• Sauce Gardner takes the top spot: Gardner finished the campaign with the most WAR of any defensive player and the fourth-most WAR among non-quarterbacks.
• James Bradberry emerges in the third spot: The Philadelphia Eagles cornerback ranked second in EPA allowed per target and fifth in forced incompletion rate.
• Jaire Alexander enjoys a triumphant return: Alexander put up the fourth-best grade and ninth-most WAR to finish third in the PFF analyst voting.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
If quarterback is the most important position on the football field, then limiting the effectiveness of that player is the most important thing a defense can do.
A team can do this in two ways: It can pressure the passer to disrupt his timing, rhythm and accuracy, or it can shut down the opposing receivers.
Here are the top 25 cornerbacks of the 2022 NFL season. As we did with our quarterback rankings, we examined several key metrics at the position:
• WAR Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in PFF WAR (wins above replacement)
• Grade Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in PFF coverage grade
• SCORE Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in successful coverage over expected — a measure of success regardless of being targeted
• EPA Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in EPA (expected points added) allowed per target
• FINC Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in forced incompletion percentage
• 1D/TD% Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in the percentage of targets that resulted in either a first down or touchdown
• Man % Rank: Rank among cornerbacks in the percentage of snaps played in man coverage
• PFF Rank: The consensus ranking from PFF's lead passing-game analysts
PFF analysts voted on the top 40 players at the position. We included 32 cornerbacks in the table below to show transparency and highlight how close things got after the top 25.
Note: This is a ranking of the top cornerbacks from the 2022 season (regular and playoffs) only. It’s not a projection moving forward.
FINAL CORNERBACK RANKINGS
|RANK||PLAYER||W.Avg||PFF Rank||EPA Rank||SCORE RANK||Grade Rank||WAR Rank||FINC Rank||1D/TD% Rank||Man% Rank|
|2||Patrick Surtain II||11.45||2||24||6||2||3||24||8||18|
|10||D.J. Reed Jr.||20.13||8.5||15||30||10||19||23||12||25|
|18||Asante Samuel Jr.||24.56||15.25||18||29||14||15||27||30||15|
|22||Michael Carter II||28.90||30||27||22||28||20||22||7||32|
|26||Greg Newsome II||31.00||25||16||33||27||29||30||14||23|
|30||Desmond King II||33.25||31||22||8||30||18||31||39||38|
Sauce Gardner was voted the unanimous No. 1 cornerback after he put up the best rookie season ever from the position. The New York Jets defense was outstanding all season long, and Gardner was a huge contributor, finishing the campaign with the most WAR of any defensive player and the fourth-most WAR among non-quarterbacks. The Jets hit a home run with their first pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Related: Sauce Gardner's rookie season among the best PFF has ever seen
The unanimous No. 2 cornerback by voting this year was Denver Broncos star Patrick Surtain II, who finished third in WAR, second in coverage grade and third in passer rating allowed. The former ninth overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft was excellent all season long and more than justified his standing as a top-10 draft pick.
The top 10
The next group of players drew more debate among the PFF analysts and had more fluctuation in their grades and stats.
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry emerged in the third spot after finishing second in EPA allowed per target and fifth in forced incompletion rate while boasting strong marks across the board.
Jaire Alexander enjoyed a triumphant return from an injury-plagued 2021 season, putting up the fourth-best grade and ninth-most WAR to finish third in the PFF analyst voting. The Packers didn’t give Alexander many man-coverage snaps, be still finished the season as the seventh-highest-graded cornerback in man coverage.
Stephon Gilmore continued to show high-level play in his 11th season. He played a high percentage of man-coverage snaps and ranked highly in voting, PFF grade and WAR. A model of consistency, Gilmore graded above 60.0 in all but two of his games this past season.
Tyson Campbell, a second-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, finished highly in the PFF voting and boasted impressive marks in PFF grade (80.8) and WAR. After a shaky rookie season that saw him give up a 100.7 passer rating and a 67.1% completion rate, Campbell took massive strides in 2022, allowing just 60.9% of his targets to be caught for an 86.0 passer rating.
Patrick Peterson had his best season in five years, helping the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. The 12-year veteran ranked top-10 in SCORE, PFF grade (77.8), WAR and forced incompletions (12).
Charvarius Ward put together the best season of his career in San Francisco. Ward earned top-10 marks in SCORE and WAR and was strong across the board, grading well in run defense and as a pass-rusher, too. While he might benefit from the talent and scheme around him, Ward still played at a very high level in 2022.
Jalen Ramsey at No. 9 is arguably the first questionable spot on these rankings. He finished second in grade and ninth in WAR and SCORE, as he made plays when he wasn’t targeted. However, things didn’t go as planned when he was targeted, as he finished 33rd in EPA allowed per target and 34th in the percentage of targets that resulted in either a first down or touchdown. He gave up seven touchdowns and a passer rating of 98.6 when targeted, both of which are career-worst marks.
Rounding out the top 10 of 2022 is Gardner’s running mate D.J. Reed Jr. Despite his status as a former fifth-round draft pick, Reed has graded above 71.0 for four straight seasons and allowed a passer rating of just 75.7 on throws into his coverage in 2022. He finished the year with one pick and 10 pass breakups.
Kansas City‘s Trent McDuffie missed the first half of the year but played well over the second half of the season and throughout the Chiefs' Super Bowl run. He was tasked with man coverage at the fifth-highest rate in the league, making his third-place finish in EPA allowed per target all the more impressive.
Related: The McDuffie Effect: Why a rookie cornerback is the linchpin to the Kansas City Chiefs defense
Jamel Dean has been as consistent as they come at the position, grading between 74.7 and 78.9 in coverage in each of his four seasons. While he gave up a higher percentage of first downs and touchdowns than usual this year, PFF analysts ranked him highly for his consistency and high marks in grade, WAR and forced incompletions.
Darius Slay finished fifth in PFF voting, but his stats didn’t hold him up to that ranking. He was best in the NFL in our SCORE metric but fell to 20th in EPA allowed per target, 32nd in forced incompletion rate and 36th in the percentage of targets that resulted in either a first down or touchdown. Slay comes in at 13th in the 2022 rankings, in line with his grade (77.3, 12th) and WAR (0.40, 14th).
L’Jarius Sneed turned into a multi-faceted corner in 2022, as he doubled his previous season-high in pressures to 20 while snagging three interceptions and eight pass breakups. A solid all-around corner, Sneed finished seventh in WAR and 10th in SCORE, and he played man coverage at the 11th-highest rate in the NFL.
Our third rookie in the top 25, Martin Emerson would not be the first Cleveland Browns cornerback who would come to mind when it comes to these rankings. However, Emerson put together an impressive season, ranking first in first down/touchdown rate and sixth in forced incompletions, all while playing man coverage at the NFL's eighth-highest rate.
Kendall Fuller got off to a shaky start, giving up two scores and recording two sub-40.0 PFF grades in his first three games. Still, he rebounded soon after to finish the season as the 18th-highest-graded corner. He ranked 10th among his peers in EPA per target and 13th in WAR.
A model of consistency, Marlon Humphrey has now posted five season-long coverage grades of 74.8 or better. This year, he broke up just two passes to go along with three interceptions, but he didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage and ranked 13th among the league's cornerbacks in EPA allowed per target.
Asante Samuel Jr. finished the season on a very high note by recording two pass breakups and three interceptions against Trevor Lawrence in the wild-card round of the 2022 NFL playoffs, finishing the contest with a 94.3 coverage grade. He ended the season ranked 14th in PFF grade and 15th in WAR.
Michael Davis stepped up in a big way when J.C. Jackson went down to injury. He finished with the fourth-highest forced incompletion rate at the position while lining up in man coverage at the league's second-highest rate. Tasked with arguably one of the toughest roles of any cornerback this year, Davis was excellent.
Jaycee Horn rounds out the top 20 after an excellent sophomore season. He ranked fifth in EPA allowed per target and third in the percentage of targets that resulted in a first down or touchdown. Horn didn’t get his hands on many passes but finished 16th in SCORE.
Just outside the top 20
Another man-coverage specialist, Adoree’ Jackson lined up in man at the fourth-highest rate in the NFL and combined that with the fourth-best mark in EPA allowed per target. While his grade and WAR didn't fall into the top 25, his difficulty of assignment, forced incompletion rate and first down/touchdown rate landed him a spot in the top 25.
The first and only team with three players in the top 25 is the New York Jets, as Michael Carter II rounded out arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Carter is also another second-year player and finished 20th in WAR and 22nd in forced incompletion rate and SCORE.
Darious Williams fell outside the top 25 in PFF analyst voting and earned the lowest grade of the top 40, but his top-10 marks in EPA allowed per target and forced incompletion rate pushed him into the top 25.
Cameron Sutton has been a consistent player for Pittsburgh over the years, and that was no different this year, as he put up top-25 marks in EPA allowed per target and WAR. He produced the seventh-best forced incompletion rate while playing man coverage at the seventh-highest rate in the league.
Finishing out the top 25 is former undrafted free agent Kader Kohou. The Miami Dolphins corner was tasked with the third-highest man-coverage rate yet finished ninth in EPA allowed per target. Kohou’s 317 man-coverage snaps ranked second to only teammate Xavien Howard over the season.
Honorable Mentions: Greg Newsome II and Tariq Woolen were voted top-25 cornerbacks, but their numbers didn’t hold up in other categories. Chidobe Awuzie, Duke Shelley and Isaiah Rodgers had excellent years but didn’t play enough snaps to make the list.