2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook: Identifying the next cornerback anomaly

This week's PFN Scouting Notebook studies the 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class and the attempts to find the next Tariq Woolen.

The 2023 NFL Draft will be here before we know it as we’re already into Week 5 of the college football season. Pro Football Network’s Scouting Notebook returns with a look at the process behind finding the next anomaly at the cornerback position. As the demands of the position have rapidly changed, who could be the next standout rookie we didn’t see coming?

2023 NFL Draft: Identifying the next CB anomaly

Oliver Hodgkinson: The Seattle Seahawks were the originators of anomalous cornerbacks. Led by Richard Sherman, the Legion of Boom were a secondary unlike any other, with tall, long, physical cornerbacks flying in the face of convention at the position.

Several years later, and the same team drafted one of the freakiest, most unconventional cornerback prospects that we’ve ever seen in UTSA’s Tariq Woolen. Have the Seahawks reinvented the position once again? In five years’ time, will size and freak-athlete mismatches like Wilson be the norm in the NFL? If so, is there a similarly anomalous cornerback prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft? In this week’s scouting notebook, we try and answer that question.

Before diving into some potential 2023 NFL Draft prospects to fill that role, it’s worth revisiting exactly why Woolen was such a unique prospect in the previous cycle. The former UTSA standout was a difficult evaluation, a former wide receiver who transitioned to the cornerback position relatively late in his college career.

His technical inexperience was evident in his tape, although the development was clear as he gained experience at the position. What was undeniable on Woolen’s tape was the freak athleticism that had been widely reported by multiple sources, including Bruce Feldman in his annual “Feldman’s Freaks” list.

That athleticism was emphatically confirmed at the NFL Combine where Woolen registered testing times that shouldn’t be possible for an athlete of his size. His 42” vertical was head and shoulders above any other CB prospect on show in Indianapolis. His 4.26-second 40-yard dash was incomprehensible. The NFL’s annual testing event also provided official measurements for arm length and wingspan, confirming that Woolen was essentially created in a laboratory, designed for ultimate performance and mismatch nightmares.

So, early in this 2023 NFL Draft cycle, are there any cornerbacks even remotely approaching Woolen’s freakish profile?

Julius Brents, Kansas State

A former defensive back for Iowa, Julius Brents transferred to Kansas State ahead of the 2021 college football season and has been patrolling the Wildcats’ secondary as an impactful playmaker for the past two years. From a sheer size perspective, Brents is the closest thing to Woolen in this 2023 NFL Draft class. Standing at 6’4” and 202 pounds, the Kansas State cornerback has a reported 33 ⅞” arm measurement with a 6’10” wingspan.

Brents also boasts some impressive athleticism, with a high school 39” vertical that would have ranked him just behind Woolen at the 2022 NFL Combine. Additionally, Brents posted an impressive 4.26 shuttle run, but he lacks the straight-line speed that headlined the former UTSA CB’s athletic profile. Importantly as it pertains to next-level potential, Brents is a twitchy athlete who is explosive out of his breaks and possesses impressive hip fluidity.

Like Woolen, the negative elements of his scouting report are coachable, and as such, he could garner similar attention in the 2023 NFL Draft class.

Lance Boykin, Coastal Carolina

The Chanticleers have multiple cornerback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft class, with D’Jordan Strong attracting some attention in the previous class. However, it’s teammate Lance Boykin who could prove alluring for a team looking for a pure size mismatch.

The 6’3”, 200-pounder began his college career with Old Dominion, but it’s his performances for Coastal Carolina that sees him on the Shrine Bowl 1000 watchlist. Boykin is a former high school running back who might lack the top-end speed of Woolen but can still scoot. Meanwhile, he has good length with reported 32” arms that seem longer when he goes into battle at the catch point. That’s perhaps the result of the physicality with which he plays the CB position, both in coverage and against the run.

Ameer Speed, Michigan State

Ameer Speed was a big-time recruit for the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2017 class. After four years in Athens, however, he’s spending his final season in college football with the Michigan State Spartans.

Box-score scouts won’t be impressed by the former four-star prospect, as he’s barely contributed any statistical production across his five seasons. However, there’s plenty of alluring, freak-like athletic traits that could help Speed garner some attention in the 2023 NFL Draft.

At 6’3” and 211 pounds, the Michigan State man is a big-bodied cornerback with impressive length — he reportedly has 33” arms. Although his high school 40-yard dash won’t raise any eyebrows, Speed has a recorded 10.7-second 100m time from high school that is extremely impressive for his size. You can see that speed at work on film. Meanwhile, Michigan State coaches rave about Speed’s football intelligence that proves invaluable when projecting college talent to the NFL.

Miles Battle, Ole Miss

Like Woolen was at UTSA, Miles Battle is a WR to CB convert who combines extraordinary size with impressive athletic tendencies. The 6’4”, 205-pound playmaker has been impressively productive since making the positional switch. He’s credited with breaking up eight passes last season while snagging an interception both last year and early in this season.

With 33 ¼ arms, Battle is one of the longest cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Furthermore, he’s one of the most impressive vertical athletes, with a high school vertical jump of 37.2” confirming what is apparent on tape. His on-field speed and fluidity of backpedaling are more impressive than his high school 40-yard-dash time or projected performance at the NFL Combine.

Myles Jones, Texas A&M

After suffering a season-ending injury in 2021, Myles Jones has become something of an afterthought in the 2023 NFL Draft class. However, the 6’3”, 185-pound Texas A&M CB has the size to be an impactful playmaker at the NFL level.

He’s also blessed with excellent relative length with a reported 33 ⅛” arm measurement. Jones had a sub-4.5-second 40-yard-dash time and has the speed to carry down the field. More impressive is his short-level explosion, with the ability to close with ludicrous speed. Jones looked a little rusty in his return to the field this fall, but he should have plenty of opportunities to reassert himself in this class down the stretch of the season.

Cam Hart, Notre Dame

If you’re looking for a cornerback prospect to blow everyone else out of the water at the 2023 NFL Combine, Notre Dame’s Cam Hart could well be that man. Appearing on Feldman’s Freaks list this summer, Hart reportedly has insane testing potential. A vertical jump of 38” is up there with the best in the nation. An 11’2” broad jump would have led all cornerbacks at the previous combine installment in Indianapolis.

Hart has also reportedly hit 21.7 mph by GPS timing, something that should be considered more important than any 40-yard-dash measurement. He’s another WR convert who possesses excellent length and ball skills.

Other potential anomalous CB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

  • Ro Torrence, Arizona State
  • Myles Sims, Georgia Tech
  • Tre Hawkins III, Old Dominion
  • Khyree Jackson, Alabama
  • Elijah Clark, Temple
  • Ryan Watts, Texas
  • Cory Trice, Purdue
  • Jamari Brown, Purdue
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