Statistically, cornerback is a highly volatile position year over year. While that makes it difficult to evaluate corners for the NFL draft, the truly elite separate themselves with consistent tape. Does Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez’s 2023 NFL Draft scouting report fall into that bucket?
Christian Gonzalez NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Oregon
- Current Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’1″, 197 pounds
- Arm Length: 32″
- Hand Size: 9 1/2″
Athleticism pours through the Gonzalez bloodline. Christian’s father played college basketball at UTEP and semiprofessionally in Columbia. His two older sisters ran track and were All-Americans in the 400 hurdles and 4×400 relay. So it’s no surprise Gonzalez is a gifted athlete as well.
As a defensive back in high school, Gonzalez racked up 46 tackles, 17 pass breakups, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. While those numbers are nothing to scoff at, he was even more productive as an offensive and special-teams weapon. Across his final two seasons, Gonzalez recorded 1,394 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns, including 65 receptions for 956 yards and 12 scores.
Gonzalez garnered back-to-back first-team All-District honors and even ran track as a senior, hitting a personal best of 21.6 seconds in the 200m at the Texas State Championships. 247Sports rated the dual-threat playmaker as a four-star prospect and a top-50 recruit in Texas.
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With 30+ offers on the table, featuring Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, Gonzalez committed to Purdue. However, he ultimately flipped to Colorado. In two seasons with the Buffaloes, Gonzalez generated 10 PBUs — but most impressive was his tape.
NFL DB factory Oregon courted him in the transfer portal, and with former Georgia DC Dan Lanning taking over as head coach, the Ducks earned Gonzalez’s services for the 2022 season. In one season, he paced his Colorado tenure, snatching four interceptions and breaking up seven more passes.
Lanning had this to say about his No. 1 CB last offseason: “Competitive toughness. The guy plays hard. He competes regardless of drill. Very coachable. Doesn’t say a lot, but does his job consistently.”
Christian Gonzalez Scouting Report
Gonzalez already received some draft hype in the summer. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman named him to his Freaks List, stating that he hit 23.3 mph on the GPS, jumped 42 inches in the vertical, and power-cleaned 325 pounds.
Those numbers checked out at the NFL Combine, where Gonzalez lit up the results: 4.38 40-yard dash (seventh among CBs), 41.5″ vertical (tied second), and 11’1″ broad (fifth). But the Oregon CB is more than just an athletic marvel.
Where Gonzalez Wins
At 6’1″ and nearly 200 pounds, Gonzalez moves extremely well. He remains low in his stance throughout routes and has no issue carrying receivers vertically. He has the long-strider speed to blanket WRs downfield with the burst to close when the ball is in the air.
Although Gonzalez’s transitions can be a little clunky at times — more on that later — he’s relatively smooth in and out of breaks. Additionally, he’s flashed an excellent speed turn when pivoting upfield. Aiding in his movement skills are rapid feet that never cease.
Gonzalez’s foot speed allows him to recover after initially getting a step behind a receiver. If he opens to one side of the field and the receiver goes the opposite way, he quickly opens his hips and explodes, needing no more than three steps to reach his top speed.
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The Oregon CB is patient with both his eyes and feet, maintaining leverage on the opposition throughout reps. He doesn’t panic when making mistakes and won’t overcorrect. Gonzalez knows when to shuffle step, cross over his feet, or utilize a kick step to gain maximum acceleration upfield. This helps keep him stay in phase with the receiver and mirror movements at the line of scrimmage.
In zone, Gonzalez has showcased impressive awareness of potential threats while keeping an eye on the QB. He has the instinct to float to different areas once he realizes no opponent is entering his zone. With his innate athleticism, speed, and length, Gonzalez narrows throwing windows and makes it difficult for WRs to generate separation.
Gonzalez naturally fits into Cover 3-heavy systems with his tools and collegiate utilization. But he also has the smothering length and fluidity to play man coverage with regularity. The scary part of Gonzalez’s scouting report? He’s only played cornerback full-time for three years.
Gonzalez’s Areas for Improvement
With that relative inexperience comes some growing pains. Gonzelez recorded his first collegiate interception two weeks into his third season as a starter. He’s not a natural ball hawk who can steal positions for your team with any regularity. However, the Oregon CB also doesn’t take unnecessary risks, as he conceded just one 40+ yard reception in his career.
Gonzalez’s lack of picks stems from an inconsistency in locating the ball in the air. There are many reps where he simply never looks back for the ball, opting to play the receiver instead. He must grow trust in using his hands as his eyes on his opponent so he can make a play on the ball.
Similarly, I’d like to see Gonzalez improve his play strength and aggression. Not just in attacking the ball midair but stunning WRs at the line and playing bully ball throughout the route. Gonzalez has the frame to add muscle and control his opponents, and he showcased growth in this area throughout last season.
Now, while I want Gonzalez to play with more aggression, it has to be controlled. There are times when he gets too handsy along the route, which will lead to penalties — it already led to a few in his first two years.
Gonzalez’s speed and athleticism are his calling cards, but he isn’t infallible here. His long legs naturally lead to some stiff transitions, especially when his pad level raises. Technique-wise, Gonzalez must watch the receiver’s hips over his upper body in man. Wide receivers can feign intent by selling fakes with their shoulders and head. Yet, as Shakira said, hips don’t lie, as that’s where rotation occurs to snap into and out of routes.
This is a bit of a nitpick, but when in press, I prefer CBs shooting with one hand instead of two. Using two often leads to the receiver gaining a step, especially if the CB can’t land an accurate strike inside the chest plate. Gonzalez makes up for his inaccurate hand strikes and two-handed presses with his acceleration, but in the NFL, every inch matters.
Lastly, as a run defender, the Oregon CB can overpursue angles, short-arm tackle, and take too long to recognize the play. The play recognition issue is due to his tendency to keep his eyes on the WR without ever looking back to the field. Gonzalez’s short-arm attempts led to some whiffs, although he largely showed no hesitation in laying his body on the line.
Overall, most of Gonzalez’s areas of improvement are coachable. If he consistently plays to his physical traits, there are few CBs in the 2023 NFL Draft that can match his ceiling.
Current Draft Projection for Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
Gonzalez is the next man off the Oregon DB conveyor belt that includes recent names such as Mykael Wright, Verone McKinley III, Thomas Graham Jr., and Deommodore Lenoir. However, Gonzalez should be the first Ducks DB selected in the first round since 1996 (Alex Molden).
Simply put, his size/speed combination will see him selected high in the 2023 NFL Draft — the top 10 should not be out of the question. That’s exactly where ESPN’s Todd McShay had Gonzalez going in his March 7 mock draft, landing with the Detroit Lions at sixth overall:
“At 6-1 and 197 pounds, Gonzalez confirmed the speed and explosion we saw on tape during the Combine. He posted a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 41.5 inches in the vertical and 11-foot-1 in the broad. And with four interceptions in 2022, he can make plays on the ball.”
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Cornerbacks with length and speed are highly valued in the NFL — how the Jets’ Sauce Gardner and Seahawks’ Tariq Woolen performed as rookies will only ensure the trend continues.
While Gonzalez’s 2023 NFL Draft scouting report is not spotless, he’s already cemented himself as a first-round talent. Despite my lean toward Devon Witherspoon as the top CB in the class, Gonzalez’s physical traits will likely vault him up to the CB1 mantle in the NFL’s eyes.