Devon Witherspoon, Clark Phillips III Easy to Bet On

The 2022 cornerback class was excellent, but could the 2023 NFL Draft CB class be even better? The 2023 group has a level of depth that’s nearly unmatched, and on our board, one prospect may be emerging as the blue-chip talent we’ve been waiting for.

Top 10 CBs in the 2023 NFL Draft

10) Deonte Banks, Maryland

Jakorian Bennett came into the season with all the hype in Maryland’s secondary, and while he remains a quality under-the-radar prospect in his own right, Deonte Banks effectively broke onto the scene across from him and has morphed into a potential early-round prospect.

At 6’2″, 205 pounds, Banks has a terrific blend of athleticism, length, and play strength, and he’s shown he can convert at the catch point, with a pick and eight PBUs in 2022. He put up some eye-catching reps against 2024 WR1 Marvin Harrison Jr. and has the tools to match up with anybody.

9) Julius Brents, Kansas State

Longer cornerbacks are back in style with the emergence of rookies Tariq Woolen and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner in 2022. Though he’s not quite at that level as a prospect, Julius Brents could be the latest size outlier to become an early NFL starter.

An Iowa transfer who notched four interceptions and four PBUs in 2022, Brents has an overwhelming wingspan and near-34″ arms at 6’4″, 202 pounds. He’s a rare CB with his reach, but he’s also surprisingly agile and twitchy, and he’s an incredibly proactive, aggressive run support defender as well.

8) Eli Ricks, Alabama

Eli Ricks’ transfer to Alabama has been a wild saga. After arriving as a projected first-round pick, Ricks failed to win the starting job in camp. He didn’t get his first start until late October and only played in five games on the year, but his first start against Mississippi State was an absolutely dominant showing.

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When he’s on, Ricks has the length, physicality, and coordination to suffocate receivers at the catch point, and he’s plenty explosive in space. His technique appears to be improved as well, but consistency remains the question for Ricks despite his high-level tools.

7) Devon Witherspoon, Ill

From this point onward, any of the listed cornerbacks could be potential first-round picks. Devon Witherspoon has been receiving that kind of buzz recently, and for good reason. He’s coming off a consensus All-American season in which he produced three picks and 14 pass breakups.

Having said all that, Witherspoon’s lower-than-expected ranking is more a matter of projection. He’s an extremely instinctive cover man with biting physicality in both phases, but he’s also not quite an elite athlete, with a lighter frame than preferred. His ceiling is n’t quite as high as our top corners, but he’ll be a very good starter for a long time.

6) Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State

Emmanuel Forbes closed out his career as the all-time CFB leader in pick-sixes, an accomplishment that’s fittingly emblematic of his natural playmaking ability. On the boundary, that’s the kind of momentum-changing impact he can bring to the NFL.

Similarly to Witherspoon, Forbes has an underweight frame that could complicate his projection a bit. Witherspoon is also more disciplined in coverage. But Forbes has a superior combination of explosiveness, length, and twitch. Thus, his upside gives him the edge.

5) Cam Smith, South Carolina

Cam Smith comes from the same school as former Carolina Panthers first-round pick Jaycee Horn, who’s embarking on a Pro Bowl-worthy campaign this season. To be clear, Smith isn’t anywhere near the prospect Horn was — but he could go on to be a solid pro in his own right.

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Smith is solid across the board, with all the requisite tools — explosiveness, fluidity, disciplined technique, physicality, and ball skills — to be a sturdy cover man. And he’s a gnarly competitor in run support as well, with the versatility to play the slot or the boundary.

4) Clark Phillips III, Utah

It says a lot that Clark Phillips III has some CB1 hype at 5’10”, 183 pounds, with below average length. If he was a little bit bigger, we’d potentially be talking about him as the clear-cut top dog, much like his status as a unanimous All-American.

Phillips’ lacking of length does detract slightly from his ultimate ceiling in the NFL. But he can be an elite slot DB early on with slot-boundary versatility and playmaking ability from all spots. His sticky coverage athleticism and high-level instincts are easy to bank on.

3) Joey Porter Jr., Penn State

After his dominant six-deflection showing against Purdue in Week 1, Porter only added five more deflections for the rest of the season. That stalled production is a question mark on the surface, but more often than not, he simply dissuaded teams from even trying him in coverage.

Porter doesn’t quite have the pure explosiveness and speed that our top two cornerbacks have, and that’s largely what relegates him to the third spot. But with his proactive physicality, length, fluidity, technique, and ball skills, he can lock down WRs early in reps.

2) Kelee Ringo, Georgia

With his size-athleticism combination, Kelee Ringo likely isn’t sniffing the second round. While it’s never a good idea to speak in absolutes as a draft analyst, Ringo’s traits are exactly what teams bank on in Round 1 — and often within the top-16 picks.

Ringo still has moments of inconsistency with his technique and ball tracking at times, and at his weight, he isn’t always seamless on transitions. But he offers more than enough fluidity and foot speed and has the explosiveness, speed, and length to lock down receivers in all thirds.

1) Christian Gonzalez, Ore

Farther down the road in the draft process, when we’re all caught up, we may talk about Christian Gonzalez as a borderline-elite cornerback prospect. His tape of him down the stretch in 2022 was absolutely phenomenal, and he has an unmatched combination of physical and mental tools.

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At 6’2″, 200 pounds, Gonzalez has it all. He’s an elite size-speed threat with uncanny fluidity and agility in short ranges. He can contort at a moment’s notice to corral passes, and with his eyes and reaction quickness, he’s always in position to make the play. He has blue-chip upside and is trending up faster than anyone else.

Honorable mentions

  • Garrett Williams, Syracuse
  • Cory Trice, Purdue
  • Tyrique Stevenson, Miami (FL)
  • Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford
  • Mekhi Garner, LSU
  • DJ Turner, Michigan
  • Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M
  • Myles Brooks, Louisiana Tech
  • Arquon Bush, Cincinnati
  • Kei’Trel Clark, Louisville

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