by J.T. Toth
Photo courtesy of Chase Keller Journalism/YouTube.
As this year comes to a close, Draft 412 will take a look at the 2023 and 2024 draft classes by position. The following is a current “Best Of” list for both offense and defense, taking a look back at the top players from last year’s draft party and ahead to the coming NFL selection process in April.
From Draft 412 to you…Happy Holidays and get your mock drafts ready!!
In today’s pass-happy NFL, the cornerback is a very important position and teams that want to win and advance deep into the playoffs need cornerbacks who are able to cover the biggest and fastest players in the league. Top notch NFL quarterbacks and wide receivers are going to test a defense with plays that will stretch the field and in the new NFL, clubs can’t settle for just 2 good starting corners—they also need depth for nickel and dime packages.
The 2023 NFL Draft had 37 cornerbacks selected and here are the best of last year’s selections:
1- Seattle - Devon Witherspoon
Devon Witherspoon kept rising up draft boards from mid-season through the combine, and eventually, he was the first cornerback taken at #5 overall. He has been a solid addition to the Seahawks' secondary since week 1, only missing 3 games due to a hip pointer.
In 12 starts, he has 65 tackles, 1 interception and 3 sacks, and his 1 interception was returned 97 yards for a touchdown. He has shut down ability and should only improve over time. His route recognition and instincts are his biggest strengths and teams are already looking to the other side of the field when he is lined up.
2- Tyrique Stevenson - Chicago
In a draft that saw 37 cornerbacks selected, Stevenson was one who was considered that “second tier” type cornerback. Not quite 1st round talent but part of that next group of corners. He was selected late in the 2nd round by Chicago and has started 14 games in his rookie season for the Bears. He has totaled 74 tackles to go along with an interception. Along with Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Johnson, he is part of a young and exciting cornerback group in Chicago.
3- Pittsburgh - Joey Porter Jr.
Joey Porter was the 1st pick of the 2nd round of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many fans and even some experts had him pegged to go to Pittsburgh in round 1. Porter ranks 2nd in the NFL in opponents reception% (45.5) and according to Next Gen Stats, he is 5th in coverage success. He can mirror any route with his speed and length but he does have one flaw—he will take a holding or interference call with his aggressive approach. He has been flagged 4 times for pass interference and 7 times for defensive holding, both ranking in the top 5 of defensive backs. His shut down approach makes these penalties a little easier to handle for the Steelers and this has been his style of play even at the collegiate level.
On the season, he has played in 15 games and started 9, tallying 42 tackles and 1 interception. It took several years but the Steelers have found a #1 shutdown cornerback.
As we move from the 2023 draft to the 2024 NFL Draft, here is Draft 412’s Top Ten Cornerback prospects:
1- Kool-Aid McKinstry - Alabama
Kool-Aid is the new Sauce? Kool-Aid McKinstry has the shutdown ability of former Jets' first round pick Sauce Gardner and at 6’1” 180 lbs., he can mirror the best receivers in the game with his speed and size. This season it seems like he didn’t do much because well…teams never threw his way. College offensive coordinators change their game plans for McKinstry and throw away from him. Pro offensive coordinators will be doing the same thing soon enough. Top 10 draft slot for McKinstry…
2- Nate Wiggins- Clemson
Wiggins is 6’ 2” and has the shutdown ability to go along with the potential of a big play anytime you throw the ball his way. His man-to-man ability and excellent speed put him in the first half of the first round in 2024. Not the most physical player in terms of tackling, but teams can overlook this for his coverage skills.
3- Cooper DeJean - Iowa
DeJean has not decided if he is entering the NFL draft at the time of this article, but Draft Nation believes his first round grade should be reason enough to leave for the NFL. He suffered a lower leg injury late in the season but that should not affect his combine performance. He brings versatility to a secondary and can also be a game changing punt returner if a team chooses to use him on special teams. He is one of those special players always around the ball.
4- Kamari Lassiter- Georgia
Lassiter announced that he is playing in the Orange Bowl but has not made a decision yet on whether he is going to the NFL. He has a first or second round grade but in today’s NIL world of college football, we shall see what transpires. He has the ability and coverage skills to be taken late in the first round.
5- Terrion Arnold - Alabama
Teams stayed away from Kool-Aid McKinstry so they threw Terrion Arnold’s way. Talk about a no-win situation, Arnold picked off 5 passes and added 61 tackles. He has not played as much as some of the other prospects but his last 2 seasons have him in first round discussions. Arnold has not announced if he is entering the draft and will most likely make a decision after the college playoffs are over.
6- Denzel Burke - Ohio State
At one time, Burke was a top 10 talent who has struggled the past couple of seasons due to injury and inconsistency. He still has the ability to be a shutdown cornerback at the next level. He will make his announcement on January 10th, and Draft Nation puts it at 50/50 he enters the NFL Draft. Stay tuned.
7- T.J. Tampa- Iowa State
T.J. Tampa announced he is not playing in the Liberty Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. He has risen up boards the past couple of seasons and is one of the more physical cornerbacks in the draft class. He will not make it out of day 2 of the draft.
8- Quinyon Mitchell - Toledo
Mitchell has soared up draft boards in 2023. He is physical with big play ability who has the makeup of a future starting cornerback in the NFL. He should be a value pick on day 2 for a lucky team.
9- Kalen King - Penn State
Kalen King may have taken a slight step back in his overall play in 2023. He was beaten repeatedly against Ohio State and had a couple other performances that didn’t grade out so well. He still could be a player for the first round after the combine and what he does at post season bowls and pro day. He has not “officially” announced his intentions, but many people close to him and the team expect him to enter the NFL Draft after the Peach Bowl.
10- Josh Newton - TCU
The Louisiana-Monroe transfer is a late bloomer who can be seen as going as high as the late first round. He reminds Draft 412 of recently drafted cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and should be a quality day 2 draft pick. His mechanics in man-to-man may make him a future nickelback.