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NFL Combine preview: Cornerbacks to watch for the Falcons

Our coverage of the upcoming 2023 NFL Combine continues with a look at some of the top cornerbacks to watch in Indianapolis. The on-field workouts for the Combine begin March 2.

With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.

Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.

NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule

FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL

Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.


Next up is a position group with a star at the top in A.J. Terrell, but plenty of question marks elsewhere: cornerback.


If EDGE is the deepest position group in the 2023 NFL Draft, then cornerback is right behind it. This is an absolutely loaded class with three potential top-10 talents, 10 prospects in the top-50, and 15 in the top-100 of The Draft Network’s consensus rankings. While fans seem to loathe the idea of Atlanta taking a non-defensive lineman at 8, there will be ample opportunity for the Falcons to address the position throughout Day 2 and even into the early part of Day 3.

Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State

If you’re looking for a ballhawk in the secondary, Emmanuel Forbes is arguably the best in the class. A converted wide receiver, Forbes posted 14 interceptions—including a career high six in 2022—and six pick-6s (an FBS and SEC record) to go along with 20 PDs in three seasons at Mississippi State. Forbes is a aggressive outside corner with a bit of a unique build at 6’0, 180. He’s got long arms and appears noticeably thin on tape, though it didn’t impact his physicality or ability in run support. He’s versatile in terms of his coverage and offers an enticing package of athleticism and ball skills. I’m interested to see if Forbes can add weight for the Combine and how well he tests, because he’s got a chance to go early on Day 2.

Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

There are three corners vying for the title of CB1 in the class, and the one with the best shot to actually get drafted first is probably Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. He’s likely to be one of the best testers at the Combine, and he’s got a tremendous frame. Those are attributes you just can’t teach. He’s absolutely in play for Atlanta at 8, where I selected him in my most recent mock draft:

Gonzalez has a prototypical frame at 6’2, 200 with terrific length, and looks like an elite athlete at the position. On tape, Gonzalez took a significant step forward in 2022 after transferring to Oregon from Colorado. He’s a scheme-versatile talent with the movement skills to excel in man, and the instincts to thrive in zone. His ballhawking ability also improved markedly with 4 INTs and 7 PDs.

Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford

I was really impressed by Kyu Blu Kelly, who looked like the best overall cornerback throughout the week of Senior Bowl practices. If the Falcons are planning to transition to a more man-heavy coverage scheme under new coordinator Ryan Nielsen, Kelly could make a ton of sense on Day 2. Here’s what I wrote about Kelly in my Senior Bowl preview:

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.

Clark Phillips III, Utah

Just how highly do you value an elite slot cornerback? That’s the big question when evaluating Utah’s Clark Phillips III, who has some of the best coverage tape in the class but is listed at just 5’10, 185. Despite the size limitations, Phillips played predominantly on the outside in college—though he did take a lot more slot reps in 2022. Phillips is a hyper-competitive and twitched-up cornerback with a versatile coverage skillset, and he doesn’t lack for physicality either. I expect him to test well athletically, but how he measures in will be huge for his draft stock.

Joey Porter Jr., Penn State

Another of the top corners competing for CB1, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. will absolutely win the size competition. At a listed 6’2, 192 and with vines for arms, Porter Jr. looks the part of an NFL press-man corner on the outside and pairs it with very good overall athleticism. He’s an excellent man coverage defender who can absolutely smother receivers with his length. I do think Porter Jr. is more scheme-specific than the other two top CBs, and there will be questions about his ball skills (just 1 INT in his career). This is another prospect to monitor closely at the Combine.

Kelee Ringo, Georgia

If you’re looking for the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this class, it’s undoubtedly Georgia's Kelee Ringo. Right off the bat, you can see why Ringo has been considered early in the first round of mock drafts: his prototypical size (6’2, 205) and elite athletic profile. There are also some legitimately impressive flashes on tape for Ringo, particularly in Cover 3 and when matched up against elite deep speed. He does appear to be a bit stiff in terms of his lateral mobility, and his tape is littered with technical flaws and coverage inconsistencies. Still, I’d expect Ringo to be among the fastest players at the Combine, and his package of traits will probably still get him drafted on Day 1.

Cam Smith, South Carolina

Cam Smith is another prospect who frequently goes in the first round of mock drafts, and his playstyle has drawn comparisons to fellow South Carolina alum Jaycee Horn. While Horn was a much better prospect in part due to size (Smith is just 6’0, 188), the fiery competitiveness on tape is certainly familiar. Smith is an aggressive but smart cover man with a physical edge in run support. I like his overall athletic profile and he’s got high end ball skills, but his lack of ideal size and some inconsistencies with his game put him behind the top guys in the group.

DJ Turner, Michigan

Another potential Day 2 target for the Falcons, Michigan’s DJ Turner turned in a terrific season as the top cover man on one of the top defenses in college football. Turner lacks ideal size and length (6’0, 181) but it’s not a glaring weakness on tape. Make no mistake, Turner is one of the best man coverage corners in the class. He’s got tremendous movement skills and what appears to be elite long speed on tape. Turner is a quality player in zone as well and is a willing and effective tackler in run support. Other than a lack of elite size, there aren’t many holes in Turner’s game. Just how well in measures in will likely determine his draft ceiling—I wouldn’t be shocked if he sneaks into the end of the first round.

Garrett Williams, Syracuse

You know I’d have to get my buddy from the Orange in here. The Combine is very important for Williams, who will have a chance to show teams where he’s at in his recovery from an ACL tear. I’m not sure if he’ll be healthy enough to participate in the drills, but the medical checks will be significant for his stock. Here’s what I wrote about Williams in a recent mock draft:

Syracuse’s Garrett Williams was a potential early-Day 2 pick before suffering an ACL tear early in the 2022 season, and that injury could see him fall a little. Williams is a feisty, competitive corner with a scheme-versatile skillset. He’s got a good frame for the position (6’1, 190) and plays with physicality at the catch point and against the run. Williams has high-end instincts in zone coverage with an aggressive ballhawking mentality. He’s also effective in man coverage, though he has struggled at times with elite deep speed.

Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

If there’s an award for “most fun CB to watch”, Devon Witherspoon would win without question. One of the other “big three” in contention to be the first cornerback selected, Witherspoon immediately stands out as the most aggressive and feisty DB in the class. Witherspoon is a physical presence in the secondary and one of the biggest hitters you’ll see at CB. He’s also got unbelievable instincts in coverage, with tremendous ball skills and change-of-direction ability. Witherspoon does lack the size of the other top corners at just 6’0, 180, which has led to questions about his ability to hold up on the outside in the NFL. I’m very interested to see how he measures in at the Combine.

Other players to watch:

Julius Brents, Kansas State
Deonte Banks, Maryland
Tyrique Stevenson, Miami
Kei’Trel Clark, Louisville
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU
Alex Austin, Oregon State
Darius Rush, South Carolina

I hope you enjoyed this entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: safety.