make him a natural in off-man coverage.

Banks is a smooth corner who has good feet in his backpedal as well as recoverability skills. He is a fluid athlete who profiles as capable to play off-man coverage in the NFL. However, Banks has some raw elements and needs to be coached up.

The bottom four are not good fits to handle off-man responsiblities in the NFL. Porter, Ringo, Smith and Stevenson all have issues in off-man coverage. Stevenson especially struggled in off-man plays during 2022, and Miami handle those way too often. It would be a mistake for his NFL team to have him play off-man coverage.

Zone Corner
NFL prototype: Jalen Ramsey, Rams
  1. Devon Witherspoon
  2. Emmanuel Forbes
  3. Christian Gonzalez
  4. Deonte Banks
  5. Cam Smith
  6. Joey Porter Jr.
  7. Tyrique Stevenson
  8. Kelee Ringo

Recap: Many teams mix man and zone coverage, so a corner who can excel in both is very valuable.

The top three really stand out here. Some of the things that stand out the most about Witherspoon are his awareness and instincts. He does an excellent job of reading the offense and getting himself in position to make plays. With his route recognition and instincts, Witherspoon will quickly get in position to cover up receivers. He is a fantastic zone-coverage corner, and the best at it in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Forbes is superb in zone, as his instincts lead to him being able to drive hard on the football and make plays. Gonzalez is very dependable as well. He reacts quickly in his route diagnosis and is aware of what the offensive is trying to do, so he will be a good fit in a zone scheme. Banks could play zone because his speed allows him to come down on routes extremely well. He breaks on routes and the ball with speed and explosion.

Stevenson, Smith, Porter and Ringo are not great fits as zone cornerbacks. Those prospect are all pure press-man corners.

Press-Man Coverage
NFL prototype: Sauce Gardner, Jets
  1. Joey Porter Jr.
  2. Tyrique Stevenson
  3. Kelee Ringo
  4. Cam Smith
  5. Deonte Banks
  6. Christian Gonzalez
  7. Devon Witherspoon
  8. Emmanuel Forbes

Recap: Many teams in the NFL feature defenses that play a lot of press-man coverage. Having the ability to jam and reroute receivers helps defenses throw off the timing of plays. Corners who can stay stride for stride with receivers down the field are very valuable. The majority of this entire group of corners project well to playing press-man coverage.

Porter is the prototypical press-man corner. He is tall, possessing crazy arm length that is even greater than other big cornerbacks. His arms give him a massive amount of reach, wingspan, and coverage area that make it very hard to get passes by him. Porter’s length is a rare commodity and gives him a natural advantage. His excellent height and length allow him to cover big receivers to prevent a size mismatch. Porter also can really run and is surprisingly fast for a big cornerback. He has the speed to run downfield and does not let receivers get over the top on him. Porter is a superb fit for press-man corner in the NFL.

As a pro, Stevenson would be best as a press-man corner. He is good at jamming receivers and turning and running with them downfield. Stevenson has the height to defend big receivers and the speed to run with quick receivers. As a pro, Stevenson should definitely play in a press-man system.

Ringo is a pure press-man corner. He has excellent size with height and length that make it very difficult to get passes around him. Beyond with height and length, Ringo is very fast, as his straight-line speed is superb. Ringo has the ability to run with speed receivers down the sideline and keep them from getting past him over the top. With his size, Ringo is adept at battling wideouts thanks to haveing developed strength to fight off receivers and maintain good positioning for contested passes. Ringo is a physical corner who really challenges receivers. He is a tough at the line of scrimmage and can use his strength to jam and reroute. Ringo’s height and length also helps him to have nice recoverability to narrow the space and close the window for completing passes.

For the NFL, Smith is a press-man corner to play on the outside and line up against big receivers. He tracks the ball well and shows a nice ability to play the ball. While Smith lacks twitch and explosion, he has long arms and is a perfect fit to be a press-man corner.

Banks and Gonzalez have the skill sets to serve as press-man corners. Gonzalez should be very good at press-man coverage, but he has some finesse elements to his game. If Gonzalez got more gritty and physical, he could be a very good press-man corner.

Witherspoon and Forbes are not good fits to handle press-man responsibilities. Witherspoon, at 180 pounds, and Forbes, at 166 pounds, lacks the weight and strength to reroute pro receivers. They could get pushed around by big, physical NFL wide receivers. They should not be used to play press-man coverage as pros.

Ball Skills
NFL prototype: Xavien Howard, Dolphins
  1. Emmanuel Forbes
  2. Christian Gonzalez
  3. Devon Witherspoon
  4. Kelee Ringo
  5. Cam Smith
  6. Deonte Banks
  7. Tyrique Stevenson
  8. Joey Porter Jr.

Recap: Forbes is the textbook example of a cornerback with ball skills, and he was a true ballhawk in college. During his career, he put together a staggering total of 14 interceptions and 21 passes broken ups. Forbes has superb instincts with rare and phenomenal ball skills. He has soft hands and routinely makes circus catches. It feels like Forbes has magnets in his hands for the NFL. When Forbes makes a catch, his speed takes over, and he is a serious threat to score on any reception. Forbes was a pick-six phenom for Mississippi State and showed excellent return skills.

Gonzalez was lacking ball production prior to 2022, but in his final season, he showed development, recording four interceptions and seven passes broken up. With his size, length, hands and athleticism, Gonzalez has the potential to have dangerous ball skills as a pro.

Witherspoon is a natural at playing the ball, and his instincts help him to get position to disrupt the pass. He had three interceptions and 14 breakups last season, but he also did not have much production prior to 2022.

Ringo flashed some ball skills over the past two seasons, totaling four interceptions and 15 passes broken up. With his size and length, Ringo is tough to get passes around, and he does a decent job of playing the ball.

Smith, Banks and Stevenson showed some ball skills, with each of them recording a season of quality ball production in 2022. They all play the ball decently, but have an occasional lapse downfield.

Porter had zero interceptions and 11 breakups in 2022 after one pick and four passes broken up in 2021. He is skilled at slapping passes away, but he is not a big-play or interception threat.

Run Support
NFL prototype: Byron Jones, Dolphins
  1. Joey Porter Jr.
  2. Kelee Ringo
  3. Christian Gonzalez
  4. Devon Witherspoon
  5. Emmanuel Forbes
  6. Deonte Banks
  7. Cam Smith
  8. Tyrique Stevenson

Recap: Some college and NFL teams aren’t too concerned with how corners play the run, but good run-defending cornerbacks can prevent big gains on the edge and make tackles that prevent long carries. This is a strong group overall, and there is not a single player who is a huge liability in run defense.

The top pair of Porter and Ringo were physical and tough run defenders in college. They are big, strong and solid with their form tackling. Both Porter and Ringo are aggressive and displays zero hesitation to get physical.

Gonzalez was the most consistent tackler in this group, notching 50 and 53 stops in the past two seasons. There were times, however, when Gonzalez was a little finesse and not as physical as one would like, especially for a big cornerback at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. If Gonzalez gets a bit meaner and more aggressive, he could be a good run defender in the NFL.

Witherspoon (180) and Forbes (166) are undersized, but they are tough run defenders who are willing to throw their body into ball-carriers. Even though Witherspoon is small, he will fire into the box and doesn’t shy away from contact. Forbes also is an aggressive in run defense. Both would be rated higher if they weren’t so slight, but in the NFL, they could struggle with tackling, big, physical running backs due to size.

Banks and Smith had seasons where they were solid run defenders. Both will use their size and strength to deliver some hard tackles. In 2021, Stevenson showed the ability to contribute to the ground game and was a willing tackler.

NFL prototype: Marshon Lattimore, Saints
  1. Devon Witherspoon
  2. Emmanuel Forbes
  3. Joey Porter Jr.
  4. Cam Smith
  5. Christian Gonzalez
  6. Kelee Ringo
  7. Deonte Banks
  8. Tyrique Stevenson

Recap: For cornerbacks, instincts aren’t just picking off passes. Instincts also are about reading the route and the quarterback. It starts before the snap when the offense lines up. Elite corners seem to have eyes in the backs of their heads to know when passes are coming behind them.

Witherspoon and Forbes are very instinctive and make plays in coverage. They make interceptions, break up passes, and get in position to help other defensive backs after blown coverage.

Porter displayed real instincts for Penn State over the past few seasons. He is a smart defender who is quick to realize what an offense is trying to do.

Gonzalez, Ringo, Banks and Stevenson showed some instincts in college. They read plays well and were wise when they made breaks.

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