The annual NFL Draft is less than a week away, and with the seventh-overall pick, Raider Nation has big dreams. Some hope Dave Ziegler elects to draft a quarterback in the first-round, while others have their sights on defensive studs such as Jalen Carter and Tyree Wilson. A large number of fans are all-in on a cornerback at seven, with names such as Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez standing out. Luckily for those fans, the Las Vegas Raiders couldn’t have picked a better year to draft a cornerback.
It’s not too hard to see why fans are sold on both Witherspoon and Gonzalez.
In 61 targets, Witherspoon allowed only 22 catches for 206 yards. More impressively, no cornerback in the FBS allowed fewer yards in single-coverage (100) than the Illinois cornerback in 2022. Add his 14 pass breakups and three interceptions, and it’s easy to understand the buzz. With a coverage grade of 92.5, Pro Football Focus gave Witherspoon the ultimate praise.
“[Witherspoon’s] senior-year tape was as good as we’ve seen in our nine years of college grading.”
The second big-name cornerback on Raider Nation’s mind is Christian Gonzalez, who offers a near-perfect blend of size, athleticism and versatility. Outside or inside, zone or man coverage, Gonzalez can get it done. The Oregon corner forced nine incompletions, holding quarterbacks to a rating of 74.7.
Although the aforementioned pair of corners are getting all the spotlight, this year’s draft class is loaded with high-end CBs. The Raiders have plentiful options, whether they take a cornerback at seven, want to trade down from seven, or want to trade up from 38 – if Ziegler is eyeing a corner early, that is.
A plentiful supply of high-end CBs in the 2023 NFL Draft; Dave Ziegler, Raiders have options
After Witherspoon and Gonzalez, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. stands out as a household name at the cornerback position. In 2022, Porter Jr. allowed only 50% of passes his way to be completed, holding opposing QBs to a passer rating of 63.6. Factor in his 14 forced incompletions, and you can understand the hype.
There’s still a lot of high-end depth behind Porter Jr., too.
South Carolina’s Cam Smith is another player who could end up being the top-CB in this year’s draft. This past season, Smith allowed a completion percentage of only 47.4%. In week 12, South Carolina went head-to-head with quarterback Hendon Hooker as they faced Tennessee. Smith helped hold Hooker to a 59.5 completion percentage, which stood as Hooker’s worst mark of his ’22 campaign. The following week, Smith played a big part in defeating Clemson at the season’s end. The year prior, Smith allowed a passer rating of 36.5 when targeted.
Perhaps possessing the best ball-skills in this class, Emmanuel Forbes is another high-end cornerback.
Forbes allowed 53.4% of passes his way to be completed, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 44.7 passer rating. PFF gave the Mississippi State corner a coverage grade of 89.3, with a grade of 79.7 against the run. More impressively, the 22-year-old defensive back did this while facing off against names such as Will Levis, Stetson Bennett, and the probable first-overall pick Bryce Young. With 14 interceptions since 2020, including six in 2022, Forbes has shown an uncanny ability to create turnovers.
Deonte Banks also stands out as yet another option for the Raiders. With a 43.3 completion percentage allowed when targeted, in addition to 13 forced incompletions, Banks currently sits at 16 on PFF’s big board.
Dave Ziegler has nothing but options.
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