10 most physical cornerbacks in the NFL in 2023

2W96B4E Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Alec Pierce (14) misses the catch against Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

• A.J. Terrell was the lone CB to top a 40% physicality rate: Terrell forced an incompletion on 20.6% of targets when getting physical with the receiver while allowing just a 32.4% completion percentage.

• The Jets' CB room prides itself on pushing receivers around: Sauce Gardner and Michael Carter II each made contact with receivers on more than 29% of their coverage snaps in 2023.

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PFF charts hundreds of different on-field actions. One newer data point is when coverage defenders make contact with a receiver in a route. We’ll use that as the basis for determining the most physical coverage defenders in the NFL. As it turns out, they are all cornerbacks.

All that said, here’s a look at the most physical coverage defenders based on their rate of making contact with a route-running receiver in 2023.

1. A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons, 40.9%

One of the more talented cornerbacks in the NFL, Terrell tops the list with a whopping 40.9% of plays where he made contact with a receiver in 2023.

Trusting his abilities, Terrell forced an incompletion on 20.6% of targets when getting physical with the receiver while allowing just a 32.4% completion percentage.

Click here to see A.J. Terrell's PFF Premium Stats profile.

2. Michael Davis, Washington Commanders, 38.2%

After spending his entire career with the Los Angeles (and San Diego) Chargers, Davis heads to D.C. and brings a physical playstyle with him. On plays when he made contact with the receiver, David forced an incompletion on 20.5% of targets. However, he did allow six touchdowns on 20 completions on such plays, resulting in a 119.3 passer rating.

3. Joey Porter Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers, 34.2%

Porter brings physicality to the Steelers' secondary and has proven to be one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL. When he made contact with a receiver in 2023, he allowed just a 45.3 passer rating and a 38.2% completion percentage.

4. L'Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs, 33.0%

Sneed’s reputation as a physical cornerback is confirmed. He used his physicality to great success, as he allowed a low 30.3% completion percentage, forced an incompletion 21.1% of the time, surrendered a 46.0 passer rating and gave up a first down or touchdown on just 18.2% of his targets when making contact with a receiver.

5. Benjamin St-Juste, Washington Commanders, 32.9%

Being physical with a receiver can result in lockdown coverage but can also be a detriment. St-Juste produced mixed results when he made contact with a receiver, forcing an incompletion on 26.3% of targets but also allowing a first down or touchdown 34.2% of the time. He also let up 1.32 yards per cover snap on such plays.

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6. Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, 30.4%

A household name on top cornerback lists, Gardner is one of the best when making contact with receivers. He forced an incompletion on 27.3% of his targets, a first down or touchdown just 18.2% of the time, a paltry 0.41 yards per cover snap and a 42.4 passer rating, all while earning an 81.6 coverage grade. On his 22 physical targets, his receiver was deemed open just once.

7. Ja'Quan McMillian, Denver Broncos, 29.6%

McMillian is another on this list who produced mixed results when getting physical with receivers. He forced just one incompletion (4.6% of targets) and a first down or touchdown 27.3% of the time, but he allowed a low 70.1 passer rating and 0.69 yards per cover snap.

8. Jourdan Lewis, Dallas Cowboys, 29.5%

Lewis' physicality didn’t result in much success for the Cowboys' defense, as he allowed a 63.2% completion rate, a 115.9 passer rating, and a first down or touchdown on 36.8% of targets.

9. Michael Carter II, New York Jets, 29.5%

The Jets' cornerbacks tend to thrive via physicality, with Carter earning a 78.3 grade when making contact with a receiver. He allowed a 25% completion rate, a 25% forced incompletion rate and a touchdown-plus-first-down rate of 25% while allowing just 0.41 yards per cover snap. He was in tight coverage on every target where he made contact with the receiver in 2023.

Click here to see Michael Carter II's PFF Premium Stats profile.

10. Paulson Adebo, New Orleans Saints, 28.9%

The Saints have a talented secondary, in which Adebo is often overlooked. But his physical playstyle led to positive results in 2023. He allowed just a 39.4% completion rate while forcing an incompletion on a whopping 33.3% of targets. That resulted in a strong 55.9 passer rating and no touchdowns into his physical coverage.


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