The cornerback position has become one of the most important on the football field, and every defense is looking for a great corner to make receivers’ lives miserable.
The good news for defenses the league over — and bad news for offenses — is that the cornerback class in the 2023 NFL Draft is both talented and very deep. There could well be a dozen starting caliber corners drafted over the first 100 picks in the draft. But who will be the first one selected?
It could be Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, who checks just about every box with regards to size, athleticism, and schematic versatility. He also showed that he belonged in a major program when he transferred from Colorado to Oregon prior to the 2022 season.
There’s almost no chance that the New York Giants get the opportunity to select Gonzalez. But, his selection could be a very early domino that helps determine who the Giants do select in the first round.
Prospect: Christian Gonzalez (0)
Games Played: 30
Tackles for a loss: 6.0
Passes defensed: 17
Games Played: 12
Tackles for a loss: 1.0
Passes defensed: 7
Best: Athleticism, size, technique, versatility, man and zone coverage
Worst: Tackling, run support
Projection: A starting cornerback with scheme diversity and Pro Bowl upside.
Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez has a rare combination of size, athleticism, and coverage skills to play the position at the NFL level.
He has excellent size for the position at 6-foot-1, 197 pounds with 32-inch arms, as well as excellent athleticism, as evidenced by his 4.38 second 40-yard dash and 41 ½ inch vertical.
Gonzalez played a wide variety of alignments and techniques in Oregon’s defense. He’s played on the left and right side of the defense, as well as in the slot when necessary. He also has experience playing in zone and man coverage schemes, as well as off, bail, and press techniques. He executed each of those alignments and techniques well in the tape viewed.
He has an extremely flexible and fluid lower body, giving him a quick, compact, and balanced back pedal. Gonzalez is able to quickly and easily get depth in his zone drops, as well as delay opening his hips in man coverage. When he does have to transition from his backpedal to sprinting, it is very smooth. Gonzalez is able to keep gaining ground through his transition, or stay in phase with the receiver through their break.
Gonzalez uses his hands well and delivers a stiff jam in press technique, and is also able to stay connected to the receiver without risk of drawing pass interference flags. At times he’s almost able to run the route for the receiver. He also has very good awareness in zone coverage, and also seems to have a high football IQ.
He does a very good job of communicating before and after the snap when in zone coverage, and has good eye discipline as well. Gonzalez does a good job of picking up and passing off receivers who enter and leave his zone of responsibility. Likewise, he does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes without being manipulated or pulled out of position.
Gonzalez wasn’t often targeted, but was disruptive at the catch point in the tape viewed. His length and athleticism allow him to close quickly and shut receiving windows from off coverage. Likewise, his fluidity in man coverage generally puts him in good position to play the receiver’s hands at the catch point.
Gonzalez has very few weaknesses as a cornerback, and perhaps the most glaring is in his run defense and tackling. He is much more of a “hitter” than a tackler. He’s often seen delivering a shoulder check, rather than breaking down and executing a form tackle. That wasn’t much of an issue in coverage, as Gonzalez wasn’t often targeted by opposing quarterbacks and he was generally disruptive when he was targeted. A hard shoulder check was often enough. However, it was an issue as a run defender.
Gonzalez is a willing run defender, but he can be prone to taking inefficient angles to the ball. That exacerbated his inconsistent tackling, as a poor angle would put him in poor position to even hit the ball carrier. So while he could get to the ball in a hurry, his hits could be more glancing blows.
Overall Grade: 8.5
Christian Gonzalez projects as a starting cornerback at the NFL level.
Gonzalez is one of the safest prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. He has a prototypical blend of size, athleticism, and skill for the cornerback, and proved to be very reliable in coverage for the Ducks. He’s also scheme diverse and should also be able to immediately start in whatever scheme into which he’s drafted.
Coaches will want to work with Gonzalez with respect to his tackling and run defense, but a corner who isn’t a great tackler is hardly unheard-of coming out of college. His primary job, and the source of his value, will be his pass coverage, and he should be very good at that. It isn’t hard to imagine Gonzalez receiving Pro Bowl honors before his rookie contract is up.