2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Study: Grading Each Potential Steelers’ First Round Cornerback Option

As we date closer to the 2023 NFL draft, one position the Pittsburgh Steelers may wind up targeting is cornerback. Indeed, the position could use some reinforcement, as the team’s lack of a top corner showed against top receivers during the 2022 season. If the team intends to find that number one corner in the draft, the safest bet is to select one with their 17th pick in the first round. As such, this article compiled data from PFF’s premium stats on how each potential first round corner performed in coverage, and how often they played man and zone coverage.

The first graph shows how each of the top cornerback prospects’ targets, completion percentage and NFL passer rating allowed, as well as their PFF coverage grade.

Again, all numbers come courtesy of PFF.

Targets Against Completion Rate 


Passer Rating 


PFF Coverage Grade
Christian Gonzalez 64 60.9% 74.7 81.4
Devon Witherspoon 64 53.8% 25.3 92.7
Joey Porter Jr. 30 50% 63.6 77.4
Emmanuel Forbes 58 53.4% 44.7 89.3
Kelee Ringo 78 53.8% 70.0 68.3
Cam Smith 38 47.4% 71.3 64.5

Off face value, Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez’s numbers are disparaging, as he does not particularly excel in any of the measures. Gonzales is often projected as the first or second corner off the board, and is often selected earlier than 17 in mock drafts. However, the raw numbers do not tell the full story, as Gonzalez has promising measurables and talent, while arguably faced better competition than others on the list. On the other hand, Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes’ coverage numbers are impressive for an SEC corner, as are Georgia’s Kelee Ringo’s.

This graph also supports the notion that Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, who is often projected as the first corner off the board, is indeed the best prospect. While Witherspoon is unlikely to be available at 17 for the Steelers, crazier things have happened on draft day. Another takeaway is that Joey Porter Jr., who is arguably the most commonly projected pick for the Steelers, was targeted a remarkably low number of times, even relative to his 10 games played.

Aside from raw coverage numbers and grades, it’s important to know how a cornerback prospect performs in specific coverage schemes, especially when searching for a top corner. Indeed, it is ideal for a top corner to excel in man-to-man coverage. To put this in context, the graph below entails each corner’s percentage of coverage snaps in man and zone coverage, as well as how they performed in said coverage scheme.

Percentage of targets in man coverage Man coverage passer rating allowed & PFF grade Percentage of targets in zone coverage Zone coverage passer rating allowed & PFF grade
Christian Gonzalez 25.6% PFF Grade: 64.4

Passer rating: 88.4

60.9% PFF Grade: 77.1

Passer Rating: 84.1

Devon Witherspoon 75.5% PFF Grade: 68.3

Passer rating: 21.5

20.5% PFF Grade: 90.2

Passer Rating: 46.6

Joey Porter Jr. 45.1% PFF Grade: 79.3 

Passer Rating: 56.9

38.5% PFF Grade: 62.1

Passer Rating: 91.4

Emmanuel Forbes 24.9% PFF Grade: 87.0

Passer Rating: 1.4

50.7% PFF Grade: 78.2

Passer Rating: 71.4

Kelee Ringo 31.5% PFF Grade: 68.3

Passer Rating: 49.5

58.1% PFF Grade: 66.8

Passer Rating: 83.8

Cam Smith 49.0% PFF Grade: 57.1

Passer Rating: 69.3

40.1% PFF Grade: 67.6

Passer Rating: 83.2

Once again, the corner with the stats that pop out the most is Witherspoon, who covered opposing receivers man-to-man on over 75% of his snaps, and allowed a 21.5 passer rating. Another number that stands out is Gonzalez’s 25.6% of snaps in man coverage, which is the second lowest in the group, and he also allows the highest passer rating in man coverage. Arguably the most impressive number in this data, Forbes allowed a 1.4 passer rating in man coverage (though he played man coverage less than anyone else in the group.

For context, the Steelers played man coverage on 32.4% of snaps, the 4th highest mark in the league (as of Week 17). If they intend to keep this identity, Porter Jr. and South Carolina’s Cam Smith appear to be the ideal prospects that will be available at 17.

While this data does not paint the full picture on the respective prospects, it does provide some insight on how well they performed. The PFF coverage grade accounts for aspects that the raw numbers may not reflect, and the data on coverage schemes is particularly useful. In order to get a comprehensive analysis of the corner prospects, be sure to check out the site’s draft profiles.

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