The 2022 NFL season is officially over, and the offseason is getting into full swing. This offseason, the Detroit Lions have playoff aspirations for the 2023 season. The team finished 2022 with a 9-8 record after starting the season 1-6. The team boasts a top-five scoring offense and ranks fourth in offensive yards gained. With offensive coordinator Ben Johnson returning for another season, the Lions will look to reload on offense for the 2023 season.
The same cannot be said for the Lions’ defense. Detroit ranked 28th in points against and dead last in yardage given up. The Lions’ secondary was especially weak this past season. The team ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and 23rd in passing touchdowns given up.
It comes as no surprise that cornerback is one of the top positions of need on the Lions’ draft board. The team has a pair of promising safeties in Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph; however, Detroit has struggled to find a consistent performer at cornerback. Amani Oruwarie was benched midseason after a string of disastrous performances. Oruwarie allowed 39 receptions on 52 targets. Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs turned in some solid performances but were far from extraordinary.
The Lions are still looking for a number-one corner. The team drafted Okudah for that role in 2020, but with early struggles and an injury that sidelined him for much of 2021, the Ohio State product has not lived up to the billing. The 2023 NFL draft boasts a deep cornerback class. Whether the Lions look to select a corner with the sixth pick, 17th pick or a later round, there will be no shortage of options to choose from.
Here are the top corner prospects that should be high on the Detroit Lions’ draft board.
Illinois corner Devon Witherspoon is one of the most common projections for the Detroit Lions to select with the sixth pick in mock drafts. The 22-year-old is somewhat undersized, weighing in at 180 pounds and standing at 6-0. However, his tape is possibly the best of any corner in this class.
Witherspoon does a great job processing opposing offenses. He allowed a completion percentage of just 34.9 percent according to PFF. He sticks to receivers and has solid route-recognition skills. He is reliable in run defense as well. He projects as a potential star number-one corner who can defend on an island at times and is more than capable of defending in man coverage.
Witherspoon does not possess top-end speed. He may be burned early on by the league’s faster receivers, and his make-up speed is sometimes lacking. He is also very handsy in coverage, and it would not be surprising if he found himself with defensive holding or pass interference issues early in his career.
If the Lions select Witherspoon, they would receive a player with outside corner and slot corner capabilities. He played 616 snaps on the outside and 107 snaps in the slot this past season.
Christian Gonzalez provides versatility. The 20-year-old out of Oregon can play both man and zone coverages as well as press, off-ball, outside and slot abilities. Gonzalez is another potential pick for the Lions at sixth overall. At 6-2, he offers great size to complement his speed and agility.
Gonzalez has all the tools to be a team’s top cornerback at some point in his career. However, he has inconsistencies with anticipation and positioning that could hold him back early on.
If the Lions are looking to take a swing on a potential elite corner, Gonzalez might be that guy. His combination of size, speed and length are everything general managers could want in a corner. It is not a given that Gonzalez will reach his full potential. He still has plenty to work on in his game before he can be crowned as an elite cornerback prospect. But, if he hits, it could be something special.
Joey Porter Jr.
If the Lions elect to take a cornerback with the 17th overall pick, Joey Porter Jr. may just be the best one available. Porter Jr. was a very effective press corner at Penn State. He uses his 6-2, 198-pound frame to leverage receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Porter Jr. is effective in off-ball coverage as well, but his strengths truly lie in press. According to PFF, the 22-year-old allowed just 68 yards in 106 press coverage snaps.
Porter Jr. has the traits of a shut-down corner, but he is also a potential penalty liability. He plays with a very handsy playstyle. This got him in a few times throughout his collegiate career, and it will likely plague him early on in his professional career as well.
The Lions would not receive a player with the same outside and slot versatility in Porter Jr. that they would receive with Witherspoon or Gonzalez. Porter Jr. played only five snaps out of the slot in 2022. He is certainly a player who will find his home playing almost exclusively on the outside.
Maryland’s Deonte Banks is a prime candidate to shoot up draft boards during the pre-draft process. At 6-2 and weighing in at 205 pounds, Banks has great size, similar to what Gonzalez and Porter Jr. possess. He can find success in either a man or zone-heavy scheme, and he projects to offer some versatility in the slot as well as outside. However, he did not play much slot at Maryland.
Banks has room for improvement in his technique. He is not the best run defender, and he can be slow to process route breaks in off coverage.
Banks is likely to be available for the Detroit Lions to select him with the 17th pick, and there is a chance he will be available in the second round as well. However, his draft stock is on the rise, so a first-round selection appears more likely. Banks might not ultimately have the ceiling to be a team’s top corner, but he will be a reliable player in his career. Whether that is defending the opposing team’s best receivers, playing on the second option or in the slot is yet to be seen.
(Featured Image Credit: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)