Ask anyone around the NFL to name the deepest positions in the 2023 NFL draft class, and you can bet that cornerback will come up quite a bit. But while scouts all tend to agree there is a lot of talent at the position, you’ll hear a bunch of opinions on the specific order of the corners. Some say this draft class’ depth at cornerback is perhaps the best of the past five years. There’s no guarantee we have a top-five pick at the position, but there definitely could be a run on corners in the top 31 picks.

“This year’s cornerback class is really good,” one NFC general manager told me. “There might not be a Sauce Gardner, but there are five-six legit Day 1 starters and a handful of CB2 and CB3 types in here.”

In January, we burned up the phone lines talking to NFL scouts, general managers and coaches in an effort to rank the confusing wide receiver class. We decided to do the same with the corners, since there is little consensus about who is CB1 or how the top players stack up against each other. To do so, we again leaned on the help of NFL decision-makers and evaluators. The following ranking is not based on my board but rather conversations around the league. Whom do evaluators see as CB1? Is there a consensus in this class, or could factors like size, speed and scheme fit shake up the order of the top cover guys? One way to find out …

Witherspoon entered the 2022 season as a solid cornerback prospect and I had him as the No. 35 prospect in September. But he’s suddenly in contention to be the first cornerback off the board. There is some debate about his size (6-foot, 181 pounds) and scheme fit, but scouts love his coverage instincts, quick feet and toughness. And many of the scouts I spoke with believe he’s destined to be a top-10 pick.

“I love the way he plays,” said one AFC college scouting director. “For a smaller cornerback, he’s super physical, loves to hit and is always around the ball.”

Witherspoon had three interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2022, and per ESPN tracking, he allowed just 30.4% of passes thrown his way to be completed (sixth-best in the nation). He also allowed just 3.3 yards per attempt as the targeted defender, second to Colorado State’s Chigozie Anusiem. Witherspoon can stay in-phase with receivers, and his open-field tackling ability really stands out. He is seen as scheme-versatile, but there are concerns about size and arm length (31¼ inches).

“He’s better than a lot of the guys in recent years, maybe outside of Sauce [Gardner] and Pat Surtain II,” said an AFC general manager. “He’s good. I think he’ll be a top-10 cornerback early in his career.”

As the primary defender, Witherspoon allowed a 5.2 QBR last season, second-best in the nation.

NFL comparison: Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers

Best team fits: Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Las Vegas Raiders

If teams are concerned about Witherspoon’s lack of bulk and length, Gonzalez offers a stark contrast at 6-1 and 197 pounds. “He’s a big dude with great length, great closing speed and [he] makes plays on the ball,” said an AFC scout who covers the Pac-12.

Gonzalez transferred from Colorado to Oregon before the 2022 season and recorded his first career interception as a Duck, eventually picking up four (and seven pass breakups) on the year. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the combine and jumped 41.5 inches in the vertical and 11-foot-1 in the broad, showing off excellent speed and explosion. So why isn’t he the top cornerback?

“He’s big but doesn’t play big,” said another AFC scout. “You don’t see him come through receivers or really fight for the ball.” That scout ranked Gonzalez third overall among corners in this class, but seven others had him either first or second in this class. Asked for a draft range on Gonzalez, an NFL GM whose team is picking outside the top 10 said he believed the junior would not make it past the Eagles at No. 10 overall.

NFL comparison: A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons

Best team fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons

The son of former NFL linebacker Joey Porter, the younger Porter made a name for himself as a great cornerback at Penn State over the past three seasons. The first thing you notice about Porter is his length. At 6-3 and 193 pounds, he has 34-inch arms and a wingspan of almost 81 inches. “He looks like he was made in a lab to play football,” is how one area scout put it.

An NFC college scouting director remarked, “He’s so long but moves really well in terms of short-area quickness and change of direction. It’s pretty rare for his size.”

Porter is the biggest of the top cornerbacks and a favorite among pro teams running man-coverage schemes. He shows high-end instincts, speed, toughness and physicality, limiting opponents to 3.7 yards per attempt thrown his direction last season, tied for fourth-best in the FBS. Porter didn’t have any interceptions in 2022, but he did break up 11 passes and forced an incompletion on a nation-best 37.9% of his targeted throws.

“If I had to pick one for how we play football, it would be Porter,” said one scout from an NFL team in the Northeast. “He doesn’t get a ton of picks [one career interception], but he plays the ball so physically.”

So where could he get drafted? More than five scouts polled believe Porter’s floor is the Steelers at No. 17 overall in the first round.

NFL comparison: Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens

Best team fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Washington Commanders

There’s a consensus among scouts that Witherspoon, Gonzalez and Porter represent the top tier of the cornerback class, followed by a decent drop-off. But Banks leads the second group thanks to his upside.

“If you were drafting on traits and the belief you can develop a cornerback … Banks is your guy,” said one NFC scout. “He’s the fastest of the Round 1 guys, but he has really good size and really good quickness.”

Banks, who measured in at 6 feet and 197 pounds, ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also recorded a jaw-dropping 42-inch vertical jump and 11-foot-4 broad jump. Those were all elite numbers for a corner, finishing in the top three at the position for all three events. Banks allowed 4.6 yards per attempt thrown his way last season, which tied for 30th in the FBS. He had only one interception, but he broke up 10 passes. Banks is really fluent in both man and zone coverage.

“The lack of production bothers you a little bit, and he’s more of a speed guy than a technician right now, but his upside is super high,” said another NFC scout. Banks is expected to come off the board somewhere between pick No. 20 and the end of the first round.

NFL comparison: Byron Jones, free agent

Best team fits: Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens

It’s hard to ignore the numbers when it comes to Forbes. He recorded 14 career interceptions — including six in 2022 alone — and broke up 18 passes over three years. But at 6-1, he also weighed in at just 166 pounds at the combine. In fact, Forbes is the lightest cornerback weighed at the combine since 2000, and NFL teams don’t love outliers on the bottom of the spectrum.

One NFL GM said, “If Forbes weighed over 190 pounds, I think we’re talking about the top cornerback in the class.”

“He has great hands and instincts, but I don’t know what you do with someone that small,” said an NFL defensive backs coach.



MS State’s Forbes details SEC record-breaking pick-6

Emmanuel Forbes breaks the SEC record for career pick-sixes (six) in the Bulldogs’ 56-7 win over ETSU and explains his strategy to get them.

So scouts are torn on Forbes. Grade solely his tape, and you end up higher than his likely late-Round 1 range, but his weight is a drag on great speed (4.35-second 40-yard dash) and fantastic wingspan (79 inches). I see really solid ball skills, timing and anticipation to his game.

Four scouts told me he’s a lock first-rounder. Five said he’s a fringe Day 1 pick. And three said he’s a second-round guy. Forbes is talented, but scheme fit and role will matter — and he could be typecast as a slot corner due to that lack of weight.

NFL comparison: Donte Jackson, Carolina Panthers

Best team fits: Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills

If we had done this exercise last summer, Ringo would have been higher. He was one of the top prospects in the entire class before the 2022 season began, but Ringo struggled last year as teams picked on him with breaking routes that challenged his change-of-direction skills. At 6-2 and 207 pounds, he has fantastic size and legitimate 4.3 speed (4.36 at the combine), but final appearances against LSU (six catches allowed for 104 yards) and then Ohio State in the College Football Playoff (five catches allowed for 75 yards) have stuck in evaluators’ minds. And against the Buckeyes, it wasn’t all just Marvin Harrison Jr.

One defensive backs coach thinks a position change might help, though: “I almost think you move him to free safety if you run a man defense. It’s that bad.”

Ringo has impressive metrics and did record four career interceptions. He also broke up 10 passes last season and had 42 tackles. There’s no doubting the elite size, tackling ability and recovery speed, but the man coverage traits need developing if he stays at cornerback.

“He’s probably safely a Round 2 guy, but I think he has to play in Cover 3 or make a position change,” said an AFC area scout.

NFL comparison: Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

Best team fits: Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets

7. Cam Smith, South Carolina

Smith was another potential first-rounder headed into the season but has seen his stock settle into the early parts of Round 2.

“Smith is one of the safest Round 2 players in the class,” said an AFC scout. “He’s not going to wow you with size or speed — although they’re good — but he’s just really solid in coverage.”

Another scout added: “You can tell he’s been coached right. He does all the little things well in terms of timing and technique. He’s limited athletically, but he’ll play a long-ass time.”

In his three years at South Carolina, the 6-1, 180-pound Smith had three interceptions. His 4.43-speed is, as mentioned, very solid. What stood out most to scouts were his quickness and closing speed. He has great on-the-ball production, and he limited receivers to 4.4 yards per attempt (tied for 21st in the FBS), but we see a lot of potential flags on tape due to his grabby nature in coverage.

NFL comparison: Jack Jones, New England Patriots

Best team fits: Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions

There seems to be a consensus on many of the top cornerbacks, but Turner is an outlier. Scouts either love him and rank him highly, or they don’t mention him at all. A two-year starter for the Wolverines, Turner put on a show at the combine, running an event-best 4.26 in the 40-yard dash.

“He’s super fast, which we knew, but that speed will push him up boards,” said one NFC defensive backs coach. And an area scout noted, “I saw the speed on tape, and it’s good, but you worry about his instincts in man coverage.”



Michigan’s DJ Turner flies for a 4.26 40-yard dash

Michigan defensive back DJ Turner shows out with a flying 4.26 40-yard dash.

The overwhelming through line I heard from scouts on Turner was that coaches will like him more than scouts because of his raw tools. The 5-11, 178-pounder displays very good change-of-direction ability and burst. But he has to be more physical both before and after the throw. And after two interceptions in 2021, he had just one (and nine pass breakups) in 2022.

Turner’s draft range was the widest of any corner listed here. Two scouts said early in Round 2 makes sense. Five said the middle parts of Round 2. Four more indicated Turner would be there until late-Round 2 or even early-Round 3.

NFL comparison: Adoree’ Jackson, New York Giants

Best team fits: Philadelphia Eagles, Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants

The star of the Senior Bowl among the defensive backs, Stevenson has his fans in the NFL ranks. “I loved watching him play in Mobile,” said an AFC scout. “He was the best guy there by far.”

Stevenson has a well-rounded game with prototypical size (6 feet, 198 pounds), good speed (4.45) and solid change-of-direction skills. But it’s mostly his physical presence in press-coverage situations that has evaluators excited about his game.

Pointing back to that Senior Bowl showing, an NFC scout who specializes in cornerbacks said “Stevenson looked like he could play right away and live at the line of scrimmage.”

With three interceptions and 16 pass breakups over the past three years, he is game-tested and has proven production. He’s viewed by teams as a mid-to-late second-rounder but also as someone who could be a rookie starter. NFL teams will love his ability to jam receivers, but whoever drafts him will have to work with him. He tends to get lost in coverage at times.

NFL comparison: Rock Ya-Sin, free agent

Best team fits: Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs

Like Stevenson, Brents impressed folks with his performance at the Senior Bowl and put himself on the radar of scouts and analysts. At 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, he checks the box for size and length. Brents’ 34-inch arm length and nearly 83-inch wingspan are both among the longest ever measured for a cornerback.

Asked to sum up Brents’ game, one AFC scout said, “His size just jumps off the screen at you. He’s physical and actually uses that size well, unlike some guys. That size lets him cover up some speed issues, too.”

Brents ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but speed isn’t his game. Besides, his 41.5-inch vertical (second among corners), 11-foot-6 broad jump (first) and 6.63-second three-cone drill (first) showed his explosion and short-area quickness. And watch the tape and you’ll see high-level coverage instincts in identifying and adapting to routes, though he tends to stare down QBs a bit too much. He hauled in four interceptions last season, too.

One NFC scout I spoke to had Brents with an early-Round 2 grade, the high end of his suggested range. “I watched him against Texas, TCU and Alabama, and he had no problem keeping up with those guys,” he said. “That answers the speed question for me.” I personally have Brents in the early parts of Round 3, but he has the traits to be an instant impact player.

NFL comparison: Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks

Best team fits: San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks

Moss represents the bottom of the second-tier cornerbacks, according to more than 10 NFL scouts and coaches we spoke to for this exercise. At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds with 4.45 speed, Moss is expected to be a late-Round 2 or early-Round 3 player, per scouts.

“Moss doesn’t have the best long speed, but it’s good enough,” said one NFC scout. “But his short-area quickness, balance and body control are elite. His quickness might be the best in the class of Round 2 guys.”

Moss has the size and speed to play in any scheme, and evaluators see him topping out as a CB2 in the league. “There isn’t any real deficiency with his game,” said a defensive backs coach from the AFC. “But there isn’t any real elite trait to speak off on tape. He’s just all-day solid.”

Moss also has great ball production, picking off 11 passes and breaking up 23 over five seasons. But can he stay healthy after missing time in each of the past four seasons? And can he learn to be more patient in coverage?

NFL comparison: Casey Hayward, Atlanta Falcons

Best team fits: New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams

Other cornerbacks getting buzz

  • Terell Smith (Minnesota) is a name to remember as an early-Day 3 sleeper. Multiple scouts mentioned him as their favorite cornerback outside the top 100. At 6-foot and 204 pounds, Smith ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the combine and has man-coverage chops.

  • Utah corner Clark Phillips III entered the year with a ton of hype and had six interceptions in 2022, but scouts say he’s closer to a late third-round talent. “He’s just too small,” said one NFC area scout, while an AFC scout added, “At 5-foot-9, he needs to be faster, and that 4.5 [40-yard dash] isn’t cutting it.”

  • Former top recruit Eli Ricks‘ name was mentioned among scouts as the biggest risk at the position. He was an All-American as a freshman at LSU but then transferred to Alabama before the 2022 season and struggled to get on the field early in the year. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound Ricks has plenty of NFL-level traits, but his up-and-down career has scouts placing a third-round grade on him.

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