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2023 NFL Draft: Defensive Back Big Board



(Mandatory Image Credit: Eric Evans / University of Oregon Athletics)


Written by: Joseph Yun


The NFL Draft is nigh upon us as we are mere hours away from the event that changes the lives and fortunes of many people. In this article, we take a gander at the deep secondary class of the breadth of its depth that would make Helm’s Deep jealous. Cornerback is littered with top-tier elite talent but gems can be found as we progress deeper into the draft. While the safety position isn’t as deep as the cornerbacks, there’s still plenty of talent. Who are the best of the best talents that patrol the back end of the defense? Is there a surefire prospect that can reach the heights of megastardom like Jalen Ramsey, Patrick Peterson, and Patrick Surtain, Jr, to name a few? How about safety? Who will be the first cornerback off the board? Tune in to find out!


If you missed any previous big board articles, they can be found below:



Note: All statistics courtesy of college football reference and RAS courtesy of Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb)


CB


1. Christian Gonzalez | 6’1 197 | Junior | Oregon


- Gonzalez is locked in as the top corner on the board after a standout 2022 campaign at Oregon. He transferred to the Ducks from Colorado, where he was part of an apparently exceptional secondary that lost a ton to the portal. He’s an excellent athlete, as the testing numbers indicate. Athleticism runs in the family, as sister Melissa was good enough to qualify for the Olympics in track. His other sister was also a collegiate track star. The former Duck corner has good size and the speed to combat any type of receiver thrown his way. Lateral agility is a major plus to his game. He’s a ballhawk, notching four interceptions and 17 pass breakups in his career. The tackle numbers were consistent in his last two seasons, averaging around 50 tackles per year. He has that ability that few possess for teams to draft him and forget about the corner position for the next decade. A true and tested CB1 as they come. As a player, he compares to former Alabama and current Broncos superstar Patrick Surtain II. Athletically, he resembles another star in former Florida State legend / all-world everything Jalen Ramsey.


Round Projection: Top Ten


Player / RAS Comp: Patrick Surtain II / Jalen Ramsey


2022 Stats: 50 tackles, four interceptions, seven passes defended, and one tackle for loss



2. Joey Porter, Jr | 6’2 193 | Senior | Penn State


- JPJ is one of the best corners in the class and has an argument for being drafted as the first one off the board. He has the size and speed to be one of the league’s best soon. Like Pat Surtain II, he’s an NFL legacy being the son of legendary Steelers linebacker Joey, Sr. After three seasons of mediocre ball production, he exploded in 2022 with 11 pass breakups. 2021 was his best season in terms of tackles, notching 50 total. Teams didn’t throw his way much, given his reputation as a lockdown corner. No receiver is too big of a challenge for him. He has great hands to jam the receiver off the line and does it regularly. The length is a big plus to his game too. He should be a top-20 selection and could go even earlier than that. Athletically and stylistically, he compares to Ravens great Marlon Humphrey.


Round Projection: Top 20


Player / RAS Comp: Marlon Humphrey


2022 Stats: 27 tackles and 11 passes defended



3. Devon Witherspoon | 5’11 181 | Senior | Illinois


- Witherspoon was a four-year starter for a loaded Illinois secondary and was productive from the jump. 2021 was his peak production season with 52 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and one sack in terms of tackles. He was a consistent producer throughout his career, with a stat line of 157 total tackles, five interceptions, and 25 pass breakups. He finished with an impressive final kick of 14 pass breakups in 2022. He’s very physical and upfront in the receiver’s face. He didn’t test at the Combine, thus the lack of RAS for him. Athletic with good size and lateral agility. The length is of moderate concern compared to his peers but not too much. He also has an outstanding case for CB1 in the class but will likely battle for CB2 honors. The aggression, physical traits, and ball skills all scream first-round talent, possibly during the upper half of the proceedings. He compares to current Chargers standout Asante Samuel, Jr in play style and athleticism.


Round Projection: First


Player / RAS Comp: Asante Samuel, Jr


2022 Stats: 41 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, 14 passes defended



4. Kelee Ringo | 6’1 207 | Redshirt Sophomore | Georgia


- Ringo was a five-star recruit that delivered in spades for the back-to-back champion Bulldogs. He made one of the most iconic plays in Georgia history, icing the 2021 national title game against Alabama. He’s among the best overall athletes in the class, regardless of position. A former track star who can run with any receiver in the land. He’s a taller corner, coming in at 6’1 207. Great ball skills as well, with 19 total touches (four interceptions and 15 pass breakups in two seasons). He was a consistent producer in his two seasons as a key contributor to the stellar Dogs' defense. The former DGD is projected to be a second-round selection but could have a chance to get taken in the first round. Physically and stylistically, he compares to current Falcons star cornerback A.J. Terrell.


Round Projection: First to Second


Player / RAS Comp: A.J. Terrell


2022 Stats: 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven passes defended



5. Clark Phillips III | 5’9 184 | Junior | Utah


- Phillips burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman with 61 total tackles, two interceptions, and a whopping 13 pass breakups in 2021. Opportunities for him to be tested came few and far between as teams became wise to his talent. He still produced six interceptions, two of which were of the pick-six variety. He’s not the biggest nor the longest-limbed corner in the class by any stretch of the imagination, so teams will have to limit his exposure to bigger receivers. He’s a better athlete than he is given credit for and is aggressive but not overly crazed. Well schooled in the fundamentals like all Utah prospects are. He projects a Day 2 selection as a nickel corner. His physical comparison is Taron Johson of Buffalo fame.


Round Projection: Second to Third


Player / RAS Comp: Taron Johnson


2022 Stats: 24 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, six interceptions (two touchdowns), six passes defended



6. Kyu Blu Kelly | 6’0 191 | Senior | Stanford


- Kelly was a four-year starter for the Cardinal. He was a Senior Bowl invitee who dominated the practice week, snagging four interceptions throughout, and was largely a lockdown corner using his physicality and technique. He’s the son of veteran standout cornerback Brian Kelly, who had a long and distinguished career in the NFL. The 2021 season was his best, statistically speaking, with 58 tackles, two interceptions, and 11 pass breakups. This prospect isn’t the most athletic (compared to his colleagues) but makes up for it with great technique and footwork. Teams didn’t test him much in 2022, but he’s a sound tackler who usually wraps up cleanly. He’s competitive and physical at the line as well. He is a likely Day 2 selection, given his pedigree, traits, and intangibles. The athletic profile resembles former Utah and current Bears defensive back Jaylon Johnson.


Round Projection: Second to Third


Player / RAS Comp: Jaylon Johnson


2022 Stats: 35 tackles and six passes defended



7. Cam Smith | 6’0 180 | Redshirt Junior | South Carolina


- Smith was part of a talented duo in Columbia for a formidable Gamecocks secondary. 2021 was his peak production season, with 41 tackles, three interceptions, and 11 pass breakups. He’s a physical corner who loves to play aggressively against his competition. Generally, he is a hard hitter who can wrap up properly but does have missed tackles on his CV. An above-average athlete can be largely effective in any corner role but is more effective on the outside. He has the size, sufficient athleticism, and other physical traits to be drafted on Day 2. His athletic and style comparison is former Arizona State defensive back Chase Lucas.


Round Projection: Third


Player / RAS Comp: Chase Lucas


2022 Stats: 27 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, and five passes defended



8. Deonte Banks | 6’0 197 | Senior | Maryland


- Even in a class full of athletic marvels at his position, Banks is a superstar in that regard. He’s such a great athlete with the size and length to match the lateral agility. Speed isn’t a concern, as he can run step for step against any receiver with 4.35 40. Aggressive attitude against all competition. He hates losing out on any ball, be it 50/50 or otherwise. The strength is another positive to his game as he easily jams and reroutes receivers off the line. Teams will fall in love with the physical traits, but the technique isn’t yet there. The former Terrapin offers scheme versatility and fluidity in all phases of the field. He’ll likely be an early to middle Day 2 selection. Physically, he resembles Will Blackmon, but stylistically, he closely profiles similar to Byron Jones.


Round Projection: Second to Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Will Blackmon / Byron Jones


2022 Stats: 38 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one interception, eight passes defended



9. Julius Brents | 6’2 198 | Redshirt Senior | Kansas State


- Brents blossomed in the Little Apple after transferring in from Iowa. A consistent two-year producer with an average of 47 tackles, over three tackles for loss, two interceptions, and three pass breakups. His ball production peaked as a senior with eight total touches. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl, where he rarely lost a rep during practices. The physical traits are there for teams to salivate over. He’s not the fastest but he’s physical and can jump like he has springs in his legs. The size and length are exceptional, with 34-inch arms. He’s not the most fluid laterally, but it is sufficient, given his talents at jamming the receiver at the line. Some have compared him to rising superstar Seattle corner Tariq Woolen, but he’s comparable to former Colorado standout Akhello Witherspoon. He should be a Day 2 selection.


Round Projection: Third


Player / RAS Comp: Akhello Witherspoon


2022 Stats: 45 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, four passes defended, and one forced fumble




10. Emmanuel Forbes | 6’0 166 | Junior | Mississippi State


- Forbes has been getting a lot of hype as we have gone through the draft process, and with good reason. He has the height and length traits down pat, while the athleticism reigns supreme. A physical corner that doesn’t back down from anyone, no matter the size. The production was off the charts good, with NCAA record six pick sixes to his credit. He has a nose for the football, snatching a career total of 14 interceptions and 20 pass breakups. Instinctually, he has some things to work on, but it’s good enough that he gambles aggressively in the short to intermediate-passing game and works out most of the time. A three-year starter that has seen a ton of work in practice and games. The ball skills are translatable as he played receiver in high school before transitioning to corner full-time in StarkVegas. Offenses can sometimes exploit his aggressiveness by installing double moves and hot routes. However, he’s a physical and willing tackler to negate such advantages. There’s a slight chance he sneaks into the first round, but it’s more likely that he settles into Day 2. His physical and stylistic profile resembles former veteran standout Desmond Trufant.


Round Projection: Second to Third


Player / RAS Comp: Desmond Trufant


2022 Stats: 46 tackles, one tackle for loss, six interceptions (three touchdowns), and ten passes defended



11. D.J. Turner | 5’11 178 | Redshirt Junior | Michigan


- Turner is an explosive athlete that tested very well at the Combine, matching the tape. His 4.26 40 is joint second all-time among cornerbacks. He can match stride for stride with any receiver that comes his way. A physical tackler who can turn and burn in any scheme. He has great lateral quickness, neutralizing any zone-based passing attack. Bigger receivers can outmuscle him in 50/50 situations, but he’s capable of matching them jump for jump. However, his length is an issue, as receivers can latch onto him quickly, and he has difficulty beating the block. The former Wolverines corner has great athletic traits, which should get him drafted on Day 2. He profiles similarly to veteran cornerback Jason Verrett. Production was very consistent as well throughout his two seasons as a starter.


Round Projection: Second to Third


Player / RAS Comp: Jason Verrett


2022 Stats: 36 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, and ten passes defended



12. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson | 5’7 178 | Senior | TCU


- Hodges-Tomlinson is an impressive quick twitch athlete with three years of good production as a starter. He has the short-area quickness and burst to compete against all types of receivers. However, he doesn’t have a lot of size or length, measuring in at just 5’7 and 29-inch arms, which has and will hamper him against bigger receivers. Speed and agility are his calling cards, along with his technical ability. He has an excellent technique for any size. He’s a hard hitter as well. Improved production year on year, including five career interceptions and 36 pass breakups. TVT is the nephew of Hall of Fame running back and TCU legend LaDanian Tomlinson. He tracks as a nickel corner due to his size and speed profile. Athletically and stylistically, he resembles Nickell Robey and Avonte Maddox. He can go on Day 2 but will likely be selected early on Day 3.


Round Projection: Third to Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Nickell Robey / Avonte Maddox


2022 Stats: 50 tackles, two tackles for loss, three interceptions, and 15 passes defended



13. Jakorian Bennett | 5’11 188 | Senior | Maryland


- Bennett transferred to Maryland from the junior college ranks and was an immediate hit for the Terrapins. He had two years of good production, snagging five interceptions and 22 pass breakups in that span. He’s a physical in-your-face type of cornerback and will contest any ball thrown his way. An impressive straight-line athlete with some limited lateral quickness. The Mobile native had a coming-out party at the Senior Bowl, where he was solid. Position versatility is another positive, as he has experience at corner and safety. His stock likely lands him in the early parts of Day 3. Bennett’s physical and play style profile resembles emerging Chiefs star, L’Jarius Sneed.


Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth


Player / RAS Comp: L’Jarius Sneed


2022 Stats: 39 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and 11 passes defended



14. Darius Rush | 6’1 198 | Redshirt Senior | South Carolina


- Rush was a two-year starter and part of a dynamic duo with another corner on this list for the Gamecocks. He signed with South Carolina as a receiver but transitioned to corner as a freshman. The ball skills are quite evident as a result of playing receiver. He’s a bigger corner with a lot of length to get physical with receivers and knowledge of every trick in the book since he was one. The Palmetto State native was productive in his two seasons, catching three interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Given his size and straight-line ability, he doesn’t have the best lateral agility and should fit as an outside corner more than the slot. He has come a long way and has room to improve as he gets more comfortable at cornerback. DR was invited to the Senior Bowl and dominated the practices there. Physically, he resembles another Darius that plays cornerback in Darius Slay of the Eagles. A possible early Day 3 selection awaits.


Round Projection: Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Darius Slay


2022 Stats: 38 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven passes defended, and one forced fumble



15. Mekhi Blackmon | 5’11 178 | Redshirt Senior | USC


- Blackmon transferred to USC for the 2022 season after four seasons at Colorado. He broke out last season after injuries derailed his career in Boulder. 2021 was the beginning of something promising before a season-ending injury there. He was productive that season, with 41 tackles and four pass breakups. He’s a physical corner with limited athleticism that fast receivers can take advantage of if they escape his press. While he can’t turn and run as fast, he wins by being physically competitive at the line. The good news is that he increased his production annually. The bad news is the medical record that should knock him down a round or two and the lack of lateral quickness. He was invited to the Senior Bowl, where his performance was largely nondescript. He’ll likely end up as a middle Day 3 selection and thrive as a CB3 type on the outside more than the slot. His physical and stylistic profile resembles former Clemson star MacKensie Alexander.


Round Projection: Fifth


Player / RAS Comp: MacKensie Alexander


2022 Stats: 66 tackles, two tackles for loss, three interceptions, 12 passes defended, and one forced fumble



16. Tyrique Stevenson | 6’0 198 | Senior | Miami


- Stevenson transferred to Miami after two seasons as a key reserve for Georgia. He’s a big, physical corner with great straight-line athleticism and verticality. Laterally not the quickest but is serviceable in that regard. He tested very well at the Combine after showing much of his physicality at the Senior Bowl. The South Florida native is an ideal press corner, given his size and length to be aggressive with receivers at the line. Jamming receivers at the line will be critical to his success, as the lateral quickness isn’t ideal. He had two seasons of solid production while in Coral Gables, logging 11 pass breakups and three interceptions. The tackling needs work as he tends to be more home run than wrapping up. He’s likely a middle Day 3 selection. Physically, he resembles former Georgia corner and first-round selection Eric Stokes.


Round Projection: Fifth


Player / RAS Comp: Eric Stokes


2022 Stats: 25 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and seven passes defended



17. Eli Ricks | 6’2 188 | Junior | Alabama


- Ricks has an interesting story as he transferred from one defensive back factory (LSU) to another (Alabama). He has an ideal size and length for the position. The former five-star recruit doesn’t have the best athleticism but has enough to be serviceable. He wins with his physical presence more than speed and agility. He’s a press-man corner that can get receivers off-kilter at the line but can be beaten by quicker receivers. Recovery speed isn’t the greatest, either. He has the size and length to make receivers uncomfortable. The junior prospect has the physical traits to get drafted in the early stages of Day 3. He could be a good CB2 or 3 for a team willing to look past his lateral deficiencies. Ricks has the athletic profile of former Michigan cornerback Vincent Gray but the play style of Carlton Davis.


Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth


Player / RAS Comp: Carlton Davis / Vincent Gray


2022 Stats: 13 tackles, one tackle for loss, and four passes defended



18. Riley Moss | 6’0 193 | Senior | Iowa


- Moss is a veteran of the famed Iowa defense and is a prime-time athlete in straight-line speed, forward or backward. He closes to the ball quickly once it's in the air and is willing to match up with anyone to fight for it. The former Hawkeyes standout was a Senior Bowl invitee, where he lived up to the billing by being one of the fastest overall players. He then proceeded to put up great numbers in the testing categories, including a 39-inch vertical and 4.45 40. He has the size and straight-line speed to combat virtually any receiver but lacks a decisive lateral quickness against craftier route runners. His production was good, with four out of five seasons with double-digit tackles, 11 interceptions, and 26 passes defended in his career. A physical man-to-man corner that goes for many home run hits when singles and doubles would suffice. He’s shaky in zone concepts in which the offense calls for quick-hitting routes. His athletic and style profile suggests he resembles former Rice corner Phillip Gaines. He could be a middle Day 3 selection that could transition to safety eventually.


Round Projection: Fifth to Sixth


Player / RAS Comp: Phillip Gaines


2022 Stats: 47 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, 11 passes defended, and two forced fumbles



S


1. Brian Branch | 5’11 190 | Junior | Alabama


- Branch is the best safety prospect in the class and led a defensive back group full of future pros in Tuscaloosa. He’s a versatile DB deployed seemingly everywhere but defensive tackle during his time at Alabama. There are multiple instances of him playing cornerback, safety, and dime linebacker throughout his career. Teams will love his versatility, ball skills, and immense football IQ. The best trait is his instincts and IQ to diagnose the play and pursue the ball quickly. Even if the athleticism isn’t quite there, he knows what he's doing to remain in the picture. He was a three-year key asset that only started one year but was a great final campaign. The talent, versatility, and intangibles are there for him to be a first-round selection. The former Tide safety compares favorably to Jimmie Ward, who has had a few years in the league. He likely projects as a dual role safety more than corner at the next level. He may get reps as a big nickel as well.


Round Projection: First to Second


Player / RAS Comp: Jimmie Ward


2022 Stats: 90 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, and seven passes defended,



2. JL Skinner | 6’3 209 | Senior | Boise State


- Skinner looks the part of safety straight out of central casting. He possesses the long, lean frame and the physicality of one. He’s one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the class with brute-force finishing. Definitely, a guy with light tower power has the above-average ability to wrap up. 2021 was his best season statistically, going for 92 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. While the tackle numbers decreased in 2022, the interception and pass breakup total increased, which is a good sign in pass coverage. He was a Senior Bowl invitee with a good process during the week. Unfortunately, he couldn’t continue the good momentum after tearing his pectoral during a workout before the Combine. A plus athlete with an impressive range could garner some looks as a big nickel type in the mold of a Jevon Holland. He currently projects between late Day 2 and the middle of Day 3. Athletically, he’s similar to former Virginia safety Quin Blanding.


Round Projection: Third to Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Quin Blanding


2022 Stats: 65 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, and five passes defended



3. Jartavius Martin | 5’11 194 | Senior | Illinois


- Martin was an ultra-versatile defensive back for the Illini that lined up everywhere in the secondary. He has starting experience at cornerback and safety. He is an impressive athlete that has great lateral agility and straight-line speed. Ball skills match the production over the years. He posted a career line of 225 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, and 22 pass breakups. His last two seasons were impressive as he played safety primarily before switching to a hybrid role in 2022. Range and hip fluidity are major pluses of his game. One of the best safety prospects in the class. Teams will love his fluidity and versatility. He’s projected to become a Day 2 selection. His physical and style comparison is that of Robert Alford.


Round Projection: Second to Third


Player / RAS Comp: Robert Alford


2022 Stats: 64 tackles, three tackles for loss, three interceptions, 11 passes defended, and two forced fumbles



4. Jordan Battle | 6’1 209 | Senior | Alabama


- Battle is, well, battle-tested in the rigors of SEC play, playing as a major contributor across four seasons. Primarily a strong safety by trade, he also has free safety experience. The testing numbers don’t indicate how good of an athlete he is. He’s not the best athlete, but his IQ is solid, and he was the general of the Tide secondary holding it all together. Production jumped as a sophomore, and he hasn’t looked back since. He has six interceptions, three of which were of the pick-six variety. He’s also a quick closer to the ball and displays fluid hips to change direction. A solid, fundamentally sound tackler. He currently projects as a back-end Day 2 selection, but his floor is the fourth round. He resembles former Packers / Georgia Tech star Morgan Burnett regarding play style and some athletic traits.


Round Projection: Third to Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Morgan Burnett


2022 Stats: 71 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and two passes defended



5. Antonio Johnson | 6’1 198 | Junior | Texas A&M


- Johnson has the size and speed to play strong safety/dime linebacker at the next level, even if the testing numbers weren’t ideal. He plays physically at the line and catch point but can be beaten by faster receivers. The medical is a concern as he missed three games in 2022 due to injury. He is a relatively inexperienced prospect, given that he only played 25 games in three seasons. Those games had enough good play to merit a top-five positional ranking. When he was healthy, he was used all over the field by the Aggies in his career. He projects as a Day 3 selection at this juncture. Athletically and in play style, he resembles former safety turned linebacker Keanu Neal.


Round Projection: Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Keanu Neal


2022 Stats: 71 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, one pass defense, and three forced fumbles



6. Jammie Robinson | 5’10 191 | Senior | Florida State


- Robinson transferred to Florida State during the 2021 offseason after two productive years in South Carolina. He was an immediate impact in Tallahassee, adding 84 tackles, four interceptions, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He was even better in 2022, leading the Seminoles' defense in their climb back to respectability as a former college football power. When times called for it, the Noles deployed him as a safety, linebacker, and corner. He is a safety by trade. The former Seminole prospect participated in the Senior Bowl and stood out at the practice sessions. He’s not a game-breaking athlete, but he is more than sufficient. The instincts are impressive as well. Teams will love his versatility and physicality. As it stands, he currently projects as a possible Day 2 selection but will likely end up as a fourth-round choice. Athletically and stylistically, he compares to former Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead.


Round Projection: Third to Fourth


Player / RAS Comp: Jordan Whitehead


2022 Stats: 99 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and five passes defended



7. Christopher Smith II | 5’10 192 | Senior | Georgia


- The RAS isn’t great, but Smith is plenty athletic on tape. He’s a position versatile prospect who was the leader of the secondary. His football IQ is his best trait. He lined up as a corner and excelled at both safety positions. Smith was a key starter for three seasons but truly broke out as a senior. Ball skills are evident even if the production didn’t come. He posted six interceptions and nine pass breakups in two seasons. Fluid athlete. The former Bulldogs' safety is projected to go in the early stages of Day 3. His physical and style comparison is former Colorado safety, Tedric Thompson.


Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth


Player / RAS Comp: Tedric Thompson


2022 Stats: 61 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, three interceptions, five passes defended, and one forced fumble



8. Sydney Brown | 5’9 211 | Senior | Illinois


- Brown is yet another member of the talented Illini secondary that will likely hear his name called during the draft. Former Illini running back and twin brother Chase is a good prospect in his own right. He’s an athletic, versatile safety who was deployed seemingly everywhere by Illinois in the back end. Laterally quick with plus instincts. He was great at the Senior Bowl, hardly losing a rep during the practices. A twitched-up athlete who can cover sideline to sideline when asked and can run and jump like a cornerback. Teams will love his versatility and athletic traits. He was a steady, if not spectacular, producer, posting 320 tackles, ten tackles for loss, ten interceptions, and 16 pass breakups. The size isn’t the greatest, but he can be a “big” nickel in certain packages with his athleticism to accompany his primary safety duties. He should be a middle Day 3 selection. His athletic profile resembles former Syracuse prospect Shamarko Thomas.


Round Projection: Fifth


Player / RAS Comp: Shamarko Thomas


2022 Stats: 60 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, six interceptions (one touchdown), seven passes defended, and one forced fumble (one recovered touchdown)



9. Brandon Joseph | 6’0 203 | Redshirt Junior | Notre Dame


- Joseph transferred to Notre Dame for his final season from Northwestern. It wasn’t an ideal finish in South Bend for him statistically, as he fell off dramatically from his peak of 79 tackles, three interceptions, and four pass breakups in 2021. He has good ball skills but the production in that regard never reached the heights of 2020 (six picks and two PBU) again. However, in his defense, he relatively evened out in 2021. He’s an instinctive pass defender who patrols the back end like a center fielder. His IQ and instincts allow him to diagnose the route concept and adjust the ball accordingly quickly. He isn’t the best athlete but is serviceable in that regard, and his instincts almost always keep him in the picture. Teams will be concerned about his fall-off in production in a bigger pond. The former Irish safety has the physical traits to stick as a free safety at the next level. He’s likely a middle to late Day 3 selection. Athletically, he compares favorably to Nate Gerry.


Round Projection: Fifth to Sixth


Player / RAS Comp: Nate Gerry


2022 Stats: 30 tackles, one interception, one pass defense, and one forced fumble



10. Anthony Johnson, Jr | 5’11 205 | Senior | Iowa State


- AJ transitioned to safety in 2022 after playing cornerback for much of his tenure. He was highly consistent during the last four seasons of his career, averaging 54 tackles and five pass breakups per year. The instincts of a corner are there in pass coverage. He’s a solid tackler in space and is a great linear athlete. A physical threat that can turn and run with receivers but also provide run support. As it was his first season as a safety, he seemed to be trying to figure things out at the position but did improve as the year progressed. Teams will like his versatility and potential at safety enough to draft him on Day 3 to mold him as a big nickel. Athletically, he compares to former Saints/Titans standout Kenny Vaccaro.


Round Projection: Fifth to Sixth


Player / RAS Comp: Kenny Vaccaro


2022 Stats: 60 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, four passes defended, and one forced fumble



11. Brandon Hill | 5’10 193 | Redshirt Junior | Pittsburgh


- Hill is the latest standout defensive back from the Panthers program trying to make his way into the league. He was a consistent producer in his two seasons of starting. He’s a physical safety that can run downhill with outstanding quickness. He possesses the athleticism to hang with quicker backs and tight ends in the passing game. A home run tackler who tends to go for the big hit instead of wrapping up properly. Once he finds the ball, the closing burst is like a lightning-fast missile. The former Pitt safety projects to be a third defensive back used in nickel and dime packages with his athletic and physicality. BH is likely a late Day 3 round selection. Athletically and stylistically, he resembles former Tennessee safety, Micah Abernathy.


Round Projection: Sixth to Seventh


Player / RAS Comp: Micah Abernathy


2022 Stats: 67 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, two passes defended, and one fumble touchdown recovery



12. Kaevon Merriweather | 6’0 205 | Redshirt Senior | Iowa


- Merriweather was a productive two-year starter for the vaunted Hawkeyes defense. He’s an above-average athlete that can run downhill in a hurry. Coverage is an issue for him, as lateral fluidity isn’t his best trait. He’s a physical hitter in the run game. The football IQ is impressive, as with most Iowa defenders. He can quickly diagnose and pursue the ball but can get beat by fast running backs and tight ends. The former Hawkeyes safety likely will be selected later on Day 3, given his physical nature, talent, IQ, and lack of sufficient lateral agility. Athletically and stylistically, he resembles former Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo. He had two years of consistent production of 40+ tackles and broke out in 2022 with three interceptions.


Round Projection: Sixth to Seventh


Player / RAS Comp: Bacarri Rambo


2022 Stats: 47 tackles, two tackles for loss, three interceptions, three passes defended, one forced fumble, one fumble touchdown recovery



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