The 2022 cornerback class was good. Very good. But could the 2023 NFL Draft CB class be even better? It will take a lot of talent to match up with emerging NFL stars like Sauce Gardner and Tariq Woolen. But the 2023 class might just have the prospects to put up a fight.
Top 10 CBs in the 2023 NFL Draft
10) Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri
Kris Abrams-Draine doesn’t always get the name recognition that other CB prospects receive. But he’s right in the mix in the 2023 NFL Draft class. PFN’s own Tony Pauline has said that Abrams-Draine could be a top-60 pick next April and that NFL decision-makers are incredibly high on the Missouri CB’s natural talent.
Dive into Abrams-Draine’s profile, and it doesn’t take long to see that he has the goods. Over the past two seasons, Abrams-Draine has amassed three interceptions and 18 total pass deflections, with 11 coming this season.
At around 5’11”, 179 pounds, Abrams-Draine is noticeably light. But his high-end playmaking ability counters well. Not only is he incredibly instinctive at the catch point as a former WR, but he also has the explosiveness, quick processing, and short-area twitch to stick to WRs in man and hawk on passes in zone.
9) Garrett Williams, Syracuse
It remains to be seen whether Garrett Williams will declare or not after tearing his ACL just seven games into the 2022 season. The injury is a definite blow for Williams and could affect testing if he declares. But it doesn’t change what’s on the tape already — and that tape speaks heavily in Williams’ favor.
There are still areas where the fourth-year junior can improve. At times, he can seek more control with his technique and more precision at the catch point against refined receiving threats. But with Williams, there’s a multi-phase impact present that not many CBs can match.
Despite issues with precision, Williams is fairly natural at the catch point, and he always plays the ball through the catch process. He’s a physical and proactive playmaker with excellent vertical and horizontal explosiveness, and he also offers stark tenacity and closing speed coming downhill as a run-support defender.
8) Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
Several cornerback prospects have effectively used the 2022 campaign to ascend up the ranks in the 2023 NFL Draft. But few have done more to raise their stock than Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, who’s the headlining member of a near-elite Illini secondary.
Nine games into the 2022 season, Witherspoon has produced at an exceptional clip, with 27 tackles, a tackle for loss, a pick, and 11 pass deflections to this point. Already, he’s eclipsed the career-high of nine deflections he set in 2021.
At 6’0″ and 180 pounds at most, size will be a recurring question mark for Witherspoon. Can he add weight and hold up at the NFL level? Players with his combined playmaking instincts and tenacity in run support don’t come around often, and he also has the versatility to play on the boundary or in the slot.
7) Eli Ricks, Alabama
It’s been a roller coaster year for Eli Ricks‘ 2023 NFL Draft stock. The former five-star recruit transferred to Alabama after a down 2021 season at LSU. Then he failed to win a starting job with the Crimson Tide, and barely played on defense through the first half of the 2022 campaign.
In recent weeks, however, things have been picking up quick for Ricks. He earned his first start at Alabama against Mississippi State in late October, and responded with a dominant four-deflection performance, locking down WRs left and right. Then he performed admirably in a loss to LSU, showing improved technique, fluidity, and impressive flashes of awareness in zone.
Ricks still has lapses with reaction quickness, and he quite doesn’t have the elite speed to recover at times. But the 6’2″ cornerback still remains an incredibly physical and prolific playmaker at the catch point, and his improved technique and efficiency is a sign that he’s putting things together, and taking steps toward his first-round ceiling.
6) Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
There are a lot of high-quality playmakers in the 2023 NFL Draft CB class. But none have been more productive at the catch point over the past three seasons than Mississippi State star Emmanuel Forbes.
Across a three-year stretch with the Bulldogs, Forbes has compiled 13 career interceptions and 16 career pass deflections — a whopping 29 total plays on the ball. This season, through just eight games, Forbes has matched career-highs in both categories with five picks and six deflections, simply reaffirming his elite ball skills to evaluators.
Forbes absolutely excels at elevating and timing his attacks at the catch point. But his ball production is also a byproduct of the sticky, high-energy athleticism he has a 6’0″, 180 pounds. With his size, he can be flushed out in run support at times, but it’s hard to mimic the kind of coverage and turnover-generating upside he has.
5) Cam Smith, South Carolina
Compared to top-end talents like Gonzalez and Ringo, Cam Smith comes off as a bit unspectacular in the 2023 NFL Draft CB class. But there’s still a place for Smith in the top five, because Smith has a play style that’s incredibly translatable to the NFL.
It’s important not to diminish the tools that Smith has in his arsenal. He has good length at 6’1″, 187 pounds, and he’s a fairly explosive athlete with good foot speed, good fluidity, and enough top-end range to carry receivers upfield.
Also appealing with Smith is his dual-sided playmaking ability. He reliably gets his head around in coverage to make deflections, and he comes downhill with a ton of heat in run support, eagerly combating blocks and engaging lateral plays. Smith’s well-rounded profile, combined with his competitive fire, is sure to earn him fans in April.
4) Clark Phillips III, Utah
Putting Clark Phillips III at four on this list feels like a slight to the Utah standout. It’s more of a nod to the high-level talent that remains on the list, but there’s a reasonable scenario where Phillips is two, or even three, spots higher. This top group is too close to call, and Phillips might have the most security as a high-level NFL CB.
Where Phillips falls short against his competition is his size. At 5’10”, 191 pounds, with middling length, he rarely matches up against larger receivers, and there have been questions about his versatility beyond the slot.
Nevertheless, Phillips has shown in 2022 that he can lock down receivers large and small, in the slot or on the boundary. The five interceptions are mere confirmation of Phillips’ tools. He’s an elite short-area athlete with torrid explosiveness, zealous play speed and processing, and a chippy competitive energy that truly makes him different.
3) Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Christian Gonzalez entered the 2022 campaign as the wild card in the 2023 NFL Draft, after transferring from Colorado to Oregon. Now, nearly all the way through the regular season, we can comfortably say that he’s taken the next step, and is now a bonafide first-round prospect in the 2023 class.
Through nine games with the Ducks, Gonzalez has three interceptions and seven pass deflections, to go along with 34 tackles and a TFL. He’s coming off a career-best game against his former team, in which he nabbed two interceptions.
Gonzalez is a quantifiably elite athlete at 6’2″, 200 pounds. In fact, he was documented on Feldman’s Freaks with a 42″ vertical and an absurd max speed of 23.3 MPH. On tape, Gonzalez effectively uses those tools as a revenant who constantly haunts opposing QBs. He’s explosive, fluid, fast, and long, but also quick to diagnose, and if your eyes linger for a moment, you’ll be sorry.
Even for his size, Gonzalez can stand to be more physical in man coverage. But Gonzalez has the elite explosiveness and speed to keep rising if he continues to produce. It’s not brash to say he could be a CB1 candidate when it’s all said and done.
2) Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Perhaps no 2023 NFL Draft cornerback prospect made a stronger first impression in 2022 than Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. In his team’s first game of the season against Purdue, Porter was a one-man no-fly zone. Purdue stubbornly kept testing him, and Porter made them pay each time, with six pass deflections on the day.
Porter’s dominant season-opening performance was a masterclass of technique, physicality, and natural playmaking instincts. And that performance has since dissuaded teams from testing Porter entirely.
At 6’2″, 195 pounds, with near-elite length at the position, Porter is naturally very hard to test. His length allows him to blanket receivers and effortlessly obstruct passing lanes, but he also has the disciplined technique and smooth fluidity to match and carry off the line.
1) Kelee Ringo, Georgia
The NFL has always been and continues to be a traits-based game. There are other important things besides talent, but the main goal for evaluators is always getting as much talent as possible in one room. And in a 2023 class ruled by talent, Kelee Ringo has perhaps the most complete skill set.
At 6’2″, 210 pounds, Ringo has length and an incredibly strong frame. With a 10.43 100-meter dash on his record, he’s proven he has the speed to suffocate deep routes. And in spite of his unnatural size, he’s proven he can freely accelerate and decelerate, as well as transition in space with fluid hips.
Even this far into the 2022 season, Ringo is still more talent than technician. But each week brings more and more growth. Against Tennessee, he notched his first interception of the season — a textbook rep on which he matched with patience, jammed the WR against the boundary with his length, and effortlessly corralled a lofted deep pass.
Simply put, few cornerbacks have the size, speed, freedom of motion, and physicality that Ringo has. And it’s a combination that will make NFL coaches salivate at the chance to unlock an astronomical ceiling.
- Tony Grimes, North Carolina
- Cory Trice, Purdue
- Tyrique Stevenson, Miami (FL)
- Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford
- Mekhi Garner, LSU
- DJ Turner, Michigan
- Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M
- Myles Brooks, Louisiana Tech
- Arquon Bush, Cincinnati
- Ja’quan Sheppard, Cincinnati