Should the Raiders Take a Top-10 Cornerback? Why Christian Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon, Not Joey Porter Jr., Make Sense

    Which cornerbacks are worth the Raiders' top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft? We discuss whether Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr., and others are good fits.

    Should the Raiders Take a Top-10 Cornerback? Why Christian Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon, Not Joey Porter Jr., Make Sense

    The 2023 NFL Draft offers teams the chance to overhaul the entire franchise’s direction in a three-day period. Some teams heavily chase star talent regardless of their needs, whereas others want to check off their most pressing holes. Based on how users are drafting in the PFN Mock Draft Simulator, the Las Vegas Raiders are as likely to take a cornerback as any other position in the first round.

    Of course, the Raiders could trade up for a quarterback and completely ruin what we think we know. They recently hosted Alabama quarterback Bryce Young for a top-30 visit, so anything is possible. However, if the board falls somewhat expectedly, the Raiders may be choosing between Will Levis and a top cornerback.

    Let’s dive into how the three commonly projected cornerbacks fit Patrick Graham’s defense and whether they’re deserving of their first-round pick, including Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, and Joey Porter Jr.

    Christian Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon Fit Raiders

    It might not be a shocking statement that the top two corners on the PFN consensus big board are the right fits for the Raiders. However, it’s not just about talent and whether Gonzalez and Witherspoon are good enough to warrant the picks. Just in terms of raw traits and overall skill, there are at least four cornerbacks who can make the argument to be considered with the Raiders’ first pick.

    However, the key to getting the most out of any cornerback is marrying their skill set with the scheme. Graham has talked extensively about what he looks for in defenders and how he wants to build his defense, noting the ability to create an “illusion of complexity.” It’s less about base alignment and more about having individuals who can fill a variety of roles and execute techniques.

    He’s shown the ability to squeeze top production from a variety of corners who play different styles, including James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson. However, he at least needs players who can handle deep third zones. Las Vegas Review-Journal Raiders insider Vinny Bonsignore explained that football intelligence is the main trait Graham desires so he can have a unit “that can execute at the highest level.”

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    Gonzalez has exploded to the top of the crop because he checks every box. At 6’1″, 197 pounds, and with blazing 4.38 speed, he has the physical prowess to be a lockdown cornerback in man-heavy schemes. Even if Graham favors zone looks, being able to run man assignments will always be important.

    The Ducks star produced well in his lone season at Oregon, with 50 tackles, four interceptions, and seven pass breakups. He’s active in run support and should continue to improve after playing in only 30 collegiate games between Colorado and Oregon. His ability to adapt to a variety of coverage calls highlights his football IQ, and he has the elite traits to maximize his instincts.

    Witherspoon is a little less physically capable, considering his slight 180-pound frame, but he’s still a stellar off-ball prospect. Finishing his career with 157 tackles, five interceptions, and 25 pass breakups, Witherspoon is much like Jackson. He’s a playmaker who plays with physicality and a fast mental processor.

    Joey Porter Jr., Kelee Ringo Not Worth Raiders’ Top-10 Pick

    Having Porter and Kelee Ringo as poor fits with the Raiders has nothing to do with their football intelligence, as both players have fantastic résumés in that department. Porter, the son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter Sr., plays with the type of tenacity and polish you’d expect from an NFL player’s son. Ringo starred at Georgia in Kirby Smart’s defense, which calls for similar demands to what Graham looks for.

    “We recruit based on talent and instinct and character,” Smart said. Ringo described being able to take “tough love” from Smart and understanding the importance of accepting selflessness in game-planning. That’s the mindset Graham should love.

    However, both Porter and Ringo fail the versatility test. While Ringo and Porter can certainly play in Cover 3 schemes and are more likely than not to be drafted by a unit that favors the zone approach because of their length, it’s their struggles against man coverage that Graham may not like.

    MORE: 2023 NFL Draft CB Class

    Porter was a demonstratively better player in man than zone in 2022, allowing only 7.8 yards per reception and a 47.5% reception rate on 19 targets. In zone, he gave up 12.2 yards per reception on nine targets. I think he’s a great player, but it’s concerning he was worse in the style more suited for his skills, and he also had 13 penalties committed over the last two years.

    Ringo is also coming off a good season that left some room for improvement. After allowing 24 receptions on 59 targets in 2021, he gave up 41 catches on 77 targets in 2022. Defenses found more success against him despite another year of experience, which has knocked him down boards into the late-first or early-second-round range.

    While the Raiders should consider either if they were to trade down and recoup more assets, forcing one at No. 7 wouldn’t be the best way to maximize the asset and opportunity. This defense wants to be versatile, so drafting players who win one way won’t work.

    Ian Valentino is a Fantasy and Betting Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Ian’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy.

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