Early 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings: Georgia's Kelee Ringo and Syracuse's Garrett Williams top the list

Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo (5) returns a interception for a touchdown Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, during the College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Syndication The Indianapolis Star

While the 2022 NFL draft cornerback class was top-heavy, the depth wasn’t anything special. That should change in 2023, as pairing this list down to 10 was no easy task.

Of course, the SEC is well represented here, but there are some players from schools not necessarily known for their cornerback talented represented as well.

Let's dive in.

1. Kelee Ringo, Georgia (RS Sophomore)

There’s no Derek Stingley Jr. or Sauce Gardner in this class yet, but Ringo comes battle-tested with a superb athletic skill set to project to the next level. He’s in the Jamel Dean or Caleb Farley mold, as Ringo is a size-speed demon. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound corner ran a laser-timed 4.35-second 40-yard dash back in high school at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge to win the “Fastest Man” competition. That shows up on tape, as he routinely presses receivers to the sideline and refuses to get stacked against vertical routes. He allowed only eight of his 31 targets to be caught for 211 yards on throws 10-plus yards downfield last season.

2. Garrett Williams, Syracuse (Junior)

Syracuse isn’t a cornerback powerhouse by any means, but the Orange have something special in Williams. He’s a twitched-up 6-foot, 190-pound corner who has some of the easiest movement skills in the draft class.

Even though he’s been stuck in a defense that doesn’t quite feature his strengths as much as it could, he’s still earned an above-average 72.9 coverage grade for his career. Williams has started since he was a true freshman, amassing 13 pass breakups in two seasons. 

Having said that, he does need to improve at the catch point, which is where he’s given up most of his downfield yardage throughout his career. 

3. Eli Ricks, Alabama (Junior)

Ricks has been one of the premier press cornerbacks in the country over his two seasons of college football. In his 227 press coverage snaps over his career, Ricks has allowed only six of his 21 targets to be caught for 121 yards while generating three interceptions and five forced incompletions. He’s exceptional at establishing contact and altering a receiver's route stems. 

The only worry is that he doesn’t have prototypical press-man coverage athleticism to go along with that production. He lacks the high-end explosiveness that evaluators like to see out of a CB1, but he can still be a No. 1 corner at the next level.

After two seasons at LSU, Ricks has a chance to make himself some serious money in Nick Saban’s defense. 

4. Cam Smith, South Carolina (RS Junior)

Smith doesn’t have the elite physical skill set that Jaycee Horn had before him at South Carolina or that others on this list possess, as Smith gets by with craftiness and football intelligence as much as anyone on this list.

He’s already mastered the art of initiating contact with receivers without drawing a flag, which is why he allowed only 15 of his 32 targets to be caught for 184 yards and a 36.5 passer rating in his first season as a starter in 2021. At 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, he can make up for some of his middling athletic tools with length and ball skills. 

5. Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri (RS Sophomore)

Abrams-Draine is the always intriguing receiver-to-cornerback convert. All the more intriguing is that he earned an 83.1 coverage grade while playing both in the slot and outside in his first season playing cornerback as a redshirt freshman last fall. He possesses some of the best change-of-direction ability in the class and unsurprisingly attacks the ball in the air like a…well…former wide receiver. 

One of the biggest worries about many receiver-turned-cornerbacks is the physicality aspect, but that didn’t show up whatsoever on tape for Abrams-Draine, as he missed only four tackles on 46 attempts last season.  

6. Noah Daniels, TCU (Sixth-Year Senior)

This ranking should come along with a hefty asterisk because, from a talent perspective, Daniels should rank higher on this list. However, from a health perspective, he should be off the list altogether. In five seasons with the Horned Frogs, he’s managed to play a grand total of 510 snaps and never more than 208 in a single year, as his injury list is almost difficult to keep track of at this point.

Still, he’s allowed only 18 of his 38 career targets to be caught for 293 yards. He is as fluid and explosive as any cornerback in the country. At this point, even a full healthy season isn’t getting rid of his injury red flags; however, a big year could still land him somewhere on Day 2 due to the league's thirst for talented man-coverage cornerbacks. 

7. Storm Duck, North Carolina (RS Junior)

The last time we saw the best name among college football cornerbacks fully healthy was back in 2019 when he was a true freshman. That year, he allowed only 25- of his 47 targets to be caught for 295 yards, which earned him an 81.3 coverage grade. Since then, he’s played only 436 snaps due to sustaining significant injuries in back-to-back seasons.

When on the field, though, Duck has the all-around blend of size and athleticism that’s unmistakable at the cornerback position, as it's the type of blend that all the best man-coverage cornerbacks possess at the next level. Duck still needs to get better about locating the football in the air, but his 50.6% career completion percentage allowed is indicative of his coverage skill.

8. Clark Phillips, Utah (Junior)

It seems like there’s a cornerback every year who lacks size but makes up for it with big-time skill. Last year, it was Houston’s Marcus Jones and the year before, it was Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Phillips has a good chance of becoming that player in 2023.

He’s uber-competitive and willing to stick his nose in the fight wherever it may be, as his 59 solo tackles last season were the 12th-most among all cornerbacks and seventh-most when isolating solely outside cornerbacks. While he may end up as a slot cornerback in the NFL, he has the skill and temperament to thrive there. 

9. Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (RS Junior)

Porter is one of the longest corners in the draft class at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, and you won’t find a cornerback who fared better against the Ohio State receiver triumvirate than Porter in 2021. In that game, he allowed only two of his four targets to be caught for 25 yards, as he shut down the Buckeye receivers at the line of scrimmage frequently throughout the game. Having said that, he’s not solely a press cornerback, as he’s displayed solid instincts from off-coverage as well. 

10. Tyrique Stevenson, Miami (FL) (RS Junior)

This final spot was hotly contested between Stevenson, TCU's Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, and Stanford's Kyu Blu Kelly. Stevenson gets the nod simply for what he could become at his size. It's difficult to find too many heavier cornerbacks than the 6-foot, 214-pound Stevenson, who has the tape to back it up as well — even dating back to his true freshman and sophomore seasons at Georgia, where he earned coverage grades in the high 60’s. 

His breakout didn’t happen until he transferred to Miami last season, when he allowed only 228 yards all year long. He still needs to find the ball better in the air, and his 12 career pass-breakups from 120 targets are indicative of that.

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