NFL's highest-graded CBs by targeted route type: Jaylon Johnson, Brian Branch and more

2TA4CY9 Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 in Minneapolis. Chicago won 12-10. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Jaylon Johnson locked down the boundary: PFF’s highest-graded cornerback in 2023 shut down any routes that ventured too close to the sideline, capturing an NFL-best coverage grade against comebacks and corner routes.

The Saints’ stingy secondary: A trio of New Orleans cornerbacks showcased a knack for sticking with a variety of route concepts, with Marshon Lattimore, Isaac Yiadom and Paulson Adebo all making this list in some fashion.

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Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

Scheme, communication and timing undoubtedly play a role in coverage proficiency, but the ability to read and react or mirror route concepts, at its core, dictates most success in coverage.

Modern passing offenses aren’t afraid to make use of the entire route tree, in the hopes of confusing coverages and finding lapses in the secondary. Sifting through the mess to shut down any concept is the name of the game for high-level cornerback play.

These are the NFL’s highest-graded cornerbacks by route type from the 2023 regular season.

Note: All route designations with more than one break are tagged with initial movement (i.e., Out & Up will fall under Out Routes)

Flat Routes: Charvarius Ward, San Francisco 49ers

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Charvarius Ward 97.6 5 39.6 2
Christian Gonzalez 97.1 3 41.7 5.67
Asante Samuel Jr. 96.3 4 41.7 4
DaRon Bland 94.8 6 34 3.83
Amik Robertson 94.4 10 80 4.7

Charvarius Ward

The All-Pro cornerback was targeted five times on flat route variations, from which he recorded three coverage stops, allowing just a 39.6 passer rating when targeted. Ward’s physicality surely played a role in his efficiency here.

In Week 11, while backed up in the red zone, the Niners cornerback boxed out a pivot/whip-in route by Terry McLaurin to secure an interception and return it 80-plus yards.

Christian Gonzalez

Before going down in Week 4 with injury, Gonzalez showcased his polished coverage play, establishing himself as one of the names to watch at the position.

When the Dolphins tried to pick on the first-year cornerback in Week 2 by setting up routes underneath followed by a Slot Wheel from Tyreek Hill, Gonzalez managed to close ground and secure the pick, albeit on a slightly underthrown ball by Tua Tagovailoa.

Slant Routes: Darious Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Darious Williams 99.3 6 20.8 4
Jamel Dean 93.3 5 92.5 4.2
Marshon Lattimore 92 3 75.7 4.33
Isaac Yiadom 91.8 6 95.8 2.67
Clark Phillips III 91.6 2 56.3 3

Darious Williams

Williams was back to his best this past season, earning the highest coverage grade of his career (85.3). The former undrafted cornerback was excellent at breaking on slants in his final season in Jacksonville, where he allowed just three receptions on six targets and secured a pair of interceptions. He allowed just a 20.8 passer rating on targeted slants in 2023.

Jamel Dean

Due to his incredible size-speed combination, Dean is almost tailor-made to match up with slants, especially if he’s able to get his hands on the route. He imposes his physicality on routes, leading to little separation, which allowed Dean to tally three forced incompletions on slant targets.

Out Routes: Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills & Brandin Echols, New York Jets

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Tre'Davious White 95.5 2 18.8 3.5
Brandin Echols 95.5 3 44.4 6.33
Brian Branch 93.6 14 68.2 2.5
Michael Carter II 91.6 7 39.6 2.86
DaRon Bland 90.2 23 26.4 5.78

Brian Branch

The first-year cornerback was fantastic from the slot. He was exposed to a heavy dose of out routes, to which he answered the call, earning an excellent 93.6 coverage grade against them. That grade is built in large part by Branch’s ability to quickly close down on receivers with make-up speed, allowing him to rack up five forced incompletions on targeted out routes, the second most at the position.

DaRon Bland

If you had to describe Bland’s game in one word, it would be “opportunistic.” Just one mistake by a passer could lead to a 60-yard trot and a dance in the end zone.

Although the Cowboys cornerback saw the most targeted out routes into his coverage this past season (23), he also snatched four interceptions, including an electric pick-six against the Commanders in Week 12.

In Routes: Isaac Yiadom, New Orleans Saints

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Isaac Yiadom 98 4 39.6 0
Jalen Ramsey 94 2 0 0
Michael Jackson 93.3 3 42.4 2.67
Marshon Lattimore 93.2 5 39.6 0.8
Greg Stroman Jr. 93 2 27.1 5.5

Isaac Yiadom

The former Saint had a career year in 2023, posting his highest coverage grade (80.4) in six seasons, more than 28 grade points above his previous best.

While Yiadom now finds himself in San Francisco, the Niners are getting a cornerback who shut down in routes. Of the four such targets into his coverage last season, Yiadom allowed zero completions while notching a pass breakup on all four. He totaled the most forced incompletions against in routes at the position.

Marshon Lattimore

Lattimore has a well-earned reputation for his sticky coverage. While he may have secured only a single forced incompletion against in routes in 2023, three of his five coverage targets were off-target, which would have potentially added to that figure, given he surrendered zero open targets.

Comeback Routes: Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Jaylon Johnson 99.9 3 0 0
Ronald Darby 90.8 2 39.6 0
Cobie Durant 82.6 2 70.8 6.5
Tre Brown 73.5 1 118.8 15
Tariq Woolen 73.3 1 104.2 9

Jaylon Johnson

PFF’s highest-graded cornerback in 2023, Jaylon Johnson showcased his phenomenal mirroring ability all season long and shut down all comeback routes in his vicinity.

The All-Pro produced an insane 99.9 coverage grade on targeted comeback routes. Of his three coverage targets, he allowed zero open targets and no receptions while generating one forced incompletion and a pick-six.

Ronald Darby

As the only other cornerback to produce a 90.0-plus coverage grade on comeback routes, Darby showcased impressive reaction speed to close at the target point.

Darby was with the Ravens this past season but now finds himself in Jacksonville. He saw just a pair of comeback routes into his coverage with Baltimore, forcing a pass breakup on each — the most by any player at the position in 2023.

Hitch Routes: Jack Jones, Las Vegas Raiders

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Jack Jones 98.4 2 0 0
Paulson Adebo 96 9 25.9 4.11
Darnay Holmes 95.2 2 22.9 4.5
Jaylon Johnson 93.9 7 52.7 3.57
Pat Surtain II 92.4 14 75.3 4.71

Jack Jones

The midseason change of scenery from New England to Las Vegas sparked a fire in Jones, leading to a massive turnaround in his coverage grade. After charting just a 48.2 grade in his four games with the Patriots, he raised that mark to 81.1 to close out the season with the Raiders.

In Vegas’ more zone-heavy scheme, Jones was able to break on stop routes in the blink of an eye, evidenced by the pick-six he secured against Patrick Mahomes in Week 16.

Pat Surtain II

Alignment plays a role in route coverage efficiency, something we see come into play often with stop routes underneath top coverage. However, Surtain made the most of what he was presented with. The Broncos cornerback piled up four pass breakups and four coverage stops on hitch routes, both of which ranked in the top four at the position, contributing to his fantastic 92.4 coverage grade against hitches — the best mark by any cornerback to face 10-plus hitch targets.

Corner Routes: Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Jaylon Johnson 99.9 3 0 0
Darious Williams 94.9 3 0 0
Charvarius Ward 93.4 3 0 0
Isaac Yiadom 92.4 2 39.6 0
Sauce Gardner 92.3 4 39.6 0

Jaylon Johnson

Johnson, after leading the way on comeback routes, tops the corner route list, too.

The All-Pro cornerback possesses elite route recognition, allowing him to fall off underneath routes and undercut out-breaking routes, catching more than a few passers napping. On just three corner route targets, Johnson managed to secure a pair of interceptions. Needless to say, opposing offenses may want to reconsider attacking his side with flood-and-smash concepts.

Charvarius Ward

Ward, another incredibly talented cornerback also already listed among other route concepts on this list, used his physicality to impose his will on corner routes.

While his play can lean into the territory of illegal contact from time to time, it has proven effective. Of his three coverage targets versus corner routes, the Niners cornerback allowed no receptions and hauled in an interception.

Post Routes: Jalen Ramsey, Miami Dolphins

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Jalen Ramsey 91.6 3 23.6 8
Sauce Gardner 90.6 2 39.6 0
Emmanuel Forbes 90.5 3 81.3 12.33
Jack Jones 90.1 3 50.7 5
Christian Gonzalez 86.4 2 39.6 0

Jalen Ramsey

After returning from injury in Week 8, Ramsey put together a solid year, which partly stemmed from how well he held up against downfield post routes.

Ramsey was targeted in coverage just three times against posts, allowing a low 23.6 passer rating when targeted. The Dolphins cornerback surrendered just a single reception and also managed to secure a ranging interception in the endzone to close out Miami’s Week 11 win over Las Vegas.

Sauce Gardner

Gardner’s reputation as perhaps the league’s best cornerback since he stepped foot in the big leagues is well-earned. Offenses rarely attacked the All-Pro in 2023, as he faced the second-fewest coverage targets (57) by any player at the position with at least 500 coverage snaps.

Gardner shut down post routes with ease, surrendering zero open targets and falling just short of converting one into a pivotal interception against C.J. Stroud and the Texans in Week 14.

Go Routes: Paulson Adebo, New Orleans Saints

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
Paulson Adebo 98.8 12 0 0
Jonathan Jones 97.2 7 39.6 0
Derek Stingley Jr. 97.1 9 39.4 3.56
Tre Brown 95.7 8 16.1 6.88
Xavien Howard 95.1 8 34.4 11.25

Paulson Adebo

Like his aforementioned former teammate, Isaac Yiadom, Adebo had a breakout year for the Saints in 2023, capturing the highest coverage grade of his career (80.5). The third-year cornerback was excellent at locking up vertical routes and preventing receivers from stacking him, allowing him to keep pace with a variety of builds.

Adebo's 12 coverage targets on go-balls were the most by a cornerback without allowing a reception, and he also piled up seven forced incompletions and a pair of interceptions.

Derek Stingley Jr.

The 2022 top-three pick stepped up to his draft billing with a phenomenal performance in 2023. Stingley’s ability to mirror vertical routes made life difficult for opposing offenses, as he allowed just a single reception into his coverage on go routes while also securing two interceptions and three forced incompletions.

Crossing Routes: DaRon Bland, Dallas Cowboys

Name PFF Coverage Grade Coverage Targets Passer Rating when Targeted Yards per Coverage Target
DaRon Bland 99.5 10 7.1 4.7
D.J. Reed 97.9 3 2.8 2
Brian Branch 96.1 6 5.6 3.67
Steven Nelson 95.3 5 25 9
Deonte Banks 93.6 5 30.8 4.4

DaRon Bland

Bland often bets on himself to make the play in coverage or go down trying, a bet he cashes in on more often than not.

Undercutting crossing routes, particularly drag routes, is a staple of his coverage profile. The Cowboys cornerback finished 2023 as the only player at the position to see nine or more coverage targets against crossing routes and earn a coverage grade above 30.0. He reached 99.5.

Devon Witherspoon

Witherspoon may not have made the top five of this list, but we had to acknowledge his rookie-year production. The former top-five pick earned a fantastic 90.0 coverage grade against crossing routes, surrendering just a 46.9 passer rating when targeted. He was targeted eight times on crossers and managed to secure five forced incompletions, tying for the league lead at the position.


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