Getty Images

In the 2023 NFL Draft we were treated to one of the deepest, most talent-laden cornerback groups in quite some time. It was a class riddled with elite athleticism and corners who were magnets to the football in college

Four went in the first round and 12 were picked before Day 2 was over -- this selection process was a challenge. 

These are the five cornerbacks who'll be most productive in Year 1 in the NFL. I've also ranked receiverstight ends, and running backs by this same criteria.

5. Emmanuel Forbes, Commanders

Forbes is one unique cat. A hair under 6-foot-1 and... 166 pounds? Skinny! But, hey, Devonta Smith was right at 170 pounds a few years ago and it hasn't hurt him at the professional level. Plus, lighter, quicker, more explosive players are clearly en vogue in today's NFL. So maybe Forbes fits right in.

Tackling issues are real with Forbes, but his standout athletic profile and ball production can't be ignored. Six house calls on interceptions as an SEC cornerback at Mississippi State is no fluke. There'll be times when Forbes is bullied by the deceptive strength of many No. 1 receivers in the NFL. In zone and off-man coverage, he'll flash the inherent playmaking abilities that made him the second cornerback off the board in April. 

4. Riley Moss, Broncos 

Stepping outside the box for this selection. Moss was the 11th cornerback picked in the draft, but he might be the most NFL-ready. Had he not gotten injured in 2021, Moss probably would've been part of the 2022 class. He's played an inordinate amount of football -- nearly 1,500 snaps in coverage in college -- and starred from the moment he stepped foot on the field for Iowa. In his five-year college career, Moss disrupted 26 passes with 11 interceptions and three pick-sixes. He's lightning-quick changing directions and has the sharpened route-recognition skills many Hawkeyes defensive backs boast when they enter the NFL. 

Moss will play on a Broncos defense that should generate frequent pressure in 2023 with Randy Gregory, Frank Clark, Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto, Zach Allen, and fellow rookie Drew Sanders rushing the passer. Moss has a high floor, and I expect him to hit the ground running in Denver. 

3. Deonte Banks, Giants

Banks was the most eye-opening, rocket of an athlete in a loaded cornerback class in the 2023 draft. He ran 4.35 in the 40-yard dash with a 42-inch vertical and a broad jump in the 98th percentile at the position. The Giants moved up one spot to ensure they'd land Banks, because he's an ideal scheme fit for Wink Martindale's aggressive, blitz-happy, man-coverage heavy defense. On 60 targets in his coverage area at Maryland in 2022, Banks surrendered just 26 grabs. That crazy-low reception rate of 43.3% probably jumped off the page at the Giants scouting department and coaching staff. There were some coverage blips on Banks' film, which is why he's a little lower on this list. But I have plenty of faith Martindale will deploy him correctly as a rookie in one of the most unique schemes in football.

2. Joey Porter Jr., Steelers

Porter was the cornerback prospect who experienced an unexpected slide in April. Still can't figure out why. At 6-foot-2 with 34-inch arms and 4.46 speed, Porter has built-in-a-lab measurables and athletic traits which translated to major productivity at Penn State. The interceptions didn't come often -- he only had one with the Nittany Lions -- but Porter registered 11 pass breakups in 2022 on just 30 throws in his target area. In short, it was rare that quarterbacks tested Porter, and it wasn't a prudent decision when they did. He didn't allow a touchdown all year. Now he's on a Pittsburgh defense with T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward pressuring the quarterback. Porter has the length, natural mirroring talent, and ball skills to rock as a rookie. 

1. Christian Gonzalez, Patriots

From two seasons at Colorado to his final collegiate campaign at Oregon, Gonzalez made it clear on film -- he can lock up in man coverage. While his ball production wasn't outrageous in man in 2022, on film he was super-sticky in those one-on-one situations, which limited targets in his vicinity. That's precisely what Bill Belichick will ask of Gonzalez as a rookie, and at nearly 6-2 with 4.38 speed and elite explosiveness, he'll be capable of staying with most NFL wideouts in his first professional season operating in the scheme of arguably the greatest defensive mind in football history. 

Gonzalez was my May pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year. So, yeah, he was an easily selection here at No. 1.