NFL's top cornerbacks by separation: Darius Slay leads in tight coverage while Chiefs CBs limit open targets better than the rest

2MCGTCF Kansas City, United States. 21st Jan, 2023. Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson (35) intercepts a Jacksonville Jaguars pass late in the second half of the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Saturday, January 21, 2023. Photo by Kyle Rivas/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News

Kansas City Chiefs prove to be very stingy in allowing open targets: Three Chiefs cornerbacks landed inside the top 10 in open target rate.

Isaac Yiadom quietly had a very strong 2023 season in coverage: Yiadom is the only player to crack the top 10 on all three lists.

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

One thing we chart at PFF is separation. Therefore, for this piece, we’re going to look at the top 10 cornerbacks in terms of tight coverage allowed, step of separation allowed and open targets allowed. For tight coverage rate, the higher the number, the better whereas a lower number is preferred for the latter two.

Tight coverage 

A lot was made of the 33-year-old Slay’s decline last season and while he did lead the league in tight coverage percentage, he also only recorded a 63.5 PFF grade on such targets, which ties for the second-worst amongst the 62 qualifying corners with at least 50 tight coverage designations. This can be attributed in large part due to the fact that Slay was one of the lower volumes on these types of coverages (60) while also letting up 10 contested targets, which tied for ninth-most. 

A former Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore’s lone season in Dallas showed he still has something left in the tank. The soon-to-be 34-year-old Gilmore allowed a 4.4 passer rating when targeted in tight coverage (your obligatory reminder that if you threw the ball into the dirt on every play you’d have a 39.6 passer rating). Gilmore is currently a free agent and despite his age, he should be able to be an impact player on any team that picks him up. 

One of the Detroit Lions‘ biggest flaws last season was the play of their outside cornerbacks. While the team doubled up on the spot in the draft with Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw Jr., trading for a veteran like Carlton Davis III could be the biggest upgrade of all to this position group. Last season, their highest tight coverage percentage amongst outside corners was by Jerry Jacobs, whose 20.7% rate ranked 39th out of 62 qualifiers. 

Step of separation

There was an absolute logjam at the back end of this list, as six qualifying corners allowed a step of separation on just 25% of targets. One interesting thing to note amongst those names is that Stingley posted a 90.5 coverage grade when allowing a step of separation while the next-highest grade on this top 10 list was Hilton at 63.5. Stingley’s 20% forced incompletion rate with this kind of separation is a big reason why he’s graded so highly, as his ability to recover was second to none.

A big part of Jaylon Johnson’s breakout year was his ability to limit receivers getting a step of separation on him. Johnson allowed a 40% completion rate when allowing a step in coverage, which tied with Stingley for best on this list. 

Arthur Maulet led this category by a comfortable margin and a big reason is he only allowed two receptions when letting up a step in coverage. Only Denver’s Ja’Quan McMillian allowed fewer. 


An underrated defense is a big reason the Chiefs repeated as Super Bowl champions despite some struggles on offense, and nowhere is this more apparent than three of their corners cracking the top 10 in open target percentage. Williams and Watson were two unsung heroes of this Chiefs secondary, making it much easier for them to trade L’Jarius Sneed in the offseason.

Isaac Yiadom is the only player to crack the top 10 on all three lists, as the journeyman quietly had his best season despite playing for his fifth team in his six-year career. Yiadom’s 80.4 coverage grade was far and away a career-high (his previous best being 55.6 in his rookie year with Denver). The former Saint was able to turn this breakout performance into a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers as he looks to play a big role in a contender’s secondary.

Despite being a castoff of the New England Patriots, Jack Jones played very well when he was on the field, as he had top-four finishes in both step of separation rate and open target percentage. If Jones can put it all together for a full season, the Las Vegas Raiders defense becomes infinitely more dangerous, especially with the improvements made along the defensive line.


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