Ready for the NFL’s dog days of summer to be over? If you have fallen into this category and are currently suffering from football withdrawal, how about a splash into the pool entitled, “2023 NFL Draft”?
Over the next few weeks, we will be taking a brief look at the outlook of each primary position in the 2023 NFL Draft, breaking down the top prospects of note while also taking a look at the prospects who make the most sense for the Steelers. This week, we will be looking at a position the Steelers have many unanswered questions at: cornerback.
The Steelers traded for Ahkello Witherspoon before the 2021 season and chose to sign him on a cheap 2-year deal following the season. However, he has never held up when depended upon as a CB1. This year, he will be entrusted with that role, likely covering the right side of the field while newcomer Levi Wallace covers the left. Wallace, a well-received free-agent signing, may be limited athletically, but he is incredibly sound instinctually. Regardless of how well those two play together, neither player is locked up long-term, and the 2023 draft class provides us with several intriguing cornerback prospects, as you will see in a minute.
If you have any thoughts on these prospects, be sure to share them in the comment section below.
Let’s dive in!
1. Kelee Ringo | Georgia
Ringo is one of the more “toolsy” corners in the 2023 class, displaying great length and speed for the position. His long strides allow him to recover if he gets beat early in the route, and his ability to close on the ball quickly will likely lead to more splash plays down the road. I also love the fight and physicality he plays with, although there are times he can get too grabby downfield. If he continues to develop at his current pace, he will be a first-round lock come April.
2. Joey Porter, Jr. | Penn State
As you will read below, I am higher on Porter than the majority of draft pundits you will find. I love the feistiness he displays in press coverage, and I love the fluidity with which he moves. I also like the fact that he is not afraid to lower the boom and make a momentum-shifting tackle on a receivers either. We will dive into him a little more closely in just a moment.
3. Eli Ricks | Alabama
Ricks is yet another long corner who possesses lockdown potential. A transfer from LSU, Ricks burst onto the scene as a freshman with four interceptions, but we did not see the same production in 2021, as his season was shortened due to a shoulder injury that ended his season after only six games. The only other thing of note is that he was arrested in May for speeding and possession of marijuana. While the marijuana charge was dropped, teams may still have concerns about his character and maturity.
4. Malachi Moore | Alabama
Moore was one of the best defensive backs in the country as a freshman in 2020, recording 3 interceptions and 6 passes defended. Nagging injuries limited his impact in 2021, but if he can get back to his 2020 form, he could go as high as the top 10. Moore is a good, but not elite, athlete who is best known for his versatility and instincts. He will have plenty of talent around him in that Alabama secondary, and the dividends could pay off if he can take advantage of his situation.
Rest of the Top 10
5. Cam Smith | South Carolina
6. Clark Phillips | Utah
7. Antonio Johnson | Texas A&M
8. Garrett Williams | Syracuse
9. Nehemiah Pritchett | Auburn
10. Mekhi Gardner | LSU
Steelers Prospect to Watch
Joey Porter, Jr. | Penn State
The son of former Steelers player and coach Joey Porter, Sr., Porter has everything you look for in a corner. He is fast, physical, long, and fluid. He flips his hips cleanly and quickly in coverage, and he is versatile enough to play in either man or zone. However, we have not yet seen much from Porter in terms of splash plays. This is likely why there is not much buzz surrounding his draft status.
Whether you are confident in Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace or not, they are both on incredibly cheap deals. The Steelers have two young pieces in James Pierre and Justin Layne, but 2022 could be the final chance for both of them, as neither player has been able to enjoy sustained success during the regular season. Cameron Sutton and Arthur Maulet are the other corners of note, but Sutton is a free agent in 2023, and Maulet’s deal can easily be terminated after this year as well.
At the end of the day, the Steelers will need to take a close look at cornerbacks in the next couple drafts. There is no denying the fact that this team has struggled to get the position fixed through the draft, but at some point, you have to be able to develop your own talent at a position like corner. Playing the free agent game year after year is not sustainable. If the Steelers can find that elite corner they have lacked since the days of Ike Taylor, it will alleviate any concerns I have about the looks of this secondary moving forward.
Who is your favorite corner in the 2023 draft? Which one makes the most sense for the Steelers? Would you be okay with the Steelers taking one in the first round? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!