• The accolades continue for Sauce Gardner: After just one season in the NFL, he enters the 2023 campaign as the NFL's top cornerback.
• Cowboys boast a new-look top-10 duo: Dallas traded for Stephon Gilmore, the No. 6-ranked cornerback here, this offseason and already has ballhawk Trevon Diggs.
• Injuries haven't slowed Jaycee Horn: The third-year Panthers cornerback is a top-10 player at the position entering the 2023 season.
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The NFL offseason is in full swing, which means it’s time to rank things as we look ahead to the new season.
Here are the top 32 cornerbacks in the NFL ahead of the 2023 season.
Other positional rankings:
Gardner hit the ground running in the NFL and was the best cornerback in the game during his rookie season. He allowed a 53.9 passer rating, and just 45.9% of passes thrown into his coverage were caught by their intended receiver. We know coverage in general, and cornerback play in particular, is highly volatile, so Gardner could regress in 2023. But there is no obvious lockdown cornerback who belongs atop this list in his place.
Ramsey has now had outstanding seasons playing in multiple different defenses and in multiple distinct roles. His versatility is peerless, and he is the best run defender at the position in the NFL. Within a Vic Fangio defense in Miami, we could well be in line for the best version of Jalen Ramsey in 2023, and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all for him to top the PFF cornerback grades this season.
Slay had another excellent year in Philadelphia, and his effectiveness was only enhanced by James Bradberry‘s arrival. Slay allowed 54.7% of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught during the regular season and let up fewer than 25 yards in each of his three playoff games.
Surtain’s play doesn’t look as flashy as that of some other cornerbacks, but few players can play with his level of consistency and control. His PFF coverage grade jumped from 66.3 as a rookie to 86.7 last season, which put him in the All-Pro conversation. He had 12 games allowing fewer than 25 receiving yards, including his final six outings.
Alexander bounced back in 2022 having missed the majority of the year before with injury. Last season, he allowed just a 66.2 passer rating when targeted, earning an 82.1 PFF coverage grade in the process. Alexander also set a new career high with five interceptions and is still just entering the prime of his career at 26 years old.
There was a stretch where Gilmore was the best cornerback in football, and while that may be in the past now, he showed in each of his past two stops that he can still play at a very high level. For the Colts, Gilmore recorded an 81.1 PFF coverage grade and allowed an 82.6 passer rating from 82 targets. He now gets the benefit of playing opposite Trevon Diggs in Dallas in 2023.
Since Lattimore entered the NFL, his best play has always stacked up with the top cornerbacks in the game. Even last season, his best game — a 93.4 overall grade — came in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles, albeit with Gardner Minshew at quarterback. Lattimore’s issue has always been inconsistency, and despite notching 32 pass breakups over the past three seasons, he has also allowed 15 touchdowns.
Diggs didn’t have the same gaudy interception stats in 2022 as he did the year before, but he was a better overall player. Over the past two seasons, he has given up some big plays but is a ballhawk and a dangerous cornerback to test. His play may see a boost this season with Stephon Gilmore on the other side keeping defenses honest.
Horn’s NFL career is still less than 1,000 snaps old, but in two years he has allowed just one touchdown and 318 yards in total. He is currently giving up just a 48.4 passer rating when targeted in the NFL. Year three is when we should get a better idea of how good Horn can be at this level, but there have been flashes of brilliance.
One of the league’s most underrated cornerbacks, Dean finally cashed in this offseason with a big payday from the Bucs. He has four straight seasons with a PFF coverage grade between 74.7 and 78.9, and though he doesn’t make a lot of plays on the football, he makes quarterbacks and receivers work for every yard.
Coming off a career year in Kansas City, Ward backed it up with an even better one in San Francisco in his first year with the team. Ward matched the 11 pass breakups he had the year before and was a dramatically better run defender in DeMeco Ryans’ defense. He has the size and length to be a physical problem for smaller receivers, and he uses that to great effect.
Terrell is a great case study in the volatility of coverage and cornerback performance. His rookie season was solid before a breakout sophomore campaign saw him play like an All-Pro with an 85.6 PFF coverage grade. In 2022, his play dropped back down to earth and he allowed nine touchdowns. Terrell definitely possesses the ability to be an elite cornerback but needs to prove he can find that play again in 2023.
As the best cornerback on a poor Giants defense, Bradberry looked a little in over his head. But as part of a dominant defense in Philadelphia last season, he was outstanding. Including the playoffs, he allowed a catch on 46.9% of passes thrown his way. It’s just unfortunate that one of his worst games of the season came in the Super Bowl (45.9 PFF game grade).
Ward is coming off a subpar season for the Browns, but the defense as a whole collapsed and likely heavily contributed to that. Ward still had multiple elite games in 2022 and had shown a very high baseline of play before that year. With a rebuilt Browns defensive line in 2023, Ward might put himself back among the very best.
At times, 2022 felt like Buffalo waiting until White was back from injury before their run could really start. And while he definitely made an impact when he returned, he didn’t produce his best play, which is now multiple years in the rearview mirror. At his best, White has been an elite cover cornerback, but injuries have derailed each of his past two seasons. He needs to get back to 100% to rediscover that form.
Still very young to the cornerback position, Woolen showed as a rookie the stellar potential that his athletic profile puts on the table. Six interceptions flattered his stat line a little, but he showed more than enough to suggest that there is elite play in his future. Woolen allowed just a 72.1 passer rating on the season.
Howard has been inconsistent in the NFL, but often year to year rather than within a season. 2022 was an ugly season for him, but the previous two had been far better. Even last year, he still notched 12 pass breakups to claw back some of the damage done by allowing six touchdowns and more than 800 yards in the regular season.
An injury limited Chidobe Awuzie to just the first eight games of the season, but in those outings he didn't allow a touchdown and was building on his strong 2021 campaign. Since arriving in Cincinnati, Awuzie has looked like one of the better cornerbacks in the game. He let up a catch on just 41.9% of passes into his coverage last season.
The player typically tasked with manning the slot over the past few seasons in Tampa Bay, Murphy-Bunting is another cornerback limited by injury in 2022. He played in 10 games and was on the field for fewer than 500 defensive snaps but earned a 74.5 PFF coverage grade in that time.
Once one of the very best cornerbacks in football, especially considering the Ravens asked him to cover the slot as well as the outside, Humphrey hasn’t hit his best play in a couple of seasons. Last season, he had just two pass breakups from more than 700 coverage snaps. However, he also didn’t allow a touchdown all year.
21. D.J. Reed, New York Jets
Reed was somewhat in the background amid Sauce Gardner‘s breakout rookie campaign, making significant contributions to the Jets' secondary on the other side. Reed allowed a 75.7 passer rating into his coverage and earned a 77.5 PFF coverage grade in 2022. A fifth-round pick in 2018 largely because of his size, Reed has now shown he can hit very high levels of play for two different defenses.
One of the best slot corners in the game, Hilton is a well-rounded defender from that position. He is an excellent run defender and tallied five pass breakups to go along with his lone interception in coverage last year.
Johnson has taken ownership of the slot role in Buffalo's defense since being drafted in the fourth round in 2018. Over the past two seasons, he has earned his best two PFF coverage grades (75.3 and 73.2), making 72 defensive stops in the span. Johnson had some plays he would want back last year but is on the right track and one of the better slot cornerbacks in the game.
The Sauce Gardner grading curve ruined all other rookies by contract, but fellow first-round rookie Trent McDuffie was excellent for the Chiefs after he got back in the starting lineup. McDuffie was immediately thrown into difficult assignments in the Chiefs' defense and allowed just 10.1 yards per reception all year.
After a rookie year of struggles, Campbell had a huge second season, earning an 80.7 PFF coverage grade — more than 20 grading points better than his 2021 mark. Campbell allowed just 9.7 yards per reception and an 86.0 passer rating into his coverage.
Sneed has been the Chiefs' best cornerback since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2020, though he may need to make way now for Trent McDuffie. Sneed has played outside and in the slot for Kansas City and notched more than 40 defensive stops in each of the past two seasons, including the playoffs.
It felt like the entire Browns secondary fell apart last season, but Newsome quietly backed up an impressive rookie season with another good campaign. He has still yet to register an interception in the NFL but has 14 pass breakups over that time and allowed just 9.8 yards per reception in 2022.
Hobbs suffered a major drop in play in 2022 and may be a cornerback trapped in the wrong scheme and position as things currently stand, but we saw from his rookie season how good he can be covering the slot in the right system. That year, he recorded an 80.1 PFF grade and allowed just one touchdown all season. It may be difficult for Hobbs to bounce back, given his current role, but he belongs on the list despite those circumstances.
Davis isn’t coming off his best year, but he still led the Tampa Bay cornerbacks last season with 11 pass breakups, more than double the next-best total. He allowed an 85.8 passer rating into his coverage and has elite size and strength for the position.
At 5-foot-9 and under 190 pounds, Williams will forever get pushed toward the slot, but he is a high-level cornerback on the outside. When Jacksonville made that switch last season, Williams garnered a top-10 PFF grade at the position and allowed a 49.9 passer rating when targeted. If the Jags keep him outside again in 2023, he may rise up these rankings in spite of his size.
Peterson had a huge bounce-back season in 2022 for the Vikings. He finished with a 77.8 PFF overall grade and five interceptions, the most he has recorded in a single season since 2012. At this point in his career, he is better in zone coverage than he is playing man to man, but he showed that he is still capable of very high-level play if he can be protected a little within the scheme.
A New England success story playing both outside and in the slot over the past few seasons, Jones surrendered a 77.0 passer rating in 2022 playing almost exclusively on the outside. He has elite speed and excellent versatility, but he allowed six touchdowns on 87 targets.