Editor’s observe: This is Part 10 of Dane Brugler’s Summer Scouting sequence, which takes a position-by-position have a look at the highest prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft. Previously: Part 8 (interior DL) and Part 9 (linebacker).

As I discussed in my previews for edge rushers and defensive tackles, the line of defense is the early favourite to be the power of the 2023 NFL Draft. But cornerback must also be excessive on the checklist.

As I put collectively this early high 5, it was powerful leaving out a number of proficient cornerbacks who I feel have vivid futures within the NFL. The cornerback rankings must be fluid all through the season, a testomony to the quantity of expertise on the place.

(Note: An asterisk represents draft-eligible underclassmen. Heights and weights are what NFL groups have on file for every participant and should differ from the varsity rosters.)

1. *Kelee Ringo, Georgia (6-2, 210)

Best traits: Freaky measurement and pace

Acing the attention check with flying colours, Ringo is a bodily, good-sized athlete with coordinated motion expertise and elite pace. His spectacular stopwatch pace (10.43-second 100 meters) exhibits on the tape, as do his fluid footwork and sudden change of course to remain related to routes. As one of many freakiest athletes in faculty soccer, he unsurprisingly earned the No. 6 spot on Bruce Feldman’s recent “Freaks List.”

On this play towards South Carolina, Ringo (high of the display screen) makes use of his athletic twitch and measurement to blanket the route and break up the throw.

If you wish to see pure pace, you may watch Ringo return a pick-six 79 yards to seal the nationwide championship towards Alabama.

Must enhance: Biting on route fakes

With just one season of on-field expertise in faculty, Ringo has a number of areas he can fine-tune, together with defending himself higher versus double strikes. He has the burst to leap routes and trusts his restoration pace to regain section if he’s caught out of place. But savvy route runners and play callers will pressure him to remain disciplined this season.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

Although Ringo grew up dreaming of scoring touchdowns, his path to being a excessive draft decide might come due to his skill to stop them. He grew up in Washington earlier than shifting to Saguaro, Ariz. (simply north of Phoenix), earlier than his sophomore 12 months in highschool. The transfer introduced one other large change: He transitioned from working again to cornerback, though he continued to dabble on offense. Ringo, who additionally gained a number of state titles in observe, developed right into a five-star recruit and the No. 4 participant nationally, committing to Georgia (over Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Texas).

Entering final season, the Georgia protection was anticipated to be among the many greatest within the nation. But there have been questions concerning the cornerback depth after the Bulldogs misplaced two excessive draft picks, Eric Stokes (No. 29 to the Packers) and Tyson Campbell (No. 33 to the Jaguars). Ringo, who redshirted in 2020 due to a torn labrum, quieted these considerations by rising not solely as a dependable starter final season but additionally as a playmaker with the expertise to be a really excessive draft decide.

Georgia has been an NFL manufacturing unit, however this system hasn’t produced a cornerback drafted within the top-25 picks since Champ Bailey in 1999. With continued improvement in 2022, Ringo ought to hear his title known as very early subsequent April.

2. *Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (6-2, 200)

Best traits: Long and springy

Although Gonzalez shouldn’t be a widely known title now, that may quickly change. Another member of Feldman’s “Freaks List,” Gonzalez has excellent size to go along with his coordinated footwork and roadrunner pace. Regardless of whether or not he’s overlaying a giant tight finish or a speedy slot, he constantly retains receivers inside arm’s size and squeezes the path to shrink the passing window.

Gonzalez, who transferred from Colorado to Oregon this offseason, trusts his athletic presents to remain in place and makes use of his pterodactyl wingspan to cowl a variety of air house. The Cal passing offense had little success throwing in his course on final 12 months’s tape (Gonzalez is on the high of the display screen on this clip).

Must enhance: Zone spacing

Gonzalez has the scale, athleticism and bodily nature to be a real press-man nook. But he must tighten his spacing and consciousness when he performs off the road of scrimmage. As he develops his route recognition, Gonzalez will enhance his skill to dissect combos and reply faster to reside routes. He additionally wants to enhance his reliability as a tackler — whereas powerful and prepared, Gonzalez will prematurely go away his ft and go away manufacturing on the sphere.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

When I began my scouting for the 2023 NFL Draft, Gonzalez was only a title on a listing of some dozen cornerbacks. That was all I knew about him. But the extra tape I watched, the clearer it was that his expertise would put him excessive on my preliminary rankings. A four-star recruit out of highschool, Gonzalez dedicated to teach Mel Tucker (now with Michigan State) and Colorado over Alabama, Notre Dame and a number of different provides. After a standout sophomore season with the Buffs, throughout which he led the group in cross breakups and touchdowns saved, Gonzalez entered the switch portal and signed with head coach Dan Lanning at Oregon.

Speed and athleticism may be present in his roots. His father, Hector, performed faculty basketball at UTEP and professionally in Colombia; his older sisters, Melissa and Samantha, had been two-time All-Americans in observe and are members of the Colombia nationwide observe and area group. (Melissa is married to David Blough, a former Purdue quarterback and present backup for the Detroit Lions).

Christian Gonzalez is blazing his personal path on the soccer area, and he has an opportunity to be one other extremely drafted cornerback whom Lanning helped groom. Bottom line: Cornerbacks with size, pace and athleticism are at all times extremely valued within the NFL, and Gonzalez checks all these bins.

3. *Clark Phillips III, Utah (5-10, 185)

Best trait: Makes performs on the ball

Although Phillips is common from the views of top and size, he has excellent athleticism and positional talent to remain in section midroute. His management and confidence on an island gas his innate skill to search out the soccer and keep in place to crowd the catch level. Last season, he led the Pac-12 with 15 passes defended, including two interceptions and two pressured fumbles.

Ohio State torched the Utah protection in final 12 months’s Rose Bowl. However, Phillips was a vivid spot for Utah. He had a pair of cross breakups, a key pressured fumble to stop a landing and the interception seen right here. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud tried the pump-and-go, however Phillips (who was as soon as a Buckeyes commit) wasn’t fooled and deftly maintained his positioning to win the catch level.

Must enhance: Slot expertise

Primarily a fringe nook for the Utes, Phillips moved inside and performed slot cornerback on final 12 months’s UCLA tape, and it was clearly his worst sport of the 12 months in protection. His inexperience inside was apparent, as he allowed 11 catches and too many yards after the catch. Phillips has the fast twitch and instincts desired for a slot defender, however enhancing his consolation degree inside will assist his draft grade with NFL groups.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

After a standout prep profession at La Habra High School outdoors of Los Angeles, Phillips appeared headed to Columbus as one of many higher gamers in Ohio State’s 2020 class. However, the four-star prospect had a late change of coronary heart and flipped to Utah, changing into the highest-ranked recruit in Utes historical past. After a promising displaying as a freshman starter, Phillips separated himself as a sophomore, particularly over the second half of the 2021 season.

Similar in methods to Trent McDuffie (the No. 21 decide in April), Phillips is barely undersized and isn’t anticipated to run a 4.3 40-yard sprint. But he has the athletic twitch and protection really feel that translate to any degree of soccer.

4. *Cam Smith, South Carolina (6-0, 190)

Best trait: Competitive ball expertise

When scouting cornerbacks, you may compromise (a bit) in different areas if the participant has high-level ball-hawking instincts to disrupt passing home windows. And that works in Smith’s favor, as a result of he most likely gained’t check on the identical degree athletically as among the different cornerbacks on this checklist. But along with his size and nostril for the ball, he has a knack for crowding the catch level and enjoying by the arms of receivers.

Earlier this summer season, I studied the Clemson-South Carolina tape from final 12 months to chart Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. However, that tape was principally the Cam Smith Show — he had three passes defended, together with an interception, within the first 30 performs. This play from the fourth quarter illustrates his protection consciousness and aggressive expertise. On third-and-14, Smith (high of the display screen) is aware of he has to guard the sticks and does an awesome job in his pedal-and-drive to smother the route.

He doesn’t get any marks within the field rating as a result of it was an inaccurate cross, however he was in place to make a play on the soccer and pressure fourth down.

Must enhance: Staying beneath management

Smith is a hyper-aggressive cornerback, which may go away him off stability at occasions in each the run sport and protection. He does a pleasant job of figuring out routes based mostly on the state of affairs (see the above clip), however he can get circled by seasoned route runners and doesn’t have the restoration pace to constantly get again into place.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

In the 2019 recruiting cycle, South Carolina did an awesome job of getting the highest two in-state recruits to Columbia, signing Zacch Pickens and Smith — each top-150 gamers nationally. After redshirting in 2019 and displaying promise in 2020, Smith had his breakout season final 12 months as a sophomore, main the group with 14 passes defended and ending second within the SEC in passes defended per sport (1.3). He gave up solely 15 catches (on 32 targets) in 11 video games, and he allowed a number of catches in simply two of these contests.

Smith gained’t have the quickest 40-yard sprint among the many cornerbacks on this checklist. But his instincts, ball expertise and aggressive toughness are the kinds of traits that may endear him to NFL coaches. And he isn’t a subpar athlete, by any means, displaying closing burst and fluid redirect expertise in protection. If he continues to construct on what he placed on his 2021 tape, Smith can be a stable NFL starter.

5. *Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (6-2, 200)

Best trait: Physical nature

Similar to his Pro Bowl father, Porter likes to combine issues up and play bodily. In protection, he stays affected person in press and depends on his measurement and size to be disruptive down the sphere. In the run sport, Porter will blow by broad receivers’ blocks, preserve leverage and present up on the ball service.

With Penn State main Auburn by one rating late within the sport, Porter (high of the display screen) does an awesome job attaching himself to the receiver and getting his head turned to disrupt the passing window.

Must enhance: Grabby tendencies

Although Porter’s aggressive play type is certainly a constructive trait, he can typically be overly bodily and draw the eye of the officers. Last season, he had double the variety of flags (10) as passes defended (5), clearly a priority and one thing that should change in 2022. Porter must be extra refined along with his contact and remove the grabbing midroute as he seems to remain in section.

2022 season/2023 NFL Draft outlook

It’s no shock that, after his father flourished as a feared NFL linebacker, Porter adopted in these footsteps on the soccer area. However, he’s constructed a bit in another way from his father. The youthful Porter is a tall, lanky athlete, and he was a receiver and defensive again all through highschool. As one of many high recruits out of Pennsylvania, Porter stayed in-state and joined the Nittany Lions, the place he confirmed regular enhancements over his first three seasons.

Aside from the bloodlines, Porter has drawn NFL curiosity for his size, easy motion expertise and bodily nature. He wants to enhance his route recognition and total consistency in 2022 to cement himself as a top-50 prospect, however he has loads of followers across the league.

Preseason top-20 senior cornerbacks

1. Tyrique Stevenson, Miami (Fla.) (6-1, 214)*
2. Kei’Trel Clark, Louisville (5-11, 180)*
3. Cameron Brown, Ohio State (6-0, 194)
4. Cory Trice, Purdue (6-3, 217)
5. Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford (6-1, 189)
6. Cam Hart, Notre Dame (6-3, 198)*
7. Myles Jones, Texas A&M (6-3, 185)
8. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (6-0, 183)*
9. Arquon Bush, Cincinnati (5-11, 179)
10. Riley Moss, Iowa (6-1, 195)
11. Noah Daniels, TCU (5-11, 205)
12. Storm Duck, North Carolina (6-0, 195)*
13. Deantre Prince, Ole Miss (6-0, 181)
14. D’Shawn Jamison, Texas (5-9, 188)
15. Anthony Johnson, Virginia (6-2, 202)
16. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU (5-8, 177)
17. Josh DeBerry, Boston College (5-11, 181)
18. Nehemiah Pritchett, Auburn (6-0, 179)
19. Jaylin Williams, Indiana (5-10, 179)
20. Sevyn Banks, LSU (6-1, 197)

(Note: An asterisk on this checklist denotes a participant who has a number of years of eligibility remaining, due to a redshirt and/or the NCAA’s COVID-19-year exemption, however can be scouted as a senior by the NFL.)

Preseason top-10 draft-eligible underclassman cornerbacks

1. Ringo
2. Gonzalez
3. Phillips III
4. Smith
5. Porter Jr.
6. Garrett Williams, Syracuse (6-0, 190)
7. Eli Ricks, Alabama (6-2, 190)
8. Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M (6-2, 205)
9. Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri (5-11, 180)
10. Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State (6-0, 180)

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; images: Scott Taetsch, Carmen Mandato, Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire by way of Getty Images)

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