Like many other defensive positions on the roster, the New England Patriots are currently set to run it back in their cornerback room next season. After resigning Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant, along with restructuring Jalen Mills’ contract, New England has the same group as last year under contract.
With Jones, Bryant, and Mills — who may transition to more of a safety hybrid — joined by Marcus and Jack Jones, New England’s cornerback room has plenty of talent. What it does not have, however, is height. Mills is the only member of the group who checks in at the 6-foot mark.
Luckily for the Patriots, this year’s cornerback class is deep with talented cornerbacks who succeed along the boundary. It should be expected New England takes their chance with at least one of them, so let’s explore who that might be.
If the Patriots choose to go cornerback with their 14th overall selection, it likely will come down to Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr., or Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon.
Christian Gonzalez (Oregon): The top choice of the group is Gonzalez, who should be an easy top-10 selection. He’s a tall, long corner who is also a strong athlete that helps him blanket receivers outside. Gonzalez has all the traits and upside to be a premiere cornerback in the NFL.
Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State): The son of former NFL linebacker Joey Porter Sr., the Penn State alum has ideal length (6-foot-2, 34-inch arms) and the physicality needed to play press man along the outside. He likes to beat receivers up at the line of scrimmage and allowed only 68 yards on 106 snaps in press coverage all last season. Porter also boasts an impressive athletic profile but can get overly grabby and struggles to change directions at time.
Devon Witherspoon (Illinois): While New England met with Gonzalez and Porter Jr. at the Combine, they reportedly did not meet with Witherspoon at all during the pre-draft process. But, coming from Bret Bielema’s Illinois program, Belichick likely has all the intel they need on him. He is sticky in man coverage and always seems to be around the ball, but at 5-foot-11, 181 pounds may not have a premiere role along the boundary.
Deonte Banks (Maryland): Banks will likely be the fourth cornerback to hear his name called in the first-round. He was a four-year starter along the boundary for the Terps and has the size (6-0, 197), athleticism (4.35 40) and physicality needed to succeed in the NFL. He too has some issues grabbing and needs to be more consistent with his technique, but has legit upside and may be the best press man corner in the draft.
Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi’s State): The only cornerback who New England held on a Top-30 visit and met with at the Combine was Mississippi’s State’s Emmanuel Forbes. Forbes had elite ball production in college with 35 pass breakups and 11 interceptions — returning six for pick-sixes, a FBS record. What will hurt the former Bulldog is his size. While he measured in at 6-foot-1, he weighs just 166 pounds.
Cam Smith (South Carolina): South Carolina has been CBU in recent years and Cam Smith is next in line from a talented group. The 6-foot-1, 180 pound Smith has good length to play the boundary but also was used inside throughout his Gamecock career. His ball skills were on display in ’21 when he led his team with 14 pass deflections, but recorded just six the past year. Again, he had some penalty issues being flagged double-digit times over 11 games last year, but is also a strong athlete that is not afraid to get physical in the run game. New England met with him at the Combine.
Kelee Ringo (Georgia): How teams evaluate Ringo will be interesting to watch. The Bulldog was a former five-star recruit and former No. 1 cornerback in the 2020 recruiting class. Ringo started at outside cornerback for two seasons in Georgia and has an exceptional physical frame. He’s an elite athlete, running a 4.36 40 at 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, but has issues changing directions. A move to safety could be in his future, but he has all the physical tools to stick in the NFL somewhere.
Julius Brents (Kansas State): If the Patriots are truly looking to add size along the outside, Brents could be the guy. The Kansas State corner measured in at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds with 34-inch arms. But, unlike some of the bigger cornerbacks New England have added in years past Brents can also move at his size. He was the best cornerback at the Combine during the agility drills with a 6.63-second 3-cone and 4.05-second short shuttle.
D.J. Turner (Michigan): During his pre-draft press conference at Gillette Stadium last Tuesday, Matt Groh shared you can never be “fast enough.” If New England again gravitates towards athletes in this draft, look no further than Turner. The 5-foot-11, 178 pound Turner ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.26) and 20-yard split (2.32) at the Combine. He has below average arm length and would be another sub 6-foot corner, but his explosive athleticism jumps out on the playing field.
Darius Rush (South Carolina): Cam Smith isn’t the only South Carolina cornerback in this class as Darius Rush will likely be a Day 2 selection. Rush was a two-year starter for the Gamecocks after originally enrolling as a wide receiver. He provides above average size (6-2, 198, 33 3/8 arms) and showcased his high-end athletic profile at the Combine with a 4.36-second 40 and 45-inch vertical. Rush was also one of the best players in Mobile during the Senior Bowl.
Tyrique Stevenson (Miami): Stevenson is everything a team wants in a press-man corner. He is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage, has excellent length, and is a strong athlete. The former Georgia commit showcased his sticky man coverage skills at the Senior Bowl.
Clark Phillips II (Utah): Phillips II was used inside and outside during his collegiate career recording 27 pass breakups and eight interceptions over the last two seasons. Phillips has strong short-area quickness and change of direction skills to stay attached to receivers, but is likely a slot corner at the next level due to his 5-foot-9, 184 pound frame.
Early Day 3
Cory Trice (Purdue): If you’re searching for the cornerback the Patriots may value higher than the rest of the board, Trice may be the guy. Trice offers elite height and length (6-foot-3, 32 3/8 inch arms) at the position to pair with plus athletic traits (9.67 RAS). A four-year starter at Purdue, Trice uses his physical traits well to mirror receivers along the boundary. For a small Patriots’ cornerback room, Trice could be the varying skillset they need.
Kyu Blu Kelly (Stanford): Kelly was a four-year starter at Stanford who is strong in press coverage due to his solid size and length. While his foot speed is top tier, Kelly has just average long speed (4.52 40) which makes it difficult for him to recover when beat.
Riley Moss (Iowa): Moss is one of the best athletes at the position in the draft. At 6-foot-1, 193 pounds, Moss recorded a 9.90 RAS which was led by a 4.45 40 and an elite 6.60 3-cone time. A four-year starter for the Hawkeyes Moss could have a future at safety as well due to his high IQ and range. He was also senior captain and won Iowa’s 2022 Team Hustle Award on defense and special teams.
Jakorian Bennett (Maryland): Bennett was a no-star recruit after playing just one season of high school varsity football. He then played JUCO for two years before landing with Maryland in 2020. Once he arrived he impressed for the Terps recording 31 pass breakups in only 28 games. He’s an above average athlete with average size.
Eli Ricks (Alabama): New England met with Ricks at the NFL Combine. He is a former five-star recruit and high school All-American who didn’t see consistent playing time at Alabama after transferring from LSU. When he was on the field last year he gave up just six catches on 19 targets for 77 yards (five pass breakups) in 223 coverage snaps. He has all the physical traits needed to succeed on the outside but was a below average athletic tester at the Combine (5.04 RAS).
Jaylon Jones (Texas A&M): Jones falls in a similar bucket as Ricks as a former five-star recruit (as a safety). He also aligns with Ricks due to his size at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, but a 4.57 40-yard dash raises some concerns about his long/recovery speed. Jones did test better from an agility standpoint, however. He’s a physical player that could move his way back to safety on some teams, and also played on punt return and punt coverage all three collegiate seasons.
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (TCU): Another fascinating evaluation in this year’s draft, Hodges-Tomlinson won the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s best defensive back last year playing almost exclusively on the boundary for the Horned Frogs. Hodges-Tomlinson is strong in press coverage and clocked in at a 4.41 40 at the Combine. The issue is he measured in at just 5-foot-8, 178 pounds with 29 inch arms. He’ll likely be bumped inside at the next level.
Terell Smith (Minnesota): New England got a first-hand look at Smith at the Shrine Bowl this offseason. Smith is a former high school track star despite being 6-foot, 204 pounds. He’s a physical press-corner with good length but had some injury issues during his time with the Gophers.
Garrett Williams (Syracuse): A torn ACL in October cost Williams the rest of his junior season and all of the NFL Draft process. Williams does not have ideal height along the boundary - where he played in college. What he does show is impressive footwork and strong discipline being called for zero defensive penalties over the last two seasons. He’s not afraid to get involved in the run game, was a captain at Syracuse, and played on both kick and punt coverage units.
Late Day 3
Mekhi Blackmon (USC): Another no-star recruit who took the JUCO route, Blackmon eventually found a home in Colorado for four season and then transferred to USC in ’22. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-11, 178 pound frame and is aggressive playing the ball. He tends to be a bit grabby at times drawing 15 career penalties — including five pass interference flags in 2022.
Darrell Luther Jr. (South Alabama): Staying on the no-star recruit who played JUCO path, Luther Jr. qualifies as well. Luther is a lanky cornerback at 5-foot-11, 189 pounds with 32 3/8 inch arms. He’s athletic and is strong at the catch point recording 23 pass deflections in 23 career starts.
Nic Jones (Ball State): On to the Shrine Bowl, where New England saw plenty of late Day 3/UDFA options out in Vegas. Nic Jones from Ball State was one of the best players the Patriots’ coaching staff worked with throughout the week. The 6-foot-1 corner showcased his length with a pair of pass breakups in the first half of the East-West Game, while the New England coaching staff reportedly viewed Jones as the “most improved player” throughout the week.
Kei’Trel Clark (Louisville): Clark may have been the best cornerback in Vegas that week although he worked with the Atlanta staff. Clark’s playmaking ability flashed all week, which is nothing new. In 33 career collegiate starts he recorded 34 pass breakups and five interceptions. At 5-foot-10, 181 pounds, he may be a tweener from the boundary to slot, however.
Eric Scott Jr. (Southern Miss): Scott Jr. is a big, boundary cornerback at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds. New England’s staff reportedly viewed Scott as “the most comfortable corner they had in press coverage” throughout the week.
Louisiana Tech’s Myles Brooks and Lance Boykin from Coastal Carolina also attended the Shrine Bowl. Brooks does not posses high-level athletic traits but his ball skills (35 pass breakups in 29 starts) are his top ability. Boykin on the other hand is quite athletic as a former track star.
Throughout the pre-draft process, New England has also met with Jackson State’s Isaiah Bolden (Top-30) and LSU’s Jay Ward (Combine). The team also hosted Mekhi Garner of LSU on a pre-draft visit and private workout.