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Draft Coverage

2023 Combine preview: Cornerback

This year's class of cornerbacks is full of both top-end talent and terrific depth. Cornerback-needy teams will find really good starting-caliber cornerbacks well into Day 2 of this year's NFL Draft.

There are seven cornerbacks among draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's initial list of the Top 50 players in this class.

The Lions certainly have a need at cornerback as they look to improve the competition in that room. Jeff Okudah played pretty well for the most part last season and is under contract. The team really likes third-year cornerback Jerry Jacobs with his versatility and the trajectory he's on. Will Harris started 10 games but is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the new league year.

Top 5 cornerbacks to watch at the Combine:

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois, 6-0, 180

Witherspoon is lean but plays bigger than his frame would indicate. He certainly hits harder. He's a rangy cornerback with terrific ball skills. He recorded three interceptions to go along with 14 defended passes and 41 tackles this past season. Witherspoon has defended 23 passes the last two years combined at Illinois.

View photos of the defensive back prospects who were invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

2. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon, 6-2, 200

Gonzalez has a long frame and good size that allows him to play a physical brand of football at the line of scrimmage. He's got terrific ball skills (four interceptions this past season), and he's expected to run and test really well at the Combine. Will it be Witherspoon or Gonzalez who hears their name come off the board first?

3. Joey Porter Jr., Penn State, 6-2, 200

Porter will try and throw his hat into the mix as the first corner off the board with a good Combine. He has elite size, length and speed, and excels in press man coverage. Pro Football Focus listed him as giving up one pass play of 15-plus yards in his coverage this past season. His father Joey Porter played 13 NFL seasons. Teams are going to love his combo of size, speed and athleticism.

4. Kelee Ringo, Georgia, 6-2, 200

Arguably the most athletic cornerback in the class. He's got terrific length, speed and power, and can make plays all over the field in a variety of different ways. The knock on Ringo is he doesn't have great ball skills and because of that will lose the football and give up big plays now and again. Some teams might view him as a safety.

5. Deonte Banks, Maryland, 6-0, 207

One of the best tacklers in the group, Banks isn't afraid to play a physical brand of football. He never takes a play off. He's got good ball skills, but that didn't equate to a lot of ball production at Maryland. He's a player teams will have a close eye on at the Combine.

Combine sleeper to watch: Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford, 6-0, 193

Kelly really took advantage of his invite to the Senior Bowl. He was a consistent playmaker all week in Mobile. Kelly has terrific instincts and a nose for the football. He made a play at the Senior Bowl where he snatched a ball out of the arms of a receiver in a team period and returned it for a touchdown. Teams generally stayed away from him this past season. In 2021, he had 58 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 11 passes defended.

Lions' need at the position: High

The Lions return Okudah and Jacobs, and the team likes the trajectory both players are on, but they will look to add competition to that room with potentially a veteran free agent and a first or second day draft pick.

Harris and veteran Mike Hughes are both headed toward unrestricted free agency. So is Amani Oruwariye, who will likely being looking for a fresh start somewhere else after losing his starting spot and being a healthy scratch at times.

Detroit finished the season 32nd in total defense, 30th against the pass and 32nd in yards per play allowed (6.2). Opponents had a 114.0 passer rating with eight touchdowns and only two interceptions on throws that traveled at least 21 yards in the air against them, which ranked 31st.

Key stat: The Lions allowed 60 pass plays of 20-plus yards in 2022, which were fewer than only Minnesota (61) and Tennessee (63).

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