Here is the fourth and final set of defensive positional rankings for the 2023 NFL draft: the defensive backs. Before the season started the corner class looked pretty solid and has gotten better, whereas the safety class had questions entering the season and those seemed to get worse.
As always, I will be listing players at their expected NFL positions. Be sure to check out my previous mid-season rankings, and if you want to check out the draft database that I help update almost daily, you can find it at risendraft.
2023 NFL Draft Defensive Backs: The Top 5
- Christian Gonzalez, Oregon: Gonzalez is a freak athlete at 6’1 197, running a 4.38 40-yard dash. He has some slot experience. He has picked up his ball production this season with four interceptions and six pass break ups. Gonzalez was a little inconsistent in 2021, but has improved that in 2022. His play against the run got better as the season went on.
- Joey Porter Jr., Penn State: Porter Jr. is the son of former Steelers and Dolphins pass rusher Joey Porter. He has almost ideal size at 6’2″ and 193 pounds, with crazy 34″ arms. His cover skills are phenomenal. He has a passer rating against of 63.6. The former Nittany Lion has solid 4.46 speed. Porter also lacks great ball skills. Yes, he does have nine passes defended in 2022, but has just one career interception. His run defense could also be better. He is a player with a good football IQ. The former Penn State cornerback has a high floor with still some room for growth.
- Devon Witherspoon, Illinois: Witherspoon doesn’t really stand out in the size department, going only 5’11 1/2 181 pounds, but out of any defensive back in this class, he would be the definition of “has that dawg in him”. He does not back down from anyone, is a good run defender, and plays a physical game. The former Illini also has great ball skills with three interceptions and 14 pass break ups this past season. He probably has the highest floor of all the 2023 NFL draft defensive backs.
- Deonte Banks, Maryland: Banks is another freak athlete at 6’0 197 with 4.35 40-yard dash speed. He hasn’t had a lot of ball production, with only two career interceptions and 11 pass break ups, and his play against the run can be a little uneven. But, he is so smooth in his hips and he likes to play a physical press style. He might have the highest upside of all the corners in the 2023 NFL draft.
- Julius Brents, Kansas State: Brents is a very large corner at 6’3, 198, but he plays like a much smaller corner. You can tell by his 6.63 3-cone time, which is quicker than a lot of 5’10 corners. He is strong, and good against the run. The former Wildcat does need to clean up some coverage issues, having given up four touchdowns this past season. He did have four interceptions and three pass break ups, though.
2023 NFL Draft Defensive Backs: Best of the Rest
6. JL Skinner, Boise State: Skinner is a huge safety at 6’4″, 209, but has the athleticism of a man three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. He has legit 4.45 40-yard dash speed with 32” arms. He plays mostly in the box, but has played free and in the slot. An explosive, powerful hitter, he reminds me a bit of Kam Chancellor. Although not as big, he is a bit better of a cover guy with six interceptions in the last two seasons. Skinner hasn’t been used as a blitzer much, which is surprising. He has a very good football IQ.
7. Kelee Ringo, Georgia: Ringo is another freak athlete at 6’2″ 207, and runs a 4.36 40-yard dash. He has great ability to mirror receivers. He was solid in 2021, but didn’t show any development — maybe even a little regression. His potential is through the roof, though. He has shown flashes, but his play is inconsistent from game to game. Ringo allowed one touchdown this season, but has had some struggles otherwise. He can be a bit stiff, as evidenced by his poor 3-cone time of 7.21.
8. Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford: The son of former NFL corner Brian Kelly. He is definitely bigger than his father at 6’0″, 191. A four-year starter, Kelly has a lot of experience on his side. 2021 was his best season; he had some struggles in 2022, plus missed time with injury. His play against the run the last couple of seasons has not been good enough. He has shown to be an effective blitzer. Couple that with his experience in the slot, and he could be a guy who can play inside and out. That offers versatility to whomever drafts him.
9. Brian Branch, Alabama: Branch has been a slot corner for Alabama since he stepped on camps. Projecting him to the NFL, it looks like he could stay there or possibly move to safety, depending on the scheme. His size is okay at 6’, 190, and he ran a sub par 4.58 40-yard dash. From his slot position, he has been an amazing run defender and a crazy good tackler. He has missed only one tackle in his career. Branch has even shown he can be used as a blitzer, with four career sacks. One negative, though, is he has just two career interceptions, and they were both as a freshman. It leaves you wondering a bit about his ball skills. Branch can be a weapon at the next level — if he is used right.
10. Jartavius Martin, Illinois: Call him a corner, call him a safety, or call him a nickel back it doesn’t matter, he can do it all. He is 5’11 194 and ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the combine. Martin is a well-rounded defensive back who will contribute in all phases. The former Fightin Ilini defensive back had solid ball production the last two seasons, with four interceptions and 16 pass break ups. Martin, like his former teammate Witherspoon, “has that dawg in him” as well.
Cam Smith-South Carolina, Darrell Luter Jr.-South Alabama, Gervarrius Owens-Houston, Garrett Williams-Syracuse, Emmanuel Forbes- Mississippi State, Antonio Johnson-Texas A&M, Clark Phillips III-Utah, Jakorian Bennett-Maryland, Christopher Smith-Georgia, Jason Taylor II-Oklahoma State, Sydney Brown-Illinois