The "Triple Take" team breaks down of the cornerbacks. In this installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the cornerback position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Dale's Take …
This might be the deepest cornerback class in a decade. At the very least, it's the deepest position in this draft. There are big corners, little corners and everything in between. And they all can run.
The thing this class might be missing is an absolute star. But there are several corners in this class who could develop into that, led by Oregon's Christian Gonzaelz.
Teams should be able to find cornerbacks well into the fourth or even fifth round who can come in and help, perhaps right away.
#5 - Cam Smith, South Carolina (6-1, 180 lbs.) - A long, lean corner who anticipates well and has the speed to deal with most wide receivers. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 38-inch vertical jump. Smith had six interceptions the past three seasons at South Carolina. But he also drew 11 penalties in 2022, so he'll need some coaching on his technique. Played 196 snaps in the slot last season, with 357 snaps outside, so he has some versatility. Was targeted 94 times in his career, but broke up or intercepted 22 of those.
#4 - Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (5-11 ½, 181 lbs.) - Witherspoon was the leader of an Illinois secondary that was uber-talented in 2022. He had 41 tackles, 17 pass breakups and three interceptions in 2022. Played mostly outside in 2022, but saw some time in the slot, as well. But a hamstring injury didn't allow him to work out at the Combine, and he also couldn't work out at Illinois' pro day. Will have an individual workout in early April, instead. At 181 pounds, he's a little thin, but he can play if he can keep his hands to himself. Had six penalties in 2022 after recording five in 2021.
#3 - Deontae Banks, Maryland (6-0, 197) - One of the stars of the Combine where he ran a 4.35-second 40 to go along with a 42-inch vertical jump. Banks also looked smooth in position drills. His tape largely matches that. Had 38 tackles with eight breakups and an interception in 2022. Banks is a size-speed prospect whose best football is ahead of him. With his traits, could play inside or outside. He's sticky in coverage and an easy mover.
#2 - Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (6-2 ½, 212 lbs.) - Big, long and fast, Porter ran a 4.47-second 40 at the Combine, which equates to someone who is much faster when his length (34-inch arms) is taken into consideration. The son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, he has been around the game since birth. Had 11 pass breakups in 2022 in 10 games – he missed two because of an appendectomy – and 20 for his career, but only one interception. You'd like to see more takeaways, but he's feisty and tough. He also seemed to clean up his penalties in 2022 after having 11 in 2021.
#1 - Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (6-1, 197 lbs.) - A transfer from Colorado in 2022, Gonzalez became a star at Oregon, where he had 50 tackles, four interceptions, seven pass breakups and blocked a kick. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, which wasn't unexpected. His sisters, Samantha and Melissa, are Olympic-level sprinters. His father was a semi-pro basketball player in Columbia. He was born to play corner. Still just 20 years old.
Mike's Take …
They're out there for the taking, in the fifth round as well as fourth overall.
Sauce Garner was the latter in last year's draft and went on to become a First-Team All-Pro.
Tariq Woolen was the former in 2022, selected 153rd overall by Seattle out of Texas-San Antonio on the way to earning a First-Team All-Rookie designation.
Everyone saw Gardner coming.
In Woolen, the Seahawks saw length (6-foot-4) and speed (his 4.26-second 40-yard dash tied for the fourth-fastest in NFL Scouting Combine history and was the fastest ever clocked by a player 6-4 or taller) and, presumably, reasoned the rest had a chance to take care of itself.
They're out there because the college game keeps churning out wide receivers in bulk. And because somebody has to cover them.
#5 - Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State (6-0 ¾, 166 lbs.) - He's long and he can run. And while the 166 pounds part of the package might make for an "interesting evaluation," according to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, Forbes' FBS record-six pick sixes will make a compelling argument. Forbes found the end zone on almost half of his 14 career INTs. He had 22 interceptions in high school, eight of which he returned for TDs, so he has a history as a scoreboard-changing ballhawk.
#4 - Deontae Banks, Maryland (6-0, 197) - Banks checks the "three Fs" held in esteem by NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, "fast, fluid, finish." The "fast" part was evident at the Combine, when Banks ran a 4.35 40. Banks only had two interceptions in four seasons with the Terps (28 career games played) but his competitiveness was showing when he blocked an extra point against Ohio State that was returned for two points.
#3 - Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (6-2 ½, 212 lbs.) - Porter has the bloodlines. He also has 34-inch arms and a taste for tackling. And he's been working on cleaning up details in his game that sometimes led to penalties, one of the main reasons Porter returned to Penn State rather than enter last year's draft. Penn State has never had a defensive back drafted in the first round but that situation might be subject to change sooner rather than later.
#2 - Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (6-1, 197 lbs.) - Gonzalez transferred from Colorado to Oregon and eventually made it to Indianapolis, where he had a "phenomenal Combine," in Jeremiah's estimation. Gonzalez started all 30 of his career games at Colorado and Oregon. He had four interceptions (the first four of his career) and a career-high seven passes defensed in 2022 for the Ducks.
#1 - Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (5-11 ½, 181 lbs.) - Confirmation of Witherspoon's status as the best of the bunch was put on hold when he couldn't work out at the Combine and again on Illinois' Pro Day on March 10 because of a lingering hamstring injury. The reported plan is for Witherspoon to perform individually for scouts on April 10. Witherspoon consistently played a game for the Illini that was fast, physical, instinctive and energetic. He's worth the wait.
Matt's Take ...
While the top of this group of cornerbacks might lack a Sauce Gardner/Jalen Ramsey type of elite prospect, there should be quite a few players at this position that go in the first round.
Furthermore, the second day of the NFL Draft also could have many cornerbacks' names called. This is a very deep group and features quite a few cornerback prospects with excellent size and length.
#5 - Cam Smith, South Carolina (6-1, 180 lbs.) - Although he is a little lean, Smith has ideal height and length for an outside cornerback in the NFL. He sees the game very well and is quick to recognize, making him a little better in off coverage and zone rather than pressing at the line of scrimmage at this point. He is a productive football player with plenty of experience and strong testing numbers as well, but Smith currently takes too many penalties, something that must be cleaned up at the next level.
#4 - Deontae Banks, Maryland (6-0, 197) - Banks put on a show in Indianapolis with one of the best workouts for any player in attendance. All of his testing was superb, and you quickly see that level of top athleticism on his tape as well. Banks has excellent overall length and breaks on the ball well. Banks is not a scheme specific player and would fit in with any NFL team. But he only intercepted one pass last year for the Terrapins and can struggle finding the ball in the air at times. There is a lot to work with here and Banks has as much upside as any cornerback in this draft.
#3 - Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (6-2 ½, 212 lbs.) - This is a very big and very physical cornerback that does his very best work in the face of opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage in press man coverage. He plays the game with aggression. He uses his length very well. Porter's testing at the Combine, was good, but not great, and he is clearly much more comfortable in press man than playing off the line of scrimmage or in his backpedal. The style of defense he lands on will have a lot to do with Porter's impact in the league early on.
#2 - Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (5-11 ½, 181 lbs.) - Witherspoon has a lean frame and didn't run or jump at the Combine. But his tape, especially last year, was simply exceptional. Witherspoon has supreme route recognition, a great head for the position, and consistently gets his hands on the ball. It will be interesting to see how Witherspoon runs, but his speed doesn't appear to be a great strength of his game and while he is slender, Witherspoon plays with aggression and throws his body around without hesitation.
#1 - Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (6-1, 197 lbs.) - As evidenced by a great Combine performance, Gonzalez is a great athlete. He has explosive movements, great long speed, and good change of direction to go along with prototypical size for the position. Gonzalez comes from a very athletic family. Gonzalez has very loose hips and is an extremely fluid mover overall. He can play press, off or zone, but his recognition skills and overall technique could use a bit more seasoning.