2023 NFL Draft: Joey Porter Jr., Kelee Ringo Headline Top 10 Cornerback Rankings

Penn State's Joey Porter Jr. motions to the Nittany Lion faithful after Minnesota is penalized for a second false start in the first quarter at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in State College.Hes Dr 102222 Whiteout
Penn State's Joey Porter Jr. motions to the Nittany Lion faithful after Minnesota is penalized for a second false start in the first quarter at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in State College.Hes Dr 102222 Whiteout /

The cornerback position is a personal favorite of mine. This 2023 NFL Draft class features over a dozen quality pro prospects, even if the top of the group fails to stack up with the past couple of cycles. There may not be a Patrick Surtain or a Sauce Gardner in terms of prospect grade, but I see several players with long NFL careers in their future.

As the college football season comes to a close, now is the ideal time to send out a top 10 ranking at each position. Last week we got things started with the QB, RB, and WR positions, so let’s get this week rolling on the other side of the ball. Who are the best cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft?

1. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Joey Porter Jr. is in the running for the CB1 title in the 2023 NFL Draft. The son of a former NFL star, JPJ has football engrained in his DNA. Porter Jr. showcases this with a high football IQ and a tenacity that few at the position can match.

Porter Jr. thrives when on an island with his assignment. He uses his strength to manipulate the receiver while working downfield and at the line of scrimmage. Porter Jr. jams receivers effectively and uses his length to break passes up. He is never shy to stick his nose in a play and make a tackle either — something he got from his old man.

The biggest issue with Porter Jr. is his ability in off-coverage. As great as the Penn State standout is in one-on-one scenarios, JPJ has work to do as a zone defender. As stated, cleaning up plays is not an issue as a tackler, but Porter Jr. lacks the feel when covering a zone rather than a body.

That concern is enough to knock Joey Porter Jr. down from a top 10 grade, but not by much. He is still the best cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft, although it is more of a 1a-1b type of thing right now with the next guy on the list…

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 15 (Mid Day 1)

2. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

Kelee Ringo is the consensus CB1 in the 2023 NFL Draft, with a majority of folks in the community becoming enamored with the athletic and physical profile of the Georgia defensive back. Ringo is a former five-star recruit, a label that brings lofty expectations. Ringo has more than lived up to his billing.


Kelee Ringo deserves all the love that he receives. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Ringo is the most physically imposing cornerback in the class. Several times while watching the tape, I had to remind myself that Ringo is a corner, not a linebacker. It is easy to be fooled in this area when you see how effective Ringo is in run support.

Ringo is a bruiser as a tackler, and similar to JPJ, the Bulldog cornerback butters his bread in man coverage. As a zone defender, there is work to be done. Although Ringo is a superb athlete — one of the best in the class — he fails to properly utilize these traits in off-coverage. It could have more to do with the play recognition side of things, as Ringo is sometimes guilty of being a step late when coming down on a receiver settled in his zone.

Most of Ringo’s concerns can be alleviated by NFL-caliber coaching. He brings a mean streak to the cornerback position to pair with his god-given athletic ability. If he can clean up the technique downfield, and not get caught grabbing too much, Ringo is firmly in discussion to be the first cornerback taken in the 2023 NFL Draft.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 15 (Mid Day 1)

3. Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

One of “my guys” from the 2023 NFL Draft is Emmanuel Forbes from Mississippi State. At No. 3, it is likely earlier than you will see Forbes on most other cornerback rankings, but rest assured, he deserves it. Forbes will not jump off the screen at you from a physical standpoint (6-foot-flat, 180 pounds), but the frame lends itself to added pounds as he ages.

Until then, Forbes is unlikely to be a difference-maker in run support. The good news? He is as good as anyone in the class in a mono-e-mono situation. Forbes uses fluid movements to stick with his assignments, flipping his hips and displaying pristine footwork as he mirrors the route.

The most impressive part of Forbes’ game is his ball skills and production. In three years as a full-time player, Forbes has an astonishing 14 interceptions to his credit. Even more impressive, Forbes returned nearly half (6) for pick-six touchdowns, proving that he can greatly affect the game from the cornerback position, something only great players can do.

Forbes will get knocked for his size, but there is a reason that SEC teams don’t even throw his way. Heading into this past Saturday, Forbes had only been targeted 17 times all year in man coverage, allowing a whopping one catch. He is the rare prospect with ample talent and the production on tape to back it up. Get on the hype train before it leaves the station.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 20 (Mid Day 1)

4. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

Two former Colorado cornerbacks make this list, with Christian Gonzalez checking in at No. 4 on the top 10 cornerback rankings. Gonzalez started 18 games with Colorado before transferring to the Oregon Ducks and becoming the top cornerback on the roster.

Gonzalez boasts legit size at 6-foot-2, 201 ponds and uses this to hound pass catchers downfield, and is also an above-average tackler for the position. Gonzalez mirrors receivers well, using his impressive body fluidity and length to impact would-be completions. The Oregon leader in the secondary owns three interceptions to his name, with a slew of passes defended on the resume as well.

Few can match his athleticism, but one thing that Gonzalez could stand to improve is his intensity — or lack thereof. Porter Jr. and Ringo both believe in their ability and are not afraid to let anyone know it. Gonzalez needs to be more assertive as a zone defender and a run supporter. At times, his hesitancy forced Gonzalez to miss the window to make a play… something he cannot do on Sundays.

NFL coaching and more experience against better competition will only make Christian Gonzalez a better player. He is becoming an NFL Draft darling due to his package of athleticism and size. If Gonzalez shows up to the scouting combine with more confidence, he will rank even higher on the next edition of these rankings.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 20 (Mid Day 1)

5. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina

Back to the SEC: another player flying under the radar a bit is South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith. Smith is another guy that thrives in man-to-man coverage. Similar to former Gamecock, Jaycee Horn, Smith plays with a ferocity necessary at a position with so much one-on-one action.

Smith’s willingness to make every tackle is a sight to behold. He is not the fastest guy in terms of straight-line speed, but my goodness, does he make up for it with his short area quickness. Smith’s closing speed is the best in this class and reminds me ever-so-slightly of Tariq Woolen from the 2022 NFL Draft. Woolen is a unicorn physically, but Smith makes up ground so well.

As you might expect for a cornerback that imposes his will on assignments, Smith is susceptible to frequent penalties in the NFL if he fails to clean up his technique. NFL referees allow contact, but Smith needs to do better at toeing the line between a tug and a full grab. All in all, Smith is very good at several things, but none of them will matter if he is constantly flagged at the next level.

Cam Smith is a name to watch as the 2023 NFL Draft gets closer. The remainder of this list features prospects in a similar boat. All it takes is Smith showing out during the pre-draft process to cement himself as a day-one pick.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 25 (Late Day 1)

6. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah

Clark Phillips III is arguably the most fun player in this cornerback class. The Utes’ leader is one of the most respected in the country and profiles as a long-term starter in the secondary in the NFL. Phillips even has some people believing that he is worthy of a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The biggest selling points for Phillips as a prospect are his competitive edge and the fact he wastes zero motion when defending his receiver downfield. Phillips gets in on every play possible; whether it be a run play to the opposite side of the field or tracking down a receiver after the catch, you can almost guarantee Phillips will be there before the whistle blows. Furthermore, Phillips is efficient as a mover, showing elite footwork and the ability to change direction on a dime.

Competitiveness is one of his best traits, but it also gets him in trouble from time to time. Phillips is guilty of over-pursuing as a run supporter. He takes a poor angle and tries to use his shifty mobility to cut corners, but that is a recipe for disaster in the NFL. Additionally, when sitting down as a zone defender, Phillips can attempt to “guess” the route, resulting in highlight and lowlight plays.

Size is the determining factor with Phillips and his value in the 2023 NFL Draft. I see him more as a high-end option in the slot at nickelback, knocking him down the board a tad.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 40 (Early Day 2)

7. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

Devon Witherspoon plays much bigger than his listed size (6-foot-flat, 180 pounds). A shocking fact: Witherspoon never played an organized down of football until his junior year of high school! He received very few football offers, with several schools wanting him on their track and field team, not on the gridiron. After planning to attend a community college, Illinois came through with an offer, and the rest is history.

Impressively, Witherspoon took very little time making an impact in the Fighting Illini locker room. As a true freshman, Witherspoon played in 13 games and even started three. In only his third year of football EVER! Now, in year four on campus, Witherspoon has developed into a top 50 player in the 2023 NFL Draft.

As I stated earlier, Witherspoon looks and plays bigger than his size. He loves getting the uniform dirty and punishing ball carriers in run support. When defending receivers, Witherspoon excels at using his track background to disrupt passing lanes. His closing speed is more than adequate, and Witherspoon is a true leader for his squad, bringing a competitive edge and serving as the battery for the unit.

Due to his limited experience, Witherspoon still looks like an unfinished project in a few areas. The main concern is the physicality he plays with. There is a fine line between being a lockdown cornerback and being a cornerback constantly flagged for holding and pass interference. Witherspoon has the traits to be lockdown, but he could have some growing pains with penalties as a rookie.

Luckily, Devon Witherspoon will travel to Mobile, Alabama to play in the Senior Bowl in a couple of months. The added exposure gives scouts a chance to see Witherspoon next to some other top players at the position. A strong week in Mobile could vault the Illinois cornerback up rankings everywhere.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 50 (Middle Day 2)

8. Mekhi Blackmon, CB, USC

The “other” Colorado transfer that was alluded to earlier is Mekhi Blackmon. Blackmon is the polar opposite of his former teammate Christian Gonzalez, especially from a physical standpoint. Blackmon checks in at 6-foot-flat and no more than 180 pounds. Both of those figures could prove to be generous, too.

Blackmon began his collegiate career at junior college with the College of San Mateo. He played so well in his lone season that the Colorado Buffaloes came knocking. In four years on campus, Blackmon battled injuries on and off but ended up starting nearly 20 games for his squad. He transferred to USC in pursuit of a master’s degree and to play for a winner on the CFB level.

It is scary to think where the Trojans’ defense would be without Blackmon. The unit is already below-average, but Blackmon has served as the top cornerback on the team. He already more than doubled his career total in interceptions with three on the season and has 11 passes defended to pair with 49 total tackles.

That is a lot of stats being thrown at you, but Blackmon’s tape is even more impressive than his box scores. Blackmon lacks ideal size, but he is a deceptively great athlete. The Trojans’ shutdown cornerback is versatile and can line up inside and outside in the NFL. He also has shown an ability to play above average in both man coverage and zone coverage.

So what is the issue? Well, there are two of them that stick out. First and foremost, Blackmon’s frame and injury history will be tough to overcome. The NFL is more grueling, with more games and stiffer competition. Many teams will wonder if he can hold up. The other is a result of his frame as well, with Blackmon profiling as a subpar tackler at this point of his development. It will be up to Blackmon to prove these concerns are overblown when Senior Bowl week commences.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 60 (Mid Day 2)

9. Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama

Eli Ricks is a name that was toward the top of any cornerback rankings as we headed into the 2022 season. After an elite freshman season with LSU and a disappointing 2021 to follow, Ricks announced his transfer to Alabama. Ricks was to be a contender for an immediate starting role on the defense.

Nick Saban had other plans. Due to a combination of injury issues and a steep learning curve schematically, Ricks failed to earn much game action in the first month and a half of the season. Following the team’s embarrassing effort defensively against Tennessee, Ricks was thrust into the starting lineup the following week and made the most of it. Ricks flexed his high-end talent by breaking up four passes, helping the Crimson Tide defense hold Mississippi State to six points.

Ricks returned to LSU as a member of Nick Saban’s squad, but the group left in defeat after the Tigers went for two in overtime to secure a hard-fought victory. Ricks’ momentum was stunted the following week against Ole Miss when he left the game early due to a head injury. It remains to be seen when (or if) Ricks will be able to rejoin the Tide.

Even if Ricks finds his way back to the field this season, his 2023 NFL Draft stock could be damaged beyond repair. Few doubt his talent, as Ricks possesses the ideal size for a starting outside cornerback in the NFL. He is supremely athletic and uses it to change the game for his team. In only 14 games with LSU, Ricks picked off five passes and defended six.

As talented as Ricks is, his lack of recent tape and a laundry list of injury concerns hamper his overall draft grade. The coverage corner traits are there, but the overall technique is lacking in both man coverage and zone coverage. He is slow to react to a receiver sitting down in his zone and can get grabby in one-on-one situations. Health issues go without saying. Ricks should probably return to school for a senior season to prove that his technique is on par with his athleticism.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 75 (Mid/Late Day 2)

10. Kris Abrams-Draine, CB, Missouri

Wrapping up the top 10 is Missouri’s star defensive back, Kris Abrams-Draine. Abrams-Draine is the next in a long line of receiver-turned-cornerback. The former four-star recruit arrived on campus as a highly-touted wide receiver, but flipped to the defense in 2021 and began flashing NFL potential.

Abrams-Draine is still quite raw, as is the case with countless players that have made the same transition. He can get caught running routes instead of defending his assignment, and tackling is by far the weakest point of Abrams-Draine’s game. His slight figure (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) does not play well as a run supporter, limiting his upside.

Still, the good traits outweigh the bad. Abrams-Draine brings elite ball skills to the cornerback position. In 2021, he led the team with seven passes defended and even intercepted three passes. Abrams-Draine is quicker than he is fast, but that lends well to his ability to cover slower-footed assignments from the slot.

Abrams-Draine projects as a full-time player in the slot on Sundays, but has played well on the outside in 2022, to his credit. He is a smart player that is still learning the ropes on defense. As he gets a better feel for the game and becomes more comfortable, Abrams-Draine will continue getting better and better. The ascending prospect is worth a shot on the back end of day two.

2023 NFL Draft Grade: Top 100 (Late Day 2)

2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Honorable Mentions:

-Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford

Grade: Top 100 (Late Day 2)

-Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse

Grade: (Early Day 3)

-Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU

Grade: (Early Day 3)

-Malachi Moore, CB, Alabama

Grade: (Early Day 3)

-Jaylon Jones, CB, Texas A&M

Grade: (Early Day 3)

-Carrington Valentine, CB, Kentucky

Grade: (Mid Day 3)