The offseason is here for the Atlanta Falcons, and that means it’s time to go full-throttle into free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. With my colleagues taking the lead on the free agency front, I’m going to be focusing my efforts over the next few weeks on the draft. Atlanta secured the 8th overall pick for 2023, the second year in a row that the team will hold that selection.
The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large.
Next up in the positional previews is cornerback, where the Falcons have a young star in A.J. Terrell and a potential cap casualty in Casey Hayward. This is one of the most likely positions that Atlanta will target early in the draft. With no DC in the building, it’s tough to project what type of player the team will be seeking. As a result, I’ll be casting a wide net with this preview.
The cornerback class at the 2023 Senior Bowl took a hit with top prospect Devon Witherspoon opting out, but there’s still quite a bit of Day 2 and early-Day 3 talent heading to Mobile. Here are some of my favorite names to watch.
Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford
Arguably the top cornerback prospect in attendance at the Senior Bowl, Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly is one of the best man coverage players in the class. Kelly has good size and length at 6’1, 190 and loves to play in press. He’s at his best when he can use his physicality to disrupt the route, and he’s a feisty competitor at the catch point. Kelly is a plus athlete with the ability to match up against a variety of receivers and from multiple alignments, though I think he’s best playing on the outside.
However, in zone coverage, Kelly is simply not the same player. He isn’t as confident and seems to hesitate when aligned off the ball. That makes him tough to evaluate, as he’s got CB1-caliber tape as a man coverage specialist. If he can go to a man-heavy scheme and improve his zone coverage to a solid level, Kelly has legit starting upside in the NFL.
Julius Brents, Kansas State
If you’re looking for a matchup corner to take on the bigger receivers and tight ends of the NFL, Julius Brents is your man. Coming in at a towering 6’4, 210, Brents looks more like a safety than a cornerback at times. His length is overwhelming, and he’s very good at using his size and strength to smother opponents and disrupt passing plays. That size also lends itself to impact play against the run, where Brents will be one of the best tacklers on the field. Brents’ overall athleticism is a significant question mark, and I don’t think he’ll ever be a guy you want matched up with speedsters down the field. I think he’s got some versatility to play safety, and as a matchup specialist, Brents could carve out a valuable role in the NFL.
Darrell Luter Jr., South Alabama
If the Falcons stick with a zone-heavy scheme heading into 2023, I really like South Alabama’s Darrell Luter Jr. as a potential early-Day 3 pick. Luter Jr. has good size (6’0, 200) and exceptional ball skills, with 5 INTs and 17 PDs over the past two seasons. He’s a natural zone coverage corner with tremendous instincts and plus athleticism, and I love watching him click-and-close on the ball. Luter Jr. is also a capable run defender and reliable tackler. He has shown some vulnerability to getting beat deep by speedy receivers, and will undoubtedly need time to acclimate to the NFL coming from South Alabama. A good week at the Senior Bowl could help him stand out from the rest of the class.
Tyrique Stevenson, Miami
Another big, physical cornerback prospect, Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson has a thick build for the position at 6’0, 214 and plays like it. He’s got very good length and is an effective press-man cornerback who loves to use his size and strength to bully opposing receivers. I also think Stevenson has a lot of questions to answer at the Senior Bowl. His overall athleticism seems fine but it didn’t “wow” me on tape. I also thought his tackling was very hit-or-miss despite his size. Outside of man coverage, he wasn’t a very impactful player and the ball skills were also inconsistent. Stevenson has the build to be drafted late on Day 2, and I think he can benefit from a good week in Mobile.
Rejzohn Wright, Oregon State
One of the best names in the class, Rejzohn Wright is also an intriguing cornerback prospect who brings a prototypical NFL frame at 6’2, 200. Right off the bat, Wright’s competitive toughness stands out. He’s a chirpy, feisty player who loves to get in the face of his opponent. That matches his strengths in coverage, where he is unafraid to go up against the bigger, more physical receivers in man. I actually think Wright played well in zone coverage, particularly Cover 3 concepts, and is fairly scheme-versatile. Wright is a good athlete but isn’t exceptional for his size, and as such can be vulnerable against quick-footed wide receivers. My biggest concern is his run support, which is unacceptably poor for a player with a 6’2, 200 frame.
Other players to watch:
Jakorian Bennett, Maryland
Riley Moss, Iowa
Darius Rush, South Carolina
I hope you enjoyed this entry in our Senior Bowl 2023 preview series. I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, January 31 through Thursday, February 2. Stay tuned this afternoon for our next position preview: safety.