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2023 NFL Scouting Combine

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NFL Combine Notebook: Joey Porter Jr., Christian Gonzalez lead deep CB class

GONZALEZ-PORTER-PSEG

If you're looking for some cornerback help in the 2023 NFL Draft, you're in luck.

This year's crop of cornerbacks is considered by many to be one of the deepest in recent years. The class features both elite talent expected to go early in the first round, along with solid prospects likely to hear their names called on Days 2 and 3.

Which cornerback is the first to be selected come April 27 remains to be seen, but Penn State's Joey Porter Jr. will certainly be in the conversation.

Porter is coming off his best season as a Nittany Lion. In 10 games, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound corner registered 11 pass breakups on his way to being named First-Team All-Big Ten.

One thing is clear when listening to him speak at Prospect Media Day Thursday at the NFL Combine – the young man does not lack confidence.

"I'm a physical press corner that's going to get in your face and do my job and do it well…" Porter told the media. "I feel like I'm the best corner here. I'm just here to show my talents and prove why."

Porter, who said he patterns his game after three-time All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey, is the second-highest ranked cornerback on Daniel Jeremiah's top 50 draft prospect rankings, coming in at No. 12. The former Penn State CB earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors this past season after being selected Third-Team All-Big Ten the previous two years.

But unlike most prospects in this year's draft, Porter has been around the NFL his whole life.

Joey Porter Sr. played 13 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker. He was selected five times as an All-Pro in addition to being named to both the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team.

Porter Jr. grew up around the Steelers facility, absorbing as much information as he could from the NFL players around him. He even recalled doing one-on-one drills with former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Having his dad's experiences to lean on serves as inspiration as he embarks on his own NFL journey.

"My dad's been there (in the NFL) before," the top prospect said about the Steelers legend. "He's done it. I want to do the same thing and just be better. That's the main thing he always told me. He wants me to be better than him. So, that's what I'm going to strive to do, and that's why I'm here."

Porter isn't the only top cornerback prospect with some NFL ties in the family.

Oregon's Christian Gonzalez put together a breakout campaign in 2022 with four interceptions and seven pass breakups in 12 games. Gonzalez was named First-Team All-Pac-12 by the conference's coaches, which helped him rank right behind Porter on Jeremiah's top 50 list at No. 13.

Gonzalez's sister, Melissa, is an Olympic hurdler, and her husband is NFL quarterback David Blough. The former Oregon cornerback discussed his relationship with Blough on Thursday and how much the quarterback has helped him over the years.

"Someone in my direct family that I can talk to that has been through the process of playing in college, been in the league. (He's) somebody that I talked to growing up all the time," Gonzalez said. "He was always around the house. I remember playing with him when I was like 10 years old, just running around and throwing the ball. It's all come full circle and it's been great to have him in my corner."

Gonzalez is another big, long corner, listed at 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds. After spending his first two seasons at Colorado, the Texas-native transferred to Oregon, where his performance landed him firmly on the NFL's radar. Gonzalez overcame a slow start to the season and finished with the third-most interceptions in the Pac-12.

His ability to match up against wide receivers of all shapes and sizes is what he believes separates him from the rest of the cornerback class.

"I'm a long, speedy, versatile corner, you know," the 20-year-old stated. "Someone that can line up on the outside and guard a 6-5 receiver and line up inside and guard a 5-10 speedy type of receiver. Being able to be a smart player, learn very quickly. Being able to change to any type of what (type of receiver) I'm going against."

Similar to Porter, Gonzalez wants more than anything to be the first cornerback selected in next month's draft.

"It means everything," he told reporters. "That's what I have strived for my whole life. All I've worked for is here so I'm excited to get going."

Last year, the Jets selected Sauce Gardner with the fourth overall pick. The 6-foot-3 rookie stepped into the NFL and right away became one of the top corners in the league, earning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as well as a selection as First-Team All-Pro.

Seeing Gardner's immediate success has fueled Gonzalez's own belief that he can go out there and do the same thing this year.

"It's all confidence, you know, playing this position," Gonzalez said. "You're on an island out there by yourself and you know, that's what I live for--big matchups. Anytime I get to go against a great receiver week in, week out, that's my favorite thing to do. Watching Sauce and those rookies, it's great to go through that because they're tall, long lanky corners and I'm just like them. The fact they can do it, I know I can go in there and do it as well."

View photos from Media Day as some of the top S and CB prospects speak to reporters from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

*Syracuse's Garrett Williams is another CB with an interesting NFL connection. He too is likely to have his name called sooner rather than later in next month's draft.

"I'd probably say Jaire Alexander," Williams responded when asked who he models his game after. "I've known him and his family since I was really young. Me and his little brother played Pop Warner together. So I actually met Jaire when he was in high school, and I have the luxury of being able to reach out to him throughout the season or things like that and then us having a similar size as well. Seeing how he plays and obviously seeing the success he's had in this league, it's nothing but motivation to be able to see a guy his size, his caliber do what he does. It just gives me the extra pump knowing I can do it

Williams, a Freshman All-American and three-time All-ACC selection, emerged as a shutdown corner throughout his time at Syracuse. He led the conference in pass breakups in 2020 and 2021 before an injury cut his 2022 campaign short.

Nonetheless, Williams, who told the media he met with the Giants this week in Indy, proved himself with his performance on the field along with his leadership both on and off the field, as he was voted team captain this past season.

"NFL locker room, I feel like I bring the capabilities of being a future team captain and then on the field, somebody who's aggressive to the ball, on the ground and in the air," Williams said. "And I feel like that's what separates me from a lot of guys in this class. I feel like I do a lot of things very good in the football field. But I also feel like I have the potential to do a lot of them at a very, very high level as well."

*Darius Rush spent three seasons with fellow South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn before the latter was picked No. 8 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to hear that Rush models his game after his former teammate, who has achieved success in his first two seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"Jaycee Horn, being the kind of guy he is and his press technique, I kind of modeled my game after him in terms of that," Rush said during his press conference Thursday. "Being around him and seeing what kind of player he was not only on the field but off the field, his characteristics and how great of a person he was. Travon Diggs is another guy, the way he can run the route for the receivers - something I did and was noticed at the Senior Bowl."

The cornerback prospect was later asked how he embodies the three qualities that Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen look for – smart, tough and dependable.

"One way I embody those characteristics is off the field," the 6-foot-2, 200-pound corner said. "I'm a guy who is laid back, doesn't get into too much social things, clean off the field and on the field I make sure that I'm detailed in what I do, disciplined in my job. Be in the right place at the right time, make sure I'm not in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stay away from trouble. In terms of smartness, I have an IQ for the game."

View photos from the NFL Combine as prospects take the field for on-field drills.