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 expectation is for the Washington Commanders to take a cornerback in Round 1.
Considering that Commanders head coach Ron Rivera has found quality CB play well outside of the first round throughout his career, the team doesn’t have to force the pick at No. 16. We dive into the best cornerback options for the Commanders throughout the draft.
Best Cornerback Fits for Commanders in the 2023 NFL Draft
Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
It’s been interesting to see several other cornerbacks see their stock rise throughout the 2023 offseason while Joey Porter Jr. has stalled as a mid-to-late first-rounder. With the NFL embracing more zone coverages and accepting that most defenders can’t guard the shiftier receivers one-on-one, long corners who win with strength like Porter should be pushed up. The lone knock on him is his lack of elite ball production.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Considering Rivera’s experience getting the most out of Quinton Dunbar, a similarly physical player who had a brief but high peak before injuries, Porter would be a higher-ceiling version for the Commanders. Porter’s an excellent cover corner who can lock down one side of the field with his excellent technique and patience.
Cam Smith, South Carolina
Some of Washington’s decision has to come down to stylistic preference they want from their next starting corner. Rivera expressed he “feels good” about 2021 third-rounder Benjamin St-Juste, and veteran cornerback Kendall Fuller was named defensive captain in 2022. Fuller’s previously been a star in the slot but has been solid outside as well.
If Fuller is moving back inside, then an outside cornerback like Cam Smith would work. Unlike Porter, who wins at the line of scrimmage, Smith maximizes his effectiveness when he has his eyes on both the receiver and quarterback. He’d give Rivera someone more likely to produce interceptions but isn’t quite the dominant athlete who can reliably win in man assignments.
Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
In terms of production on the field, Emmanuel Forbes should be a first-round pick. He might be regardless of his unprecedented weight. For as much grief as Bryce Young has heard about his stature, Forbes’ 166-pound frame is alarming.
Forbes said, “Teams just try to knock me for my weight,” but they’d be “making a mistake” to not draft him because he’s light. It’s hard to argue, considering he notched 14 interceptions, 20 pass breakups, and six defensive touchdowns in his career. That type of playmaking is rare, and Washington could transform their defense if he can overcome his lack of bulk and still produce in the NFL.
Julius Brents, Kansas State
If Washington doesn’t want to invest a first-rounder into the position but still wants a physical presence like prime-Josh Norman to build around, then Julius Brents can be the answer. The massive 6’4″ Kansas State defender saw limited time on the field until transferring from Iowa after 2020, but he was effective in his senior season. With Tariq Woolen producing for Seattle after having a similar résumé to Brents, it’s likely Brents is pushed up draft boards.
His immense wingspan and ability to jam at the line help overcome any concerns of being tight in the hips or lacking deep speed. He produced four interceptions in 2022, coming into his own as a defender. Rivera should love the idea of molding Brents into a chess piece.
Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford
The son of former Buccaneers cornerback Brian Kelly, Kyu Blu Kelly has the traits needed to be a solid starter in the NFL. He played all four seasons at Stanford, producing two All-Pac 12 accolades. There’s little question he’s athletic and experienced enough to make an early impact for Washington, as he’s an explosive and long defender.
Despite his gifts, Kelly only forced three interceptions and 23 pass breakups in four seasons. He’s not a ballhawk and is more capable of making receivers uncomfortable than finding a route to stardom. For a later Day 2 or early Day 3 pick, though, that’s a reasonably good return.
Alex Austin, Oregon State
There hasn’t been quite enough buzz around Oregon State’s Alex Austin. The 6’1″, 192-pounder developed in a linear manner throughout his career, notching four interceptions and 17 pass breakups over his last two years. Considering he’s also an active run defender, Austin could be a big steal from this class.
The biggest positive Austin has on film is his short-area explosiveness and twitch when changing directions. He has all of the physical tools needed to be a good starter early in his career. To get the most out of him, Washington will want to improve his route recognition and his use of hands throughout the coverage.
Eli Ricks, Alabama
There’s always a certain level of competence a team gets when drafting an Alabama player. Eli Ricks is a long-limbed outside cornerback with solid physical traits. After notching four interceptions at LSU in 2020, he played sparingly in 2021 and again in 2022 after transferring to Alabama.
Though the pedigree is there for Ricks to be excellent, he has to prove it on the field in the NFL. Washington can offer some level of patience to bring Ricks around in a rotational role, especially if they bolster the safety position earlier in the draft.
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