2023 NFL Draft

Straley: 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

For the second consecutive draft season, I decided to conclude my 2023 coverage with a big board of the cornerback position, this year expanding the field to include my top 15 prospects. Ahead of compiling this list, I watched no less than three full games of the consensus top 30 cornerback prospects, ultimately settling on the 15 names that follow.

It is important to note that this is my evaluation of the class. Likewise, it has its own similarities and differences from other lists that have been published by national and local media members in various markets. Moreover, I attempted to put together a list through the lens of what the Pittsburgh Steelers front office is likely to value in the position, leading me to value certain traits, namely man-coverage ability from press, catch, and off-man alignments, above other traits. Within that scope, some of the consensus top prospects that you will see on other lists were not included, likely due to the absence of certain coverage concepts on their collegiate film.

As I put countless hours of research into compiling this list, I encourage readers to share their thoughts on the it, the class as a whole, and opinions on individual prospects in the comments below. I will attempt to respond to as many as possible in a timely fashion. I can not thank Dave Bryan , Alex Kozora , Josh Carney and the rest of our great team at Steelers Depot enough for providing me with the resources and in-person scouting experience to follow my dreams in scouting and qualify me to compile this list with the utmost confidence.

Without further ado, welcome to my 2023 cornerback big board.

 1. Christian Gonzalez/Oregon

Height: 6013
Weight: 197
Arm Length: 32″
Wingspan: 76 ⅞”
Hand Size: 9 ½”
40 Yard Dash: 4.38
10 Yard Split: 1.54
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 41 ½”
Bench Press: 14
Broad Jump: 133”

— 123 tackles 6.5 TFLs 4 INTs 20 PDs 1 Blk
— 2022: 50 tackles 1 TFL 4 INTs 11 PDs 1 Blk
— 2022 Pac-12 All-Conference First team
— 2022 Week 10 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week
—2021 Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention
— Played 2020 and 2021 seasons at Colorado before transferring to Oregon
— Former high-school track star, posted a 21.6 time in the 200 meter dash at the Texas State High School Championship
— Father played basketball at UTEP, both older sisters ran track in college and were All-Americans in the 400 meter hurdles and 4×400 meter relay
— Declared as an underclassmen

Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez is one of the two premier talents at the cornerback position in this year’s draft class, along with Illinois Devon Witherspoon. The primary difference: Gonzalez is blessed with the prototypical size and athletic measurables that separate him from his similarly talented counterpart.

In terms of movement skills, the Oregon product plays with unique body control, able to effortlessly flip his hips and recover when beaten across his face. Equally adept playing from press coverage, a backpedal, or a side shuffle skate technique, Gonzalez possesses the movement skills and IQ in coverage to dominate in any scheme.

Regardless of where he winds up, Gonzalez is a plug-and-play starter on the boundary, capable of handling isolated man-coverage matchups, creating turnovers from a variety of zone-coverage assignments, and even following talented receivers into the slot on a matchup dependent basis. Speaking of zone coverage, Gonzalez athleticism provides him with the range to easily cover hash to sideline in Cover 3 or effectively midpoint levels concepts and bait quarterbacks as a flat defender in Cover 2.

While he is not necessarily an impactful tackler, he is more than capable of both tackling the catch and executing crack/replace fits in the run game as well. Although it is never wise to speak in certainties, the likelihood of Gonzalez falling to pick 17 is about as likely as an alien spaceship hovering over earth on draft night, Independence Day style. He is a truly special talent at the cornerback position, and the one prospect that a front office could justify forfeiting draft capital to move up and select.

Projection: Early Day One

Grade: 9.4-Pro Bowl Talent/Day 1 Starter (Top 10 Pick)

2. Devon Witherspoon/Illinois

Height: 5114
Weight: 181
Arm Length: 31 ¼”
Wingspan: 73 ⅝”
Hand Size: 8 ⅞”
40-Yard Dash: 4.43 (Pro Day)
10-Yard Split: 1.58 (Pro Day)
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A

— 159 tackles 11.5 TFLs 1 sack 3 FRs 1 FF 5 INTs 30 PDs
— 2022: 41 tackles 2.5 TFLs 3 INTs 17 PDs
— One of three finalists for the Thorpe award as a junior in 2022
— One of 20 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award in 2022
— 2022 Consensus All-American
— #1 Coverage grade in the nation (92.0) in 2022 according to PFF
—  Did not allow a touchdown in 2022
— Allowed only 16 receptions on 54 targets (3.3 YPA) as the primary defender in 2022 per ESPN
— Allowed fewer than 35 yards in 11 of 12 games in 2022
— Played the second most man-coverage snaps per game in 2022, per PFF
— Also played basketball and ran track in high school
— Did not play football until his junior year of high school

My second of two prospects with a top-10 grade, Illinois corner Devon Witherspoon may have a case as one of the single most physical defensive backs in this year’s class, including both corners and safeties. As evidenced by his 11.5 tackles for losses, Witherspoon was consistently able to make impact plays behind the line of scrimmage, flying off the edge from his corner spot to singlehandedly blow up screens, reverses, and traditional run game action.

Capable of playing effectively from both the boundary and the slot, Witherspoon is equally comfortable crowding receivers in press coverage or playing from a backpedal, where he shows great patience and click and close ability to stay in phase and contest all three levels of the field. Instinctually, his football IQ and mastery of the game is matched by few prospects in the draft, regardless of position.

Bottom line, Devon Witherspoon is an impact player who would more than likely be heralded as a generational cornerback prospect if not for size limitations. Detractors are likely to point toward doubts that his slight frame will hold up given his uber physical and at times reckless play style.

Even given his current measurables, Witherspoon offers immediate inside/outside versatility, a proven man-coverage resume, high-end ball skills, and a physical, tone-setting presence on the back end of any team lucky enough to acquire his talents. While unlikely, if Witherspoon were to slide to pick 17, it would be hard to imagine Pittsburgh’s new look front office justifing passing on the Illinois product, even if a top tackle manages to slide.

Projection: Early- to Mid-Day One

Grade: 9.3-Pro Bowl Talent/Day 1 Starter (Top 10 Pick)

3. Deonte Banks/Maryland

Height: 6’⅛”
Weight: 197
Arm Length: 31 ⅜”
Wingspan: 77 ⅛”
Hand Size: 9 ⅜”
40-Yard Dash: 4.35
10-Yard Split: 1.45
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 42”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 11’4”

— 83 tackles 0.5 TFL 0.5 sack 2 INTs 13 PDs 1 Blk
— 2022: 38 tackles 0.5 TFL 0.5 sack 1 INT 9 PDs 1 Blk
— 2022 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention
— Also competed in track and field in high school, posting PRs as follows: 100 meter (10.96), 200 meter (22.44), high jump (5’6”), long jump (22’8”)

The toughest distinction that I came to in making this list centered around the debate of who belonged in the #3 spot: Deonte Banks or Joey Porter Jr. While the length, upside, and other-worldly tackling ability of Joey Porter Jr. is undoubtedly enticing, I found that I lean toward Banks in terms of a scheme fit in Pittsburgh, particularly given his proficiency and plethora of experience in press-man coverage.

Particularly when evaluating tape from his final season at Maryland, Banks proved more than capable of handling isolated man-coverage work against the nation’s most talented receiving corps, putting together some extremely encouraging reps against Ohio State. While his patience and violent punch in press-man coverage is what will draw scouts’ attention, Banks has proven to be a capable open field tackler and a high-level communicator in zone-coverage assignments. Likewise, his ball skills at the catch point, both when playing from in phase or out of phase, are among the best in the class.

While turnover production hasn’t yet arrived, he has consistently shown the ability to separate receivers from the football at the catch point, and squeeze them into the sideline with his superior play strength. When he connects with his jam in the release phase, he is able to re-route and control receivers in a way that few, if any, in this class can match.

He may ultimately be the most likely of all corner prospects to ultimately wind up in Pittsburgh at pick 17, although it is equally as likely that he hears his name come off the board prior to the Steelers’ first selection. Banks projects as an NFL-ready man-coverage corner with the ability to grow as he continues to gain reps at the position and develop more consistency in his ball skills and instincts.

As he was brought in for a pre-draft visit, it is well within the realm of possibility that he will be heavily considered if available at pick 17. His upside is up there with any corner in this year’s class.

Projection: Mid-Day One

Grade: 9.0-Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)

4. Joey Porter Jr./Penn State

Height: 6’2 ½”
Weight: 193
Arm Length: 34”
Wingspan: 80 ⅞”
Hand Size: 10”
40-Yard Dash: 4.46
10-Yard Split: 1.52
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 35”
Bench Press: 17
Broad Jump: 10’9”

— 94 tackles 1 TFL 1 sack 1 FF 1 FR 1 INT 19 PDs
— 2022: 27 tackles 1 FR 11 PDs
— 2022 Second Team All-American
— 2022 First-Team All-Big Ten
— 2021 Third-Team All-Big Ten
— 2020 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten
— Redshirted in 2019
— Four-year high school track letterman, posted PRs as follows: 100 meter (11.11) and 200 meter (21.97)

Far and away the easiest corner for national media members to connect to Pittsburgh is Joey Porter Jr., given the strong ties of his father, former Super Bowl XL Champion, multi-time All-Pro, and eventual coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Joey Porter. The Penn State product certainly inherited some size and physicality from his father, possessing open field tackling ability that is rivaled by few, if any, at the cornerback position.

While he has a tendency to play a bit too physical downfield in coverage, Porter Jr. ‘s length, with freakish 34” arms, allows him to suffocate receivers both in the release phase and at the catch point. While his feet still have a ways to go in his press-coverage work, his length allows him to easily recover and contest the catch point when closing from out of phase.

Although his hips and overall movement skills will likely never develop to match his peers at the top of the 2023 draft class, his length, physicality, long speed, and poise in coverage help mitigate his weaknesses. On the perimeter, Porter Jr. can downright manhandle blockers and ball carriers in the screen and run game. He can provide sound run fits and tone-setting physicality when forced to tackle the catch.

In zone coverage, Porter Jr. has shown high-level instincts, along with the ability to bait and jump routes in the shallow and intermediate areas of the field. The next step for him will be converting more of these reps into takeaways, as he dropped a handful of interceptions after great undercuts.

Overall, Porter Jr.’s upside is among the highest in this year’s draft class. I anticipate that he will experience some growing pains against high level route-runners who can win consistently at the line of scrimmage, but his length will allow him to frustrate receivers and effectively contest the catch point from day one.

His raw size and athleticism should continue to make him nearly impossible to target vertically at the next level, where his size and superior physicality allow him to routinely squeeze receivers into the sideline and contest even well-thrown balls. If he winds up being the pick at 17, Pittsburgh’s front office likely walks away satisfied, but understanding that they inherit a prospect in need of a bit more development than the three listed above.

They, along with many other front offices league wide, likely view this as a small price to pay for a potential All-Pro with an extremely unique skill set.

Projection: Mid- to Late-Day One

Grade: 8.9-Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)

5. Emmanuel Forbes/Mississippi State

Height: 6’0 ¾”
Weight: 166
Arm Length: 32 ¼”
Wingspan: 79”
Hand Size: 8 ½”
40-Yard Dash: 4.35
10-Yard Split: 1.49
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 37 ½”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 10’11”

— 142 tackles 6.5 TFLs 1 sack 1 FF 14 INTs 34 PDs 6 TDs 1 Blk
— 2022: 39 tackles 1 TFL 6 INTs 15 PDs 3 TDs 1 Blk
— 2022 Second Team All-American, First Team All-SEC
— 2021 Second Team All-SEC
— 2020 Freshman All-SEC
— Owns the FBS career record with six pick-sixes
— 2022 Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week and SEC Defensive Player of the Week vs Texas A&M
— Also lettered in basketball in high school 

Emmanuel Forbes may just be the most polarizing prospect in this year’s class, regardless of position. Armed with downright freakish ball skills and takeaway production against tough SEC competition, combined with high-level athletic testing, Forbes would likely be a sure-fire top 5-10 pick if not for a rail-thin frame. For reference, at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, he weighed a full 12 pounds less than TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, who is a full five inches shorter at 5’8”!

Possessing the best ball skills and instincts of any corner in this year’s class, Forbes is particularly effective from off-man coverage, where he is patient in his backpedal and routinely keys quarterbacks in their drop to read and jump quick game patterns. He is a dynamic athlete with the football in his hands, amassing 390 total return yards on 14 interceptions, good for an average of 27.9 yards per return. In zone coverage, Forbes has great range and uses his length to occupy throwing windows, routinely sinking and using his length to affect passing lanes.

Surprisingly, despite lacking size, Forbes is both an active and effective participant in the run game, routinely knifing off the edge to make tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He has shown similar physicality in the screen game, beating perimeter blocking schemes to the point of attack with his quick trigger ability.

Despite his thin frame, Forbes plays with great balance and pad level, making him capable of fighting through push offs at the top of the routes and using his length to fluster receivers in the release phase. While Forbes is certainly more of a playmaker in coverage than a true shutdown-type corner, that is not necessarily a bad thing, and any team willing to lean into his skill set could see its turnover production skyrocket.

While durability concerns surrounding a slight frame and worries of undisciplined play in coverage will take Forbes off some teams’ draft boards, he can absolutely contribute as a year one starter in the right system. Particularly in a Pittsburgh system that places heavy emphasis on generating takeaways, Forbes’ mindset could help him fit right in. Thus, he arrives on my list as the first of a few prospects that could provide solid value at pick 32 if the position goes unaddressed with the team’s first pick. That being said, I think it remains overwhelmingly likely that a team talks itself into Forbes with a late day-one pick.

Projection: Late Day One/Early Day Two

Grade: 8.8-Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)

6. Cam Smith/CB South Carolina

Height: 6’0 ½”
Weight: 180
Arm Length: 31 ⅝”
Wingspan: 76 ⅛”
Hand Size: 9 ⅛”
40-Yard Dash: 4.43
10-Yard Split: 1.49
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 38”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 11’2”

— 91 tackles 3.5 TFLs 1 FF 6 INTs 24 PDs 1 Blk
— 2022: 27 tackles 1 TFL 1 INT 6 PDs 1 Blk
— S. Army All-American Honoree in High School
— Lettered in track in high school posting PRs as follows: 100 meter (11.68), long jump (20’5”), and triple jump (42’6”)
— Redshirted in 2019

The first player that I profiled this draft season, and ultimately one of my personal favorites in the entire cornerback class, is South Carolina’s Cam Smith. While he may not possess the elite size and measurables of some of the other top prospects at the position, Smith’s tape certainly rivals any of his peers in the class.

In the Gamecocks’ defense, Smith played on the boundary and in the slot, while also gaining time as a post safety and dime backer on occasion. He offers unique versatility and can fit into a variety of roles in sub-packages at the next level.

While he has shown the ability to effectively mirror and disrupt receivers from press-coverage alignments, Smith’s work in off-man coverage is what ultimately sold me on his game and ability to quickly translate to the next level. Smith plays with smooth footwork in his pedal, trusting his long speed and staying square to effectively close to contest the catch point in the shallow and intermediate areas of the field.

When he allows vertical separation, Smith can effectively close from out of phase and plays with NFL veteran-level poise, remaining calm and punching the pocket with violence when receivers flash their hands. Although he is not a particularly large-framed corner, Smith has shown the ability to effectively match receivers with his kick-step, carry vertically, and squeeze them into the sideline where he can high-point the football to create takeaways. Speaking of high-pointing the football, Smith’s consistency in attacking the football at its apex helps to mitigate his size limitations and allows him to handle matchups against larger-framed players.

Smith, along with Joey Porter Jr. and Julius Brents, is among the best open field tacklers in this year’s class, more than capable of both limiting yards after the catch and punishing ball carriers on the perimeter with violent hit power. He consistently squares his hips to the target and runs his feet on contact to secure tackles. When needed, he has shown the ability to make some nice leg tackles as well, sacrificing his body and finishing through the point of contact to convert speed to power and punish ball carriers.

Smith’s ball skills, technique in coverage, physicality, and versatility are among the best in this year’s class. Likewise, he is another player who should hear his name called in the late day-one, early day-two range, making him an intriguing pick at 32 if he is available. His off-man coverage ability and alignment versatility in particular make him uniquely qualified to replace Cam Sutton.

Projection: Late Day One/Early Day Two

Grade: 8.7-Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)

7. Julius Brents/Kansas State

Height: 6’2 ¾”
Weight: 198
Arm Length: 34”
Wingspan: 82 ⅝”
Hand Size: 9 ⅝”
40-Yard Dash: 4.53
10-Yard Split: 1.50
Short Shuttle: 4.05
3-Cone: 6.63
Vertical: 41 ½”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 11’6”

— 111 tackles 6.5 TFLs 1 FF 6 INTs 16 PDs
— 2022 First Team All-Big 12 (Led team in both PDs and INTs)
—2021 Honorable Mention All-Big 12
— Spent 2018-2020 at Iowa before transferring to Kansas State for 2021 and 2022 seasons
— Redshirted in 2019 at Iowa after suffering a knee injury in preseason camp, played only eight snaps that season
— Also lettered in track in high school
— Was initially recruited as a safety out of high school
— Accepted an invite to the 2023 Senior Bowl

First off, I need to give credit to our own Tyler Wise for putting Julius Brents onto my radar after watching him in person in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. An interesting prospect and a late riser in this year’s class, Brents is blessed with elite length, and while slower in a line, posted more explosive jumping and change of direction testing figures than Joey Porter Jr.

The defining trait of Brents’ game is physicality. Whether manhandling receivers on the perimeter or providing great run defense off the edge, Brents is a capable and impactful tackler, bringing his weight and running his feet on contact to punish ball carriers. Moreover, he is the only corner that I evaluated in this class who has shown the ability to effectively box pulling offensive lineman when setting an edge in the run game.

While his length allows him to re-route and control receivers in the release phase, Brents has also shown the ability to effectively mirror and utilize a soft-shoe press to mix up his looks against receivers. Although he lacks a top gear when forced to close from out of phase, his poise in playing the pocket and long limbs help make up for his deficiencies.

In zone coverage, Brents does a great job of playing top down and using his length to occupy passing lanes. He has a good feel for mid-pointing routes and punishing receivers after the catch. Equally equipped with great ball skills, consistently high-pointing the football to secure impressive interceptions, Brents might wind up being the best of the late day one, early day two group of corners a few years down the line.

As he was reportedly brought in for a pre-draft visit by the Steelers, it is not unreasonable to assume that Brents will be among the team’s options if he is available at pick 32. If selected, he could immediately gain snaps as a boundary cornerback in sub-packages before eventually developing into a full-time starter. While he does not provide much in terms of alignment versatility, Brents has the ability to thrive as a boundary cornerback in the right scheme.

Projection: Late Day One/Early Day Two

Grade: 8.6-Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)

8. Clark Phillips III/Utah

Height: 5’9”
Weight: 184
Arm Length: 29 ¼”
Wingspan: 70 ¾”
Hand Size: 9 ⅛”
40-Yard Dash: 4.51
10-Yard Split: 1.52
Short Shuttle: 4.32
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 33”
Bench Press: 18
Broad Jump: N/A

— 112 tackles 5 TFLs 1 sack 2 FFs 1 FR 9 INTs 30 PDs 4 TDs
— 2022: 24 tackles 2 TFLs 1 sack 6 INTs 12 PDs 2 TDs
— 2022 Unanimous All-American, First Team All-Pac-12, Conference leader in INTs, Team captain
— 2021 Second Team All-Pac-12, Conference leader in PDs, Team leader in FFs
— Enrolled in January of 2022
— Three-year starter at Utah
— Declared for 2023 draft as an underclassmen
— Split time between slot and boundary in college

There are few things I love more than an undersized corner with elite ball skills. Still an undervalued position, full-time, every-down slot corners can change the way that a defense functions. While I have questions about Clark Phillips III’s ability to handle every-down run defense responsibilities at the next level, he is a takeaway machine and elite playmaker at the slot position.

Likewise, from what I saw on tape, I am optimistic in terms of his ability to thrive playing on the boundary at the next level as well. Few corners at any level are more effective playing from a backpedal than Phillips. He has a great feel for playing from the top shoulder, staying square, and breaking to undercut routes and generate game changing takeaways.

Even on vertical routes, he is able to mitigate his disadvantages in size by high-pointing the football at every opportunity, allowing him to erase larger framed receivers. His tape from a Rose Bowl matchup against Ohio State may be the single most impressive game I evaluated of any defensive back prospect in this year’s draft.

As for his run defense, it remains inconsistent, but he has flashed some elite reps both inserting off the edge while defending run and screen game and even occasionally working as a blitzer on pass downs. He struggles mightily to fight off blocks when forced to engage but can evade blockers in space with his quick trigger ability.

The comp that I felt best about in this year’s class was Clark Phillips III and New England Patriots cornerback Jonathon Jones. Also undersized, Jones thrived in the slot in New England for years before ascending to full-time starter status on the boundary this past season. in 2022, Jones had four interceptions, 11 passes defended, and three forced fumbles, but also allowed five touchdowns when targeted as the primary defender. I tend to see Phillips being a similar-type player at the next level, with his playmaking ability and knack for timely takeaways outweighing the explosive plays that he will inevitably give up.

While he was not brought in for a visit and may not fit what Pittsburgh is looking for at the position, Phillips may be tough to pass up if he slides to pick 49. He could provide the team with the every-down slot player that has been missing since Mike Hilton’s departure. His takeaway-oriented mindset would fit in perfectly with Pittsburgh’s defensive culture, and he would address a dire need at the slot corner position.

Projection: Early Day Two

Grade: 8.5-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

9. DJ Turner/Michigan

Height: 5’11 ¼”
Weight: 178
Arm Length: 30 ¾”
Wingspan: 73 ⅝”
Hand Size: 9 ⅝”
40-Yard Dash: 4.26
10-Yard Split: 1.42
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 38 ½”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 10’11” 

— 69 tackles 2 TFLs 1 FR 3 INTs 20 PDs 2 TDs
— 2022: 36 tackles 1 TFL 1 FR 1 INT 11 PDs 1 TD
— 2022 Second Team All-Big Ten
— 2022 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten
— Redshirted in 2019
— Skipped his final season of eligibility to enterthe 2023 NFL Draft

If slight-framed corners with otherworldly athletic traits  are your cup of tea, then Michigan’s DJ Turner is undoubtedly the prospect for you. The Michigan product posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash times ever recorded at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. As far as the tape, Turner plays with great technique in press coverage and is capable of playing both in the slot and on the boundary.

In press coverage, he favors a mirror press, using his superior footwork to match receivers and force wide releases at the line. His quick footwork at the line makes it extremely hard for receivers to win across his face. When playing from inside leverage, he does a phenomenal job of denying slants.

When able to close to the catch point downhill, he has the ability to show some solid hit power when able to run his feet on contact. That being said, he has far too many instances when he drops his head on contact leading to some ugly misses in the open field. This inconsistency as an open field tackler can turn five-yard catches into explosive play touchdowns, as can be seen in his tape against TCU in the college football playoff this past season.

Likewise, his lean frame and lack of high-end ball skills and ability to consistently high-point the football leave Turner unable to consistently handle matchups against larger-framed players, where he can be outmuscled both at the top of routes and at the catch point. Still raw in the ball skills and tackling department, any team selecting Turner should understand that he may be a bit of a project in year one.

All that aside, Turner has downright freakish athleticism and solid footwork in coverage, which gives promise that he could eventually develop into a high-level corner with inside/outside versatility if he is able to continue to refine his game. Personally, I would be more comfortable with Turner at 49 than 32, but his elite performance in Indianapolis almost ensures that he is off the board well before then.

Projection: Early Day Two

Grade: 8.5-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

10. Darius Rush/South Carolina

Height: 6’1 ⅞”
Weight: 198
Arm Length: 33 ⅜”
Wingspan: 79 ⅝”
Hand Size: 9 ½”
40-Yard Dash: 4.36
10-Yard Split: 1.49
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 35”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 10’1”

— 74 tackles 4 TFLs 1 sack 1 FF 3 INTs 18 PDs
— 2022: 38 tackles 2 TFLs 1 FF 2 INTs 9 PDs
— Enrolled in January of 2018, redshirted the 2018 season
— Transitioned from WR to DB midway through the 2019 season
— Was recruited as a receiver coming out of high school
— Five-sport high school letterman (football, basketball, baseball, track, and golf)
— 2016 South Carolina Class 6A High School State Champion in both the high jump (6’4”) and triple jump (47’1”)
— Accepted an invitation to the 2023 Senior Bowl

Another South Carolina cornerback, and one that Pittsburgh has shown far more interest in than Cam Smith, is Darius Rush. Speaking of freak athletes in this year’s class, Rush sits atop the list. A former five-sport letterman in high school, Rush’s dominance in track and field is extremely impressive in its own right.

Even more impressive is the fact that Rush hadn’t played the cornerback position until midway through the 2019 season at South Carolina. He put together some extremely encouraging 2022 tape against tough SEC competition. His poise and ability to consistently play the pocket while closing from out of phase is extremely impressive, particularly as most young corners struggle in this facet of the game.

Likewise, when playing from off-coverage, Rush has shown the click and close ability to effectively jump routes and generate takeaways. Similar to his teammate, Cam Smith, Rush is a willing and effective tackler who has shown the ability to both punish receivers after the catch and effectively defend the edge in the run game.

While he doesn’t possess elite hip fluidity, he can effectively turn and run with receivers from press coverage. At the catch point, Rush’s receiver background is on full display, as he consistently attacks the football at its highest point and has shown the ability to squeeze receivers into the sideline with his large frame.

Unlike many of the top prospects in this year’s class, Rush has plenty of experience on special teams, putting some solid work on tape as a gunner. Given his status as a bit of a raw player, he could potentially be an impact special teamer while continuing to develop his discipline in coverage and understanding of route concepts.

While he may not be ready to serve as a full-time starter on the boundary in year one, Rush is one of the highest-upside prospects in this year’s class. That alone should be enough to make him a day-two selection. While he doesn’t offer inside/outside versatility, like many other prospects in this year’s class, Rush has the potential to serve as a takeaway machine in the right system with further refinement of his continually developing skill set.

Projection: Early to Mid Day Two

Grade: 8.4-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

11. Garrett Williams/Syracuse

Height: 5’10 ⅜”
Weight: 192
Arm Length: 31”
Wingspan: 74 ½”
Hand Size: 9 ¼”
40-Yard Dash: N/A
10-Yard Split: N/A
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 19 (Pro Day)

— 152 tackles 9.5 TFLs 2 sacks 1 FF 1 FR 4 INTs 27 PDs 1 TD
— 2022: 36 tackles 1.5 TFLs 1 sack 1 FF 1 FR 2 INTs 5 PDs
—2022 Honorable Mention All-ACC, Team Captain; missed six games between a thigh bruise and a torn ACL, which ended his season and has kept him out of all draft-related activities
—2021 Honorable Mention All-ACC, missed two games due to injury
— 2020 Freshman All-American, Honorable Mention All-ACC, Conference leader in PDs
—Ran high school track as a senior
— Declared as an underclassman, skipping his senior season to enter the 2023 NFL Draft

One of my personal favorite prospects in this year’s class, and one that I am convinced would be a much higher-rated prospect if not for an ACL injury, which ended his season and has largely kept him out of the pre-draft process, is Syracuse corner Garrett Williams. Equipped with arguably the best ball skills in the entire class, Williams’ interception reel may be the most impressive in the entire class. Likewise, he has proven to be a dynamic athlete with the football in his hands, posting 18.8 yards per return on his four collegiate interceptions.

He is an extremely high-IQ player who does a phenomenal job of overlapping in coverage and baiting quarterbacks into ill-advised decisions. At the catch point, he consistently high-points the football and is comfortable playing from both in and out of phase. In both press and off-man coverage, Williams’ footwork and technique is up there with the top prospects in this year’s class. When working in zone coverage, Williams has flashed the ability to range sideline to hash and make plays on the football. He should excel in that area at the next level.

When defending screens and the perimeter run game, Williams triggers downhill quickly and arrives with violent intentions. While his aggressive run support offers more positives than negatives, he will occasionally get overeager and lose outside leverage while trying to knife into the backfield.

In coverage, he will round his breaks at times, adding extra steps and leaving him a step slow in closing to the catch point. If he maintains more consistent footwork, he should see his ball production numbers continue to improve.

If not for an ACL injury that largely kept him out of the pre-draft process and will likely sideline him through rookie training camp, I would be even higher on Williams’ prospects of providing high-level play immediately. As is, he can likely compete for sub-package and special-teams snaps as he assimilates into a lineup before competing for a starting role in his year two camp. While his injury history will take him off some teams’ boards, Williams has an NFL ready skill set and should fit seamlessly into any system once he returns to full health.

Projection: Mid to Late Day Two

Grade: 8.4-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

12. Cory Trice Jr./Purdue

Height: 6’3 ⅜”
Weight: 206
Arm Length: 32 ⅜”
Wingspan: 77”
Hand Size: 9 ¾”
40-Yard Dash: 4.47
10-Yard Split: 1.58
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 35 ½”
Bench Press: 17
Broad Jump: 11’0”

— 105 tackles 4 TFLs 5 INTs 20 PDs 2 TDs
— 2022: 34 tackles 2 TFLs 2 INTs 12 PDs 1 TD
— 2022 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten
— Redshirted in 2018
— Moved from safety to corner midway through 2019 season
— Was recruited as a safety coming out of high school

Another late riser in this year’s class with prototype size for the position is Purdue’s Cory Trice Jr., who is blessed with elite size, length, and thickness in his frame. A converted safety, switching midway through his second year at Purdue, Trice Jr. is still developing his craft at the cornerback position. But he put together his best season in 2022, setting a new career-high in passes defended.

In coverage, he uses his length to disrupt receivers in the release phase, and does a particularly nice job shutting off inside releases and protecting his leverage to deny slants. Naturally, being a larger-framed player, Trice Jr. does nice work both in zone coverage and as a tackler, both in the open field and in run support.

He is routinely able to squeeze receivers into the sideline when playing from in phase and has the requisite ball skills to play the catch point both from in and out of phase. Naturally, being a larger-framed player, he struggles to maintain pad level from off-coverage, often rising and opening his hips prematurely. That can give receivers room to cross his face and work his blind spots. Likewise, his aggressive nature as a tackler comes with more positives than negatives, but he fails to break down at times, which can lead him to lose his leverage and miss in the open field.

Similar to Darius Rush, scouts will likely view Trice as a bit of a project, but with less upside than the former. Regardless, he can likely compete for sub-package boundary snaps in his rookie year while contributing on special teams. He has the frame and athletic traits to potentially serve as a difference maker as a gunner and when working in kickoff coverage. While I am not quite sure he is the best fit for Pittsburgh’s scheme, his size, athletic traits, and continually improving tape should lend themselves to a selection in the neighborhood of round three or four.

Projection: Late Day Two/Early Day Three

Grade: 8.3-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

13. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson/TCU

Height: 5’8”
Weight: 178
Arm Length: 29”
Wingspan: N/A
Hand Size: 8 ⅝”
40-Yard Dash: 4.41
10-Yard Split: 1.5
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 39”
Bench Press: 12
Broad Jump: 11’0”

— 125 tackles 4 TFLs 3 FFs 5 INTs 41 PDs 1 TD
— 2022: 50 tackles 2 TFLs 1 FF 3 INTs 18 PDs
— 2022 Jim Thorpe Award Winner
— 2022 First-Team All-American
— 2022 First-Team All-Big-12
— 2021 First-Team All-Big-12
— 2020 First-Team All-Big-12
— Accepted an invite to the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl; did not participate in practices or the game
— Also lettered in track in high school, posting a PR of 11.04 in the 100 meter dash/
— Nephew of NFL Hall of Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson 

One of the smallest cornerbacks in the long history of the NFL draft, 2022 Thorpe Award recipient Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson plays with a ferocity matched by few prospects in this year’s class regardless of position. Being a shorter player with a stout frame, Hodges-Tomlinson plays with exceptional pad level and has elite change of direction ability.

Despite being undersized with miniscule arm length, he does a phenomenal job in press coverage, relying on his superior footwork to mirror receivers at the line and stay connected to the upfield shoulder throughout the release phase. He has great ball skills when playing from both in and out of phase and has a nice feel for undercutting routes and taking calculated chances to produce timely takeaways.

My favorite aspect of Hodges-Tomlinson’s game is his willingness and ability as a run defender. Reminiscent of Mike Hilton, he is more than willing to get involved in the run game, relying on his play recognition and quick trigger to knife into the backfield, evade blockers and disrupt play behind the line of scrimmage.

That being said, he does struggle to disengage from blockers when forced to engage on the perimeter where his lack of arm length allows receivers to get into his chest. As he is forced to rely on evading blockers rather than engaging to succeed, his style of run defense comes with both splash and the risk of him losing leverage and vacating his run-fit responsibilities at times. His lack of length shows up at the catch point as well, where he can be boxed out by larger-framed receivers.

While he played almost exclusively on the boundary at TCU, I believe that Hodges-Tomlinson’s skill set lends itself nearly perfectly to the slot at the next level. The nephew of NFL Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, it doesn’t hurt to have NFL bloodlines and a successful role model either.

While size alone will take him off of some teams boards, if utilized properly, Hodges-Tomlinson has potential to thrive at the next level as an every-down slot. He is an intriguing candidate if Pittsburgh looks to double dip at the position, adding a primary slot defender later in the draft after addressing the position with a boundary corner in the early rounds.

Projection: Late Day Two/Early Day Three

Grade: 8.3-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

14. Rejzohn Wright/Oregon State

Height: 6’1 ⅝”
Weight: 193
Arm Length: 32 ½”
Wingspan: 76 ⅞”
Hand Size: 9 ⅝”
40-Yard Dash: N/A
10-Yard Split: N/A
Short Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: N/A
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: N/A 

— 92 tackles 2.5 TFLs 1 sack 1 FF 2 FRs 4 INTs 21 PDs
— 2022: 38 tackles 0.5 TFL 1 FR 2 INTs 11 PDs
— 2022 First Team All-Pac-12
— 2021 Honorable Mention All-Pac-12
— Spent 2018 and 2019 at JUCO Laney College in Oakland before transferring to Oregon State in 2020
— Finished his two seasons at Laney College with 41 tackles and 3 INTs; was featured on the reality TV show “Last Chance U”
—Also lettered in basketball and track in high school
— His older brother, Nashon Wright, also a cornerback, was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft
— Accepted an invite to the 2023 Senior Bowl but pulled out after suffering a hip flexor injury during the second practice

The next player on my list is another player with NFL bloodlines, that being Oregon State’s Rejzohn Wright, the younger brother of 2021 third-round pick, Nashon Wright. After following his brother Nashon to Laney College in Oakland, California, where he played JUCO ball for two seasons, the second of which he starred on the Netflix docuseries, “Last Chance U”, Rejzohn transferred to Oregon State in 2020.

Coming off his best season with the Beavers, Wright has continued to improve, putting together some great tape this past season in a matchup against Jordan Addison. He is a technician in press coverage, with a deep toolbox to keep receivers off balance and crowd them with his length at the line of scrimmage.

In zone coverage, Wright has a nice feel for mid-pointing routes, provides physical re-routes, and does a nice job to high-point the football at the catch point. That being said, his consistency in zone coverage could stand to improve, and talented quarterbacks, including Caleb WIlliams, have been able to manipulate him with their eyes at times to open throwing windows behind his head.

Despite a relatively slight frame, Wright does nice work in the run game. He is solid in his pursuit of the football and snaps his hips on contact to play with solid hit power. A solid tackler at the catch point and in the open field, Wright is also noticeably willing to get involved in the box and will take shots in piles. He seeks out opportunities to punish ball carriers. He must continue to refine his overall technique, but he has flashed some elite reps on tape, and has the potential to frustrate receivers at the line of scrimmage at the next level.

He may not be ready to start from day one, but Wright should be able to compete for a sub-package role in his first season. While his upside is among the best in this year’s class, his lack of testing numbers and overall absence from the pre-draft process may take him off some teams’ boards. If he is available on day three, he could wind up being one of the best value picks in the entire draft.

Projection: Late Day Two/Early Day Three

Grade: 8.2-Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)

15. Kei’Trel Clark/Louisville

Height: 5’10 ¼”
Weight: 181
Arm Length: 29 ⅝”
Wingspan: 72 ⅜”
Hand Size: 8 ¼”
40-Yard Dash: 4.42
10-Yard Split: 1.50
Short Shuttle: 4.21
3-Cone: N/A
Vertical: 34 ½”
Bench Press: N/A
Broad Jump: 10’2”

— 165 tackles 12.5 TFLs 2 sacks 2 FRs 5 INTs 34 PDs 2 TDs 1 Blk
— 2022: 51 tackles 4 TFLs 1 sack 1 FR 1 INT 5 PDs 2 TDs
— 2022 Third Team All-ACC
— 2021 Second Team All-ACC, missed final five games of the season with an ACL tear
— 2020 Second Team All-ACC
— Spent 2019 at Liberty before transferring to Louisville for his final three seasons
— Accepted an invitation to the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl

One of my personal favorite prospects in this entire class is Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark, who I watched in person dominate for a week at this year’s Shrine Bowl practices. An extremely high-IQ player, Clark’s trigger in blowing up screen plays and jumping snap counts is in a class of its own.

After dominating for a pair of seasons as a boundary corner, Clark and his coaching staff got together and decided that it would be mutually beneficial for him to see increased work in the slot his final season. The result, another season which ended in all-conference recognition.

He does nice work in press coverage, but is ultimately at his best when playing from off-man coverage and zone assignments. An extremely twitchy athlete, Clark’s change of direction ability allows him to easily match receivers through the top of their routes and stay tight to the catch point.

He has shown solid ability to blitz off of the edge and should continue to develop in that facet of the game. Similar to Hodges-Tomlinson, Clark’s lack of prototypical size can lead to problems at the catch point, but increased snaps in the slot should largely dictate his matchups. While not quite as powerful as the TCU product, Clark has shown the ability to get involved in the run game, although he needs to add strength and become more consistent in that department.

His feel in underneath zone coverages is simply elite, and he has a knack for sinking and occupying throwing windows to force quarterbacks to consistently target their checkdowns. In my interaction with him during our interview, Clark was able to illustrate his coverage responsibilities with ease. He came across as a football junkie, eager to continue learning and perfecting his craft.

Likewise, he is a great day-two to day-three option to replace some of the intangibles and communication that was lost with the departure of Cam Sutton. In Kei’Trel Clark, some team will find a capable, versatile, high-character player capable of elevating communication and turnover production in their secondary.

Projection: Late Day Two/Early Day Three

Grade: 7.7-Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)

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