Top cornerbacks on the Shrine Bowl 1000: Kyu Blu Kelly, Mekhi Garner present upside

Prospects like Kyu Blu Kelly and Mekhi Garner lead the group of top 2023 cornerbacks on the Shrine Bowl 1000, but who else is there?

The East-West Shrine Bowl has outlined its Shrine Bowl 1000. We’re still very early in the 2023 NFL Draft process. But the Shrine Bowl has already presented its first watch list, spanning across all positions and naming hundreds of rising stars on the CFB landscape. Today, we’ll take a look at the cornerbacks on the list.

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Who are the top cornerbacks on the Shrine Bowl 1000 list?

The Shrine Bowl 1000 draws its cornerback talent from all corners of the Power Five landscape, as well as Group of Five titans like Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina. It’s important to note that not every draft-eligible player was available for the watch list. To make the list, certain criteria must be met in terms of academic standing, class level, and other factors.

Nehemiah Pritchett, Auburn

The Auburn Tigers produced an early-round cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle in Roger McCreary. There’s a chance they could have another in 2023 with Nehemiah Pritchett. Currently ranked as the seventh overall CB in the MDS, Pritchett is our top cornerback on the Shrine Bowl 1000. With Pritchett, the upside is what’s most enticing. There’s still room for him to get stronger and refine his technique, but he’s a great athlete with speed and fluidity at 6’1″, and he’s shown he can impact the catch process.

Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU

He won’t wow anyone with his stature, but Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson makes a big impact every time he hits the field for the Horned Frogs at TCU. The nephew of LaDainian Tomlinson, Tre’Vius has some of his uncle’s dynamic athleticism. He’s a supremely explosive and twitchy defensive back who can blanket receivers and pester them like a gnat. And as evidenced by his two picks and 20 deflections over the past two seasons, Hodges-Tomlinson can absolutely convert at the catch point.

Mekhi Garner, LSU

Mekhi Garner is an incredibly unique cornerback prospect, listed at 6’2″, 215 pounds. He certainly looks the part on tape. His frame is more than long but also incredibly dense, and that play strength enables him to be a constant disruptor against both the pass and the run. Garner is built for run support but has also shown he has the smooth athleticism to track receivers downfield and compete at the catch point. An athlete with an enforcer’s skill set, Garner can win over NFL coaches with a strong season at LSU.

Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford

Just a couple of cycles after elevating Paulson Adebo to the NFL, the Stanford Cardinal have another cornerback prospect on the way in Kyu Blu Kelly. It’s clear that Stanford has a mold at cornerback. Like Adebo, Kelly is long, athletic, and a natural playmaker at the catch point. He shows off an incredible sense of timing and coordination, and his length can be tough for receivers to fight through. He’s not the most fluid, but he’s explosive, energetic, and plays low in his stance. He has early-round upside in 2023.

Tiawan Mullen, Indiana

Tiawan Mullen first broke onto the scene with a 13-deflection campaign in 2019. The stats have been less eye-catching in recent years, but Mullen is the same talent. And there will be NFL teams fond of his professional projection. Size isn’t a calling card of Mullen’s. He’s listed at 5’10”, and likely even shorter. But he’s fast and fluid, with urgent footwork and a knack for finding his way to the football. He may project into the slot, but he has the natural coverage tools to find a role.

Tykee Smith, Georgia

An injury unfortunately rendered Tykee Smith unavailable for most of his first season with the Georgia Bulldogs. Looking back, it’s tantalizing to think about what Smith could have done in the 2021 Georgia defense. But now, Smith is back, and he’s once again a 2023 NFL Draft prospect to watch. When he was at West Virginia, Smith made a name for himself as a versatile, dynamic defender. Especially in the slot, his closing speed allowed him to lock down routes, and his physicality jarred receivers at the point.

Riley Moss, Iowa

In a prolific Iowa secondary, Riley Moss managed to stand out as a premier playmaker in 2021. After flashing for several seasons beforehand, Moss put together his best campaign yet, logging four interceptions and five pass deflections. The 15th-ranked cornerback in the MDS, Moss is a representation of what should be another deep CB group in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6’1″, he offers good size and uses that size, in tandem with his closing burst, to generate momentum-changing plays.

Al Walcott, Baylor

Projected to be the top cornerback on Dave Aranda’s defense, Al Walcott will have NFL eyes on him this season. He’s the 16th-ranked cornerback in the MDS and one of the more intriguing inclusions on the Shrine Bowl 1000. Walcott joins Garner in a rare mold, listed at 6’2″, 211 pounds. Long and strong, but with solid athleticism and long speed, Walcott has the necessary physical tools to impose himself on receivers. He needs to seek more efficiency in his technique, but his foundational traits bring excitement.

Arquon Bush, Cincinnati

In a way, it’s astounding that the Cincinnati Bearcats lost three impact starters in the secondary and still present a threat to opposing teams. Cornerback Arquon Bush is a large part of that. Bush has been quietly productive in the slot over the past few seasons, putting up seven picks and 16 deflections alongside Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant. Now, with those two departing, Bush likely moves to the boundary. Bush has good closing speed, as well as tenacious physicality in contact situations, and his versatility just sweetens the pot.

D’Jordan Strong, Coastal Carolina

A common thread you’ll see with many of the top cornerbacks on the Shrine Bowl 1000 is playmaking ability. Ultimately, as a cornerback, you have to not only position yourself effectively but also convert when the ball comes your way. D’Jordan Strong is another CB the Shrine Bowl has determined checks these boxes. Though he’s a bit undersized, Strong is visibly explosive. He closes on passes quickly and can extend beyond his frame to disrupt and produce turnovers. He’s also aggressive in run support and plays up in size.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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