The final group ranking is here. Here is the fourth set of defensive position 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 have not been answered yet.
As always, I will be listing players at their expected NFL positions. Be sure to check out my previous part detailing the linebackers, 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
1. Kelee Ringo, Georgia: Ringo is the freak athlete of the group at 6’2″ 210 and runs a sub 4.4. He also has great ability to mirror receivers. He was solid in 2021, but he hasn’t played as well in 2022. His potential is through the roof. He has shown flashes this season. Ringo hasn’t allowed any touchdowns this season, but has had some struggles otherwise. He is big, strong, physical, and fast. He probably gets drafted first on his upside.
2. Clark Phillips III, Utah: Phillips isn’t the biggest at 5’10” 185, but he has good speed (4.45) and great feet. He does such a good job of mirroring his opponent. His tackling can be hit-or-miss, so he needs to improve that. Also, his play against the run has just been ok. He has picked off five passes. He did struggle in a couple of games this season, but outside of those he was very solid. Phillips also has 177 snaps and counting in the slot this season, so he can be used all over. The most pro ready corner of the group.
3. 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 almost 200 pounds. His cover skills are phenomenal. He has a passer rating against of 59.1. He does lack elite speed, clocking in at the 4.5 range. 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 current Penn State cornerback has a high floor with still some room for growth.
4. Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M: The first safety on the list. This speaks to the weakness of the class at the top. Johnson has the size and athleticism to be great. He just has yet to do it — but he has shown flashes. He has ideal size at 6’2″, 195 with sub 4.5 speed, and quickness and smooth hips to match. Johnson has a lot of slot experience, so you know he has good cover skills. He just has yet to put it all together. His film is a little inconsistent. He also has just one career interception and one career pass break up. Which is very odd.
5. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon: Gonzalez is similar to Johnson in size and speed, the difference is he is a corner. He has some slot experience. He is a freak athletically with a 40+” vertical as well as his speed. He has picked up his ball production this season with three interceptions. Gonzalez was a little inconsistent in 2021, but seems to have improved that in 2022. His play against the run could be better.
2023 NFL Draft Defensive Backs: Best of the Rest
6. Brian Branch, Alabama: Branch has been a CB/S for Alabama since he stepped on camps. Mostly playing out of the slot, but projecting him to the NFL he looks to be more of a free safety. His size is ok at 6’, 193 and runs a sub 4.5 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.
7. JL Skinner, Boise State: Skinner is a huge safety at 6’3″, 220, but has the athleticism of a man three inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter. He has legit 4.45 40-yard dash speed with 33” arms. He plays mostly box safety, but has played some free. An explosive, powerful hitter. He reminds a bit of Kam Chancellor, although not as big. But, he is a bit better of a cover guy. Skinner hasn’t been used as a blitzer much, which is surprising. He has a very good football IQ.
8. Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State: Forbes, a 6’, 180-pound corner, came in a started as a freshman. He jumped on the scene with five interceptions and five pass breakups. Forbes followed that up with an even better sophomore season, although his numbers were down a little. He had three interceptions and five break ups. So far this season, he has five interceptions. Forbes definitely has a nose for the ball, and he is definitely one of those gambler types who can be hot and cold. He is just a good cover guy. He also has good run fits. His tackling though can be hit-or-miss. Adding some bulk may help with that.
9. Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford: The son of former NFL corner Brian Kelly. He is definitely bigger than his father at 6’1″, 190. A four-year starter, Kelly has a lot of experience on his side. So far, it looks like 2021 was his best season. Still, he’s playing well in 2022. His play against the run the last couple 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 that can play inside and out that teams have to account for.
10. Garrett Williams, Syracuse: The 6′, 190-pound Williams has dealt with some injury issues that hurt his play on the field — especially in 2021. He has played pretty well in 2022. Outside his game against Purdue, he has held up in coverage very well. A solid, but not great, athlete. He plays a clean game, having not been penalized since 2020. If his medicals check out, he is a sure day 2 pick and has the potential to be a solid starter.
Cam Smith-South Carolina, Eli Ricks-Alabama, Jordan Battle-Alabama, Gervarrius Owens-Houston, Kendarin Ray-Tulsa, Devon Witherspoon-Illinois, Darrell Luter Jr.-South Alabama, Divaad Wilson-UCF, Micah Abraham-Marshall, Steven Gilmore-Marshall