Eagles have a shot to land the top cornerback in 2023 draft
Eagles have a shot to land the top cornerback in the 2023 draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
You probably know the history by now.
The Eagles haven’t used a first-round pick to draft a cornerback since the 2002 draft when they selected Lito Sheppard out of Florida. That was two decades ago.
But if the Eagles want to buck that trend in 2023, there are plenty of reasons why. They are likely going to lose James Bradberry in free agency. They have a team that should contend this season. And top rookie cornerbacks have been playing very well in recent seasons.
The Eagles have a chance with their No. 10 overall pick to draft the best cornerback in the draft.
First, they’d first have to figure out who that is.
“I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Devon Witherspoon said with confidence at the combine this week.
Plenty of people agree with him. In fact, if you look at the rankings of cornerbacks in this upcoming draft, you’ll consistently see three names at the top: Witherspoon from Illinois, Christian Gonzalez from Oregon and Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State.
The order of those three is a little more subjective.
And everyone seems to have an opinion.
“I feel like I'm CB1 for a reason,” Porter said. “I feel like I'm the best corner here, so I'm just here to really show my talents and prove why.”
Let’s take a closer look at the options:
Devon Witherspoon (6-0, 180)
Witherspoon this season was one of the finalists for the Thorpe Award after a big junior season at Illinois and is widely projected to be one of the top cornerbacks off the board.
It’s been quite a journey.
Witherspoon didn’t begin playing football until his junior year of high school but quickly became a star at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Florida. Still, he was a 0-star recruit and he jumped at the chance to play for Illinois once a Power-5 offer came in. He made the most of his opportunity.
“Play with that chip on your shoulder,” Witherspoon said. “Doesn’t matter if you were highly recruited or not. If you’re a dawg on the football field, they’ll come find you.”
Because of how busy he’s been during this pre-draft process, Witherspoon has tried to focus on the work at hand and not reflecting on the journey. But he admitted it feels a little “unreal” to be in this position.
That’s not to say he’s lacking confidence. Because Witherspoon thinks he’s the best corner in the draft.
“I’ll just say I’m confident, I’m physical,” he said. “I love the game of football, smart, I love to study, just try to get an edge on my opponent. And I’m energetic, very passionate about what I do.”
In 12 games this past season, Witherspoon had 3 interceptions, 41 tackles and 14 pass breakups. He is considered the top corner in the draft by ProFootballFocus and NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah.
According to PFF, Witherspoon was targeted 63 times in 2022 and allowed just 22 catches for 206 yards.
Christian Gonzalez (6-1, 197)
After playing his first two seasons at Colorado, Gonzalez transferred to Oregon for the 2022 season and picked off the first four passes of his college career.
That was important to him.
“You know, everybody was asking if I had ball skills,” Gonzalez said. “I went out and showed I've got the ball skills to trust in. I knew I had that my whole life but you know, I just had to go and make the plays.”
Gonzalez has good size and it’s hard to argue with his production this past season.
What separates him from the other corners in this class?
"I'm a long, speedy, versatile corner, you know?” Gonzalez said. “Someone that can line up on the outside and guard a 6-5 receiver and line up inside and guard a 5-10 speedy type of receiver. Being able to be a smart player, learn very quickly. Being able to change to any type of what (type of receiver) I'm going against."
Gonzalez comes from a family of athletes. His father played semiprofessional basketball in Columbia and his sisters are track stars. His oldest sister Melissa, who happens to be married to NFL QB David Blough, is an Olympic hurdler.
We mentioned that plenty of young cornerbacks have succeeded in their rookie years and the poster child for that is Sauce Gardner, who was an All-Pro in his rookie season after the Jets picked him with the No. 4 overall pick.
"You're on an island out there by yourself and you know, that's what I live for,” Gonzalez said. “Big matchups. Anytime I get to go against a great receiver week in, week out, that's my favorite thing to do. Watching Sauce and those rookies, it's great to go through that because they're tall, long lanky corners and I'm just like them. The fact they can do it, I know I can go in there and do it as well."
Joey Porter Jr. (6-2, 193)
When he was at the podium on Thursday in Indy, Porter presented like a star. Of course, having a father who played 13 years in the NFL got Porter on this path early.
“I would say my family really motivated me,” Porter said. “Just really a legacy standpoint for me. My dad's been there before. He's done it. I want to do the same thing and just be better. That's the main thing. He always told me he wants me to be better than him, so that's what I'm gonna strive to do and that's why I'm here.”
During his career at Penn State, Porter had just 1 interception but had 20 pass breakups, including 11 in 2022. And he’s known for his physicality and press style. He worked to eliminate penalties this past season too.
According to PFF, Porter allowed just 45 yards on 73 snaps against Ohio State the last two years, going against crazy talented receivers.
How would Porter describe himself?
“I’ll say I'm a physical press corner that's gonna get in your face and do my job and do it well,” he said.
With that explanation, it’s no surprise Porter thinks his best player comp is Jalen Ramsey. If the Eagles could get that with the No. 10 pick, they’d definitely take it.
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