Statistically, cornerback is a highly volatile position year over year. While that makes it difficult to evaluate corners for the NFL draft, the truly elite separate themselves with consistent tape. Does Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez’s 2023 NFL Draft scouting report fall into that bucket?
Christian Gonzalez NFL draft profile
Athleticism pours through the Gonzalez bloodline. Christian’s father played college basketball at UTEP and semiprofessionally in Columbia. His two older sisters ran track and were All-Americans in the 400 hurdles and 4×400 relay. So it’s no surprise Gonzalez is a gifted athlete as well.
As a defensive back in high school, Gonzalez racked up 46 tackles, 17 pass breakups, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. While those numbers are nothing to scoff at, he was even more productive as an offensive and special-teams weapon. Across his final two seasons, Gonzalez recorded 1,394 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns, including 65 receptions for 956 yards and 12 scores.
Gonzalez garnered back-to-back first-team All-District honors and even ran track as a senior, hitting a personal best of 21.6 seconds in the 200m at the Texas State Championships. 247Sports rated the dual-threat playmaker as a four-star prospect and a top-50 recruit in Texas.
With 30+ offers on the table, featuring Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, Gonzalez committed to Purdue. However, he ultimately flipped to Colorado. In two seasons with the Buffaloes, Gonzalez generated 10 PBUs — but most impressive was his tape. NFL DB factory Oregon courted him in the transfer portal, earning his services for the 2022 season. Through three games, Gonzalez has notched his first career interception and two PBUs.
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Oregon
- Current Year: Redshirt sophomore
- Height/Weight: 6’2″, 201 pounds
Christian Gonzalez scouting report
Gonzalez already received some draft hype this offseason. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman named him to his Freaks List, stating that he hit 23.3 mph on the GPS, jumped 42 inches in the vertical, and power-cleaned 325 pounds. As an underclassman, Gonzalez doesn’t have to declare for the NFL. But if he does, how high could the Oregon CB go come April?
Where Gonzalez wins
I’d be remiss if I started Gonzalez’s 2023 NFL Draft scouting report anywhere else than his athleticism. At a listed 6’2″ and 200 pounds, the Oregon CB moves extremely well. He remains low in his stance throughout routes and has no issue carrying receivers vertically. He has the long-strider speed to blanket speedy WRs downfield with the burst to close when the ball is in the air.
Although Gonzalez’s transitions can be a little clunky at times — more on that later — he is relatively smooth in and out of breaks. Additionally, he’s flashed an excellent speed turn when pivoting upfield. Aiding in his movement skills are rapid feet that never cease.
Gonzalez’s foot speed allows him to recover after initially getting a step behind a receiver. If he opens to one side of the field and the receiver goes the opposite way, he quickly opens his hips and explodes, needing no more than three steps to reach his top speed.
The Oregon CB is patient with both his eyes and feet, maintaining leverage on the opposition throughout reps. He doesn’t panic when making mistakes and won’t overcorrect. Gonzalez knows when to shuffle step, cross over his feet, or utilize a kick step to gain maximum acceleration upfield. This helps keep him in phase with the receiver and mirror movements at the line of scrimmage.
In zone, Gonzalez has showcased impressive awareness of potential threats while keeping an eye on the QB. He has the instinct to float to different areas once he realizes no opponent is entering his zone. With his innate athleticism, speed, and length, Gonzalez narrows throwing windows and makes it difficult for WRs to generate separation.
Gonzalez naturally fits into press Cover 3 systems with his tools and collegiate utilization. But he also has the smothering length and fluidity to play man coverage with regularity. The scary part of Gonzalez’s scouting report? He’s only played cornerback full-time for three years.
Gonzalez’s areas for improvement
With that relative inexperience comes some growing pains. Gonzelez recorded his first interception just two weeks ago. He’s not a natural ball hawk who can steal positions for your team with any regularity. However, the Oregon CB also doesn’t take unnecessary risks, as he hasn’t conceded a 40+ yard reception.
His lack of picks stems from an inconsistency in locating the ball in the air. There are many reps where Gonzalez simply never looks back for the ball, opting to play the receiver instead. He must grow trust in using his hands as his eyes on his opponent so he can make a play on the ball.
Similarly, I’d like to see Gonzalez improve his play strength and aggression. Not just in attacking the ball midair, but stunning WRs at the line and playing bully ball throughout the route. He has the frame to add muscle and control his opponents.
Now, while I want Gonzalez to play with more aggression, it has to be controlled. There are times when he gets too handsy along the route, which will lead to penalties — it already led to a few in his first two years. Although, the Oregon CB has seemingly improved in that facet thus far this season.
Gonzalez’s speed and athleticism are his calling cards, but he isn’t infallible here. His long legs naturally lead to some stiff transitions, especially when his pad level raises. Technique-wise, Gonzalez must watch the WR’s hips over his upper body in man. WRs can feign intent by selling fakes with their shoulders and head. Yet, as Shakira said, hips don’t lie, as that’s where rotation occurs to snap into and out of routes.
This is a bit of a nitpick, but when in press, CBs should shoot with one hand instead of two. Using two leads to the receiver gaining a step, especially if the CB can’t land an accurate strike inside the chest plate. Gonzalez makes up for his inaccurate hand strikes and two-handed presses with his acceleration, but in the NFL, every inch matters.
Lastly, as a run defender, the Oregon CB can overpursue angles, short-arm tackle, and take too long to recognize the play. The play recognition issue is due to his tendency to keep his eyes on the WR without ever looking back to the field. His short-arm attempts led to some whiffs, although Gonzalez largely showed no hesitation in laying his body on the line.
Overall, most of Gonzalez’s areas of improvement are coachable. If he consistently plays to his physical tools, there are few CBs in the 2023 NFL Draft that can match his ceiling.
Current draft projection for Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
Gonzalez is the next man off the Oregon DB conveyor belt that includes recent names such as Mykael Wright, Verone McKinley III, Thomas Graham Jr., and Deommodore Lenoir. However, Gonzalez could — and should — be the first Ducks DB selected within the first two days of the draft since T.J. Ward in 2010 (second round).
Cornerbacks with length and speed are highly valued in the NFL — it’s just the nature of the beast. And while Gonzalez’s 2023 NFL Draft scouting report is not perfect, as long as he stays healthy and doesn’t spontaneously combust midseason, he should be a relative lock for a Day 2 selection. And with further improvements in technique and ball production, there is every chance he sneaks into Round 1.