2023 CFL Draft position rankings: defensive backs

Photo: AP/Barry Reeger

The 2023 CFL Draft is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, May 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET and, as always, 3DownNation has you covered with all the in-depth analysis.

Over the past week, we’ve been unveiling our top prospects at every position group, culminating in our pre-draft top 25 ranking. We already revealed our list of the top running backs and fullbacks, receivers, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and linebackers. Make sure to come back tomorrow when we rank the specialists.

We continue with the defensive backs, pound for pound the most talented position group available this year. With legitimate starting prospects at safety, cornerback, and strongside linebacker potentially up for grabs in the second and third round, the question becomes how long teams will wait to target the position knowing that there will be value later on.

Defensive backs

1. Sydney Brown, University of Illinois (London, Ont.)

It will be a long time before the third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles comes to the CFL — if ever — and his elite NFL pedigree could drop him out of this draft entirely. Brown is an exceptionally explosive straight-line athlete with great physicality in the box and the range to cover up high. There’s some stiffness when changing directions and he has a tendency to miss some tackles, but the high-end traits far outweigh his limitations.

2. Jonathan Sutherland, Penn State University (Ottawa, Ont.)

Sutherland was a strong bet to go first overall to the Redblacks but signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, with a chance to stick due to his special teams value. He wasn’t a full-time starter for the Nittany Lions but projects as a legit strongside linebacker if he comes to the CFL, with greased-up hips and great natural instincts in the box. Most importantly, he was revered for his leadership and versatility in Happy Valley.

3. Siriman Harrison Bagayogo, University of Guelph (Bois-des-Filion, Que.)

Arguably the most divisive prospect available, Bagayogo is an elite press-man cornerback with the special length and fluidity in transition to earn him a rookie mini-camp invite from the Kansas City Chiefs. However, his skill set doesn’t translate to most CFL defensive schemes and he has limited experience in Zone coverage. That can be overcome but he still faces serious questions about his willingness as a tackler and may be too rooted in his ways to change that at 25 years old.

4. Lucas Cormier, Mount Allison University (Sackville, N.B.)

A well-built safety prospect at six-foot-one and 205 pounds, Cormier was one of the biggest winners at this year’s CFL Combine. He’s a takeaway artist with great closing speed and tremendous ball skills but isn’t as physical as some other prospects, typically shooting low with his tackles to trip up opponents.

Photo courtesy: Piper Sports Photography/Regina Rams

5. Jaxon Ford, University of Regina (Regina, Ssk.)

The grandson of Riders’ Plaza of Honour inductee and former GM Alan Ford has the polish you would expect from someone born into the game. He’s more quick than fast but exhibits great mental processing and the explosive ability to come downhill as a tackler, which bodes well for his value on defence and special teams.

6. Charlie Ringland, University of Saskatchewan (Winnipeg, Man.)

An effortless athlete at six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Ringland has absurd range and makes everyone around him look like they are moving in slow motion. His length is equally elite with whopping 33-inch arms but he won’t be available for a team this year after tearing his ACL at the CFL Combine and will fall as a result.

7. Jake Taylor, University of Alberta (Beaumont, Alta.)

The single best athlete available, Taylor’s jaw-dropping testing numbers at a beefy six-foot-one, 216 pounds are rarely seen from prospects who aren’t NFL bound. He hasn’t translated that into elite defensive play yet and feels like a player without a position, not fluid or instinctive enough to play in space and not quite aggressive enough to excel in the box. It might click with the right coaching and his floor is high as a physical mismatch on special teams.

8. Breton MacDougall, University of Windsor (LaSalle, Ont.)

At six-foot-two and 208 pounds, MacDougall offers plenty of size in a draft class that is light on it. A true safety-only prospect, he’s upright and stiff when changing directions but packs a wallop as a tackler and will bring value on kick coverage.

9. Tolu Ahmed, University of Toronto (Ottawa, Ont.)

Another long press corner, Ahmed has many of the same traits that placed Bagayogo near the top of this list but is slightly less fluid in transition. He’ll need to adjust to more Zone coverage going forward but has promising eye discipline and explosiveness.

Photo courtesy: Acadia Athletics

10. Jake Kelly, Bishop’s University (Markham, Ont.)

Kelly flashes athletically with elite testing numbers to back it up but he tends to turn it on and off, failing to dominate against low-level competition. He lacks ideal size at five-foot-11 and 182 pounds and isn’t nearly as physical as you’d like for a safety, opting for sloppy shoulder check tackles late rather than sticking his nose into contact.

11. Jassin States-McClean, Saint Mary’s University (Halifax, N.S.)

A cornerback for the Huskies, States-McClean’s tight hips and difficulty changing directions will force a move to safety. He’s thickly built at five-foot-11 and 198 pounds, with promising explosiveness driving out of breaks.

12. Jacob Biggs, University of Calgary (Calgary, Alta.)

Biggs has average speed and, ironically, lacks size at five-foot-10 and 182 pounds. Those deficiencies rarely show up on film thanks to his buttery smooth change of direction ability, great eyes, and mental headstart.

13. Patrick Burke Jr., Wilfrid Laurier University (Toronto, Ont.)

A second-team OUA all-star in 2021, Burke isn’t the same instinctive athlete in space that others in this class are. He’s physically willing, however, and fearless when sticking his body into contact, with the bulk at six-foot and 200 pounds to contribute on special teams.

14. Joachim Christian, Carleton University (Montreal, Que.)

Christian is an average athlete at the strongside linebacker position but plays larger than his listed six-foot and 192 pounds. The powerful downhill tackler could have value as a special teams-only prospect.

15. Cody Hale, University of Toronto (London, Ont.)

A massive player for the halfback position at six-foot-two and 209 pounds, Hale isn’t an elite coverage player but his change of direction testing jumps off the page. His combination of size and reckless physicality will be difficult for teams to ignore as a special teamer and depth safety.

Photo courtesy: Mathieu Tanguay/Laval Rouge Et Or

16. Maxym Lavallée, Université Laval (Gatineau, Que.)

A twitchy defender with solid athletic testing and no regard for his own well-being as a tackler, Lavallée would be much higher on this list if his play was the only factor that mattered. Unfortunately, the hyper-productive RSEQ all-star will be removed from several teams’ boards after measuring in at under five-foot-nine and 190 pounds with 29-inch arms.

17. Bruno Lagacé, Université de Montréal (Montreal, Que.)

Built short and thick at five-foot-10 and 207 pounds, Lagacé doesn’t have a true positional fit in the CFL. The 2021 second-team All-Canadian has got great short-area quickness but isn’t big enough to convert to linebacker, while his problematically poor long speed limits his range in the secondary.

18. Robert Panabaker, Western University (London, Ont.)

The latest in a long line of productive Western defenders, Panabaker has made some big game plays for the program but doesn’t wow you in any one aspect. He’s a lanky five-foot-11 and 188 pounds and looks uncoordinated at times, but has proven to be an effective Zone cover man and chase-down tackler.

19. Eric Colonna, Queen’s University (Mississauga, Ont.)

Colonna’s underwhelming athleticism will be disqualifying for some teams but his energetic play sticks in your mind. A gym rat who is built like a fire hydrant at five-foot-nine and 202 pounds, he brings energy and toughness with perfect form tackling from the safety position.

20. Nana Yaw Serbeh, McMaster University (Ottawa, Ont.)

Serbeh is stiff and slow with lacklustre college production, but he measures in at a solid five-foot-11 and 209 pounds with impressive 33-inch arms. His elite broad jump at the Invitational Combine points to potential on special teams, if nothing else.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.