NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 cornerback prospects

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Devon Witherspoon (31) celebrates a win against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the fourth quarter at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

• One of the deepest CB classes in recent memory: Even with 10 prospects listed below, there is still top-100 cornerbacks on PFF's draft board that didn't make the list.

Illinois' Devon Witherspoon takes the top spot: The feisty cornerback earned a 92.0 grade and didn't surrender a single touchdown in 2022. 

Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins

After a top-heavy cornerback class that turned out to be excellent in 2021, the 2022 version is littered with talent throughout the class. There are cornerbacks who ranked inside the top 100 on PFF's draft board who didn’t even make this list. It’s a good year to be in need of coverage help. Let's dive into the top prospects:

10. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU (Senior | 5-9, 180)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 76.0
  • Play Style: Off-Zone Playmaker
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

There isn't a more fluid corner in the draft class than Hodges-Tomlinson. His ability to thrive despite his small stature is especially impressive. Hodges-Tomlinson pairs legit 4.3-second speed with buttery smooth hips to be a constant nuisance to the receivers lined up across from him.

It’s why his career statistics are pretty insane. He’s allowed 72 receptions from 184 targets (39.1%) for 975 yards (5.2 yards per target) with five interceptions and 29 pass breakups. If there’s a worry with THT besides his size, it’s that he can be too feisty, as the TCU corner was flagged 14 times this past season.

9. Deonte Banks, Maryland (RS Junior | 6-2, 205)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 72.0
  • Play Style: Press-Zone Corner
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Banks is the first of many big corners on this list. And while most big corners are usually linear athletes on the outside, Banks has notable lateral agility for a corner his size. 

Banks doesn't take many gather steps when tasked with changing directions, and his agility shows up as a tackler as well. He can react to ball carriers changing directions, which is why he missed only one tackle on 36 attempts this past season. 

8. Garrett Williams, Syracuse (RS Junior | 6-0, 189)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 70.6
  • Play Style: Man/Match Corner
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Williams would likely land much higher on this list were it not for a torn ACL against Notre Dame that ended his season prematurely. He has tremendous feet that can mirror a wide receiver along the entire route tree. While he may have given up a few big plays this year, Williams was at the catch point for pretty much all of them.  

He was just stuck in a scheme that didn’t play to his strengths. Williams played 49-of-170 coverage snaps this past fall in man coverage — only 20 of which were in press. That’s going to take a massive leap next fall, as he’ll be coveted by man-heavy teams. 

7. Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State (Junior | 6-0, 180)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 87.2
  • Play Style: Route-Jumper
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

If there’s one thing you should know about Forbes, it’s that he’s going to get his hands on some footballs. He picked off 14 passes and broke up 17 more over three seasons as a starter for the Bulldogs. Six of those interceptions went back the other way for touchdowns! His performance improve by leaps and bounds every season, as he finished with a career-high 89.3 coverage grade this past fall.

He’s tremendous from an off-alignment, where his eyes can go to work. While only listed at 6-foot, Forbes has a much longer wingspan than you’d expect for a man that size, which is why he’s consistently able to make plays from behind receivers. He may never be a pure man-match corner, but those schemes are the minority in today’s NFL. 

6. Kelee Ringo, Georgia (RS Sophomore | 6-2, 215)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 71.4
  • Play Style: Size-Speed
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Ringo is a physical marvel. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, his makeup speed is nothing short of elite — and not just elite for a bigger corner but for all corners. He may very well run in the low 4.3’s when the combine rolls around — that speed showed up on tape in a number of ways.

The worry is that it still didn’t translate to him putting a cap on deep passes. In fact, Ringo allowed the most deep receptions this past season among cornerbacks in this top-10 (seven). He’s still more of a reactive cornerback and will have to go to a static coverage defense to take advantage of his skillset.

5. Eli Ricks, Alabama (Junior | 6-2, 190)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 69.9
  • Play Style: Octopus
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Ricks was a bit of a surprise declaration considering he made all of four starts this season due to a nagging back problem. The good news is that not only were those four starts stupendous but also, he’s been a starter since his freshman year at LSU in 2020. In his first season, he was a freshman All-American with four interceptions and four pass-breakups on only 28 targets. 

After a banged-up sophomore year, he transferred to Alabama, where he gave up almost nothing on 224 coverage snaps. His 19 targets resulted in only six catches for 77 yards, and he broke up five passes. He’s one of the lankiest corners you’ll see in the draft and that length presents a ton of problems for receivers in press coverage. He combines that length with smooth hips to transition to run down the field. Ricks is just a touch on the thin side for the position and lacks the long speed to be a top-of-the-draft cornerback.

4. Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (RS Junior | 6-2, 194)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 73.2
  • Play Style: Press Corner
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

You don’t need to watch too much more than the Ohio State games the past two years to figure out why Porter is getting first-round hype. Against a litany of first-round wide receivers, Porter allowed just 45 yards on 73 coverage snaps across the two games. He erased Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Marvin Harrison Jr. on a number of routes as well. 

3. Cam Smith, South Carolina (RS Junior | 6-0, 188)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 65.1
  • Play Style: Versatile, Instinctive Defensive Back
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Smith is what we in the scouting world affectionately refer to as a “football player.” He’s not a high draft pick because of what he’s going to do at the combine but rather due to the way he plays the game. The play below does a good job of encapsulating what I mean:

Smith can be productive from any alignment and in any role. This past season, he played 357 snaps on the outside and 196 from the slot, and he still only allowed 211 yards on 302 coverage snaps. 

Smith also possesses some of the best ball skills in the class with 16 pass-breakups and six interceptions on 94 career targets. He may not ever be among the elite at the position due to his athletic profile, but he’s a guy you want on your defense. 

2. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (Junior | 6-2, 201)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 81.2
  • Play Style: All-Around Outside CB
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Gonzalez is the kind of athlete who could have excelled no matter what sport he chose. He’s so smooth and graceful for a 6-foot-2, 201-pound corner that you almost forget just how big he is at times. His effortless ability to mirror wide receivers led to four interceptions and six pass breakups for the Ducks this past fall.

I love his coverage versatility. He’s a tremendous tackler who could excel in a zone scheme where he’s asked to come up and make plays in the flats. He missed only three of 61 tackle attempts this past fall. He also has the size to be a press-man corner when asked — that’s the kind of skill set that’s going to go very high come April.

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (Senior | 6-0, 180)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 92.0
  • Play Style: DOG
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Witherspoon may not have the size of others on this list, but none can hold a candle to his performance this past fall. Witherspoon brought it every single week for the Fighting Illini in a way we, quite frankly, have never seen before in our nine years of college grading. He was targeted 63 times but allowed just 22 catches for 206 yards with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Oh, and he didn’t allow a single touchdown all season. Those numbers were good for a 25.0 passer rating — worse than spiking the ball every play. 

And Witherspoon did it all while playing man coverage more often than any other cornerback in the draft class — 560 of the 738 defensive snaps Witherspoon played this past fall came with a man coverage call. Truly freaky stuff. Flip on the tape and you will see is a twitched-up corner who’s personally offended the receiver on the other side of the ball is trying to get open against him. 

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