News & Analysis

Ranking all 32 NFL cornerback groups

By Ben Stockwell
Jun 8, 2016

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DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 05: Cornerback Chris Harris #25 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after breaking up a pass intended for wide receiver John Brown #12 of the Arizona Cardinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 5, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Cardinals 41-20. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The NFL has become a sub-package league. The transition is still on-going, and teams are moving in different directions with their fifth defensive back, but the fact remains that a team’s fifth DB now plays more than their third linebacker. With that comes a shift in focus when we consider the strength of cornerback situations around the NFL. No longer can you simply look at the strength of a starting pair—that third corner is an increasingly important cog in the defense.

Freshly armed with that knowledge, here’s a 1–32 ranking of every NFL CB corps; we’ve considered every team’s top three cornerbacks for our best projection of how each depth chart would likely line up if the season began today.

1. Denver Broncos

Top CBs: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby

Key stat: All three earned top-30 grades last season among NFL CBs.

Self-anointed as the “No-Fly Zone,” the Broncos’ secondary is led by this terrific trio of cornerbacks. The Broncos were the only team to place their top three corners in our 30-highest-graded in the NFL last season, with Harris leading the way once again. Harris surrendered less than 1 yard allowed per snap in coverage (0.88 during the regular season) for his fourth straight season, the only cornerback to do so since he became a full-time starter in 2012.

2. Arizona Cardinals

Top CBs: Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Tyrann Mathieu

Key stat: Peterson averaged 19.5 coverage snaps per reception last season.

No cornerback went more snaps between allowing a reception last season than Peterson, who after a subpar 2014, was back to his imperious best in 2015. Paired with fellow LSU alum Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals have a devastating weapon at outside corner and in the slot to shut down a variety of opposing receivers. The sole weak spot in this trio last season was Bethel, who surrendered at least 75 yards in each of the Cardinals’ final four games.

3. Washington Redskins

Top CBs: Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Quinton Dunbar

Key stat: Norman (with Carolina) allowed 50 yards in a game just once in 2015.

Even before the acquisition of Norman, this was a cornerback corps on the rise. Breeland had a breakout campaign in 2015, allowing 50 yards or more only three times after Washington’s Week 8 bye. Dunbar, an undrafted free agent and wide-receiver conversion, showed his potential in the wildcard defeat to Green Bay by breaking up two passes and allowing only 41 yards on seven receptions.

4. New England Patriots

Top CBs: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman

Key stat: Butler recorded 14 pass defenses last season, fourth-most in the NFL.

Following his Super Bowl XLIX heroics, the Patriots put a lot of pressure on Malcolm Butler to be their lead corner after Darrelle Revis’ departure. And, after a tough start to the year against Antonio Brown, Butler handsomely repaid the Patriots’ faith in him. Opposite him, Logan Ryan broke up 10 passes, allowing a passer rating of just 78.8 during the regular season.

5. Buffalo Bills

Top CBs: Ronald Darby, Stephon Gilmore, Sterling Moore

Key stat: Darby and Gilmore combined for a 5.1 coverage snaps per target mark in 2015.

Rex Ryan’s aggressive scheme puts a lot of pressure on his cornerbacks, and unsurprisingly, both Darby and Gilmore were among the league’s most-targeted corners last season (tied for fourth-most) on a per-snap basis. Both stood up to that examination well, and Sterling Moore should provide an upgrade—if he wins the job—over Nickell Robey at slot corner. Robey has allowed 1,041 receiving yards and a passer rating north of 100.0 over the past two seasons combined.

6. San Diego Chargers

Top CBs: Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward, Brandon Flowers

Key stat: Verrett has played 965 snaps over the past two seasons.

As one of the few strengths on this Chargers’ roster, a full season from Verrett would only push this unit higher; a combined 965 snaps over his first two seasons was bettered by 26 corners in 2015 alone. The addition of Hayward ensures that Brandon Flowers will see less action in the slot this season, which could push him back to his best form that we last saw in 2014 after his arrival from Kansas City.

7. Green Bay Packers

Top CBs: Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins

Key stat: Rollins posted a 58.4 passer rating allowed last season, fourth-best in the NFL.

Not many teams could lose their best cornerback and still boast a top-10 trio of CBs in the NFL. Such is the Packers’ outstanding turnover of cornerback talent that they should be able to sustain the loss of Casey Hayward to the Chargers and not miss a beat. All three of these corners went, on average, more than 10 snaps in coverage between receptions allowed; the Packers were one of only six teams to see their corners surrender completions so infrequently.

8. Houston Texans

Top CBs: Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson

Key stat: Joseph recorded 16 pass defenses in 2015, second-most in the league.

After a torrid display against the Panthers in Week 2, Joseph rebounded with three pass defenses and only 24 yards allowed to the Bucs a week later, and he didn’t look back. Over the final 14 weeks of the season Joseph was the highest-graded corner in the league in coverage. While Kareem Jackson took a step back from his 2014 form, Kevin Johnson put in a solid rookie display to add to the overall strength of this trio.

9. New York Giants

Top CBs: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple

Key stat: At Ohio State, Apple allowed just 44.6 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed (2015 season).

The Giants have invested heavily to upgrade at cornerback this season, spending big on Janoris Jenkins’ breakout campaign in St. Louis and using a top-10 pick to nab Eli Apple during the draft. As second and third corners, Jenkins and Apple will sit behind Rodgers-Cromartie, who finished among the top-20-graded CBs in coverage for the third straight season.

10. Seattle Seahawks

Top CBs: Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, DeShawn Shead

Key stat: Sherman allowed just 48.4 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed, fourth-best in the NFL in 2015.

For the fifth straight season, Richard Sherman didn’t allow even half of the passes targeted into his coverage to be completed; even a career-high of 48.4 percent was still among the top five in the NFL. Sherman’s presence alone elevates this group of corners, but questions persist behind him, which could drag this trio down. Jeremy Lane has shown his quality, but has struggled to stay healthy, while Shead led all Seahawks’ corners in yards allowed (465), despite playing only 520 regular season snaps in 2015.

11. Minnesota Vikings

Top CBs: Xavier Rhodes, Terrence Newman, Captain Munnerlyn

Key stat: Rhodes allowed 50+ yards only once after Week 10 last season.

Over the first 10 weeks of the season, Xavier Rhodes allowed 460 receiving yards, six touchdowns, and only three corners had a lower coverage grade. In the final seven weeks, Rhodes broke up seven passes, surrendered only one touchdown, and only four corners earned a higher coverage grade. Mike Zimmer has consistently stocked his defensive backfields full of talent, and Rhodes—at his best—is the centerpiece of an extremely talented group of corners in Minnesota.

12. Oakland Raiders

Top CBs: Sean Smith, David Amerson, T.J. Carrie

Key stat: Smith has 59 career pass defenses to his name.

Only David Amerson had more than five pass defenses last season among Oakland’s corners. As an offseason remedy, the Raiders added Sean Smith to the mix, who has registered at least eight in each season since 2012. If Amerson proves to not be a one-season-wonder, the Raiders will boast a strong top pairing at cornerback, with the battle for the third spot wide open.

13. Los Angeles Rams

Top CBs: Trumaine Johnson, E.J. Gaines, LaMarcus Joyner

Key stat: Gaines notched 10 pass defenses in 2014, more than any of his rookie peers.

The Rams balked at meeting Janoris Jenkins’ wage demands, and the confidence not to overpay may have been rooted in E.J. Gaines’ much overlooked rookie campaign of 2014. Gaines was the Rams’ highest-graded corner that season, surrendering only 1.03 yards per coverage snap (just outside the league’s top-20 corners that year). The one area the Rams’ corners must improve is their tackling, having missed a combined 78 tackles over the last two seasons (third-most in the NFL).

14. San Francisco 49ers

Top CBs: Tramaine Brock, Dontae Johnson, Jimmie Ward

Key stat: Ward recorded 21 defensive stops in 2015, tied for 10th-most in the league.

The massive personnel turnover in San Francisco last offseason hit the defensive backfield, too, but their fresh crop of cornerbacks more than held their own as the rest of the team struggled around them. Tramaine Brock, Dontae Johnson, and Jimmie Ward all graded well, with Brock surrendering more than 75 yards only three times, while Ward added 21 stops from the slot.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars

Top CBs: Davon House, Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara

Key stat: Ramsey posted a 54.5 completion percentage allowed at Florida State last season.

Even before the acquisition of Jalen Ramsey in the draft, the Jags’ secondary had already made strides, and Ramsey could now cap off an ascending group of cornerbacks. Davon House surrendered a passer rating below 80.0 in his first season in Jacksonville, while free-agent signing Prince Amukamara was tied for 17th in the league, surrendering only 1.04 yards per coverage snap. After Ramsey fell into Jacksonville’s lap during the draft, the Jags now boast unexpected depth at cornerback with the likes of Aaron Colvin now competing for playing time and roster spots.

16. Cleveland Browns

Top CBs: Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, K’Waun Williams

Key stat: Haden recorded a career-high 158.2 passer rating allowed in 2015.

Struggling through injuries, Joe Haden allowed as many touchdowns (four) on 31 targets last season as he had surrendered on 113 targets a year before. A fully healthy and on-form Haden puts the rest of this Browns’ secondary in a position to succeed, with K’Waun Williams proving to be one of the league’s best slot corners over the last two seasons.

17. Detroit Lions

Top CBs: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs

Key stat: Slay allowed 20 or fewer yards in a game six times last season.

After he was lit up for 123 yards and a perfect 158.3 passer rating by Peyton Manning in Week 3, Darius Slay rebounded with a string of impressive displays, grading as the fourth-best corner in coverage after that game. Slot corner Quandre Diggs impressed with a run of strong displays in the second half of his rookie season, but the void left by Rashean Mathis’ retirement makes the No. 2 corner role a big question mark for Detroit.

18. New York Jets

Top CBs: Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams

Key stat: Revis recorded a a 56.5 passer rating allowed in 2015, third-best mark in the NFL.

The Jets went all-in on cornerbacks last offseason, but did it really pay off? Darrelle Revis put in a strong season, if not his absolute best, but Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine surrendered more than 700 yards each, a combined 10 touchdowns, and passer ratings of over 100.0. Question marks abound behind Revis as we head towards the 2016 season—can Skrine step up to be the second corner? What can they get from Dee Milliner? More questions than answers at corner for the Jets.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

Top CBs: Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines, KeiVarae Russell

Key stat: Peters notched eight interceptions and 17 pass defenses in 2015, both league-highs.

In terms of sheer volume, Marcus Peters was by far the most-targeted (137) cornerback in the NFL last season, and his targets were certainly action-packed. His impressive rookie season puts him in good stead, but questions abound around him. Phillip Gaines has been solid in limited playing time, and the Chiefs will hope that the likes of KeiVarae Russell, Eric Murray, and D.J. White can stake a claim for playing time ahead of the underwhelming Marcus Cooper and Jamell Fleming.

20. Indianapolis Colts

Top CBs: Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson, D’Joun Smith

Key stat: Davis surrendered seven touchdowns last season, tied for fifth-most in the league.

After his miraculous 2014 campaign (no TDs allowed, 13 pass defenses, 41.2 passer rating allowed) Davis returned to giving up too many touchdowns to be considered among the league’s elite, but 2015 was still a solid season for him. Behind him, however, the support was lacking. Another strong season from free-agent addition Patrick Robinson will give the Colts a quality starting pair, but the competition to be their third corner looks to be wide open.

21. New Orleans Saints

Top CBs: Delvin Breaux, Keenan Lewis, Kyle Wilson

Key stat: Breaux surrendered 10 touchdowns into his coverage last season, a league-high.

You’ll struggle to find a corner with a more “Jekyll and Hyde” stat line than Delvin Breaux produced last season. He allowed less than 50 percent of passes targeted into his coverage to be completed (15 pass defenses), but a quarter of those 40 completions were converted into touchdowns. On the whole, 2015 was a strong season for Breaux, and while the returning Keenan Lewis will provide an enormous upgrade on Brandon Browner, he is yet to produce his form from his final season in Pittsburgh that would see this trio rise in the rankings.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Top CBs: Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves III, Alterraun Verner

Key stat: Grimes has surrendered 13 touchdowns since 2014 (six last season).

From 2007 to 2013, Brent Grimes surrendered only 14 touchdown passes; in the last two seasons alone, he has nearly matched that. Grimes surrendered a passer rating of 103.8 last season, his first time over 100.0 since 2008. He highlights a trio of corners looking to re-discover better form from past seasons, playing alongside Vernon Hargreaves (whose form dipped from 2014 with Florida) and Alterraun Verner, who is yet to rediscover the production levels of his Titans days. If all three produce their best form, the Bucs could appear much higher on this list, but can all three rebound?

23. Cincinnati Bengals

Top CBs: Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard

Key stat: Rookie cornerbacks have taken just 278 snaps for the Bengals since 2010.

The Bengals invest heavily in rookie corners, but rarely allow them to see the field in their first season—a trend that will need to change in 2016 if Dre Kirkpatrick repeats his 2015 form. Former first-round pick Darqueze Dennard must push Kirkpatrick (either to improve, or completely out of the starting lineup), while this year’s top pick, William Jackson III, will look to buck the trend and see playing time as a rookie. Behind Adam Jones, there are plenty of questions, and the answer might just be youth.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Top CBs: Ross Cockrell, William Gay, Artie Burns

Key stat: Steelers CBs combined for a completion percentage allowed of 60.0 last season.

Only seven teams didn’t have a single corner allow a completion percentage below 60.0 last year, and the Steelers were one of those seven. In fact, only Cortez Allen (twice) and William Gay have dropped below that threshold over the last three seasons. Cockrell and Gay bring their own strengths (nine pass defenses for Cockrell, zero touchdowns allowed by Gay in 2015), but a thin cornerback group will likely press Burns into action early in his career, after having struggled against Nebraska and Clemson during his final season with the Miami Hurricanes.

25. Atlanta Falcons

Top CBs: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Jalen Collins

Key stat: Trufant was the least-targeted corner in the NFL last season (9.8 coverage snaps per target).

No cornerback, not even Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson, was targeted less often than Desmond Trufant during the 2015 regular season. After facing 180 targets during his first two seasons, Trufant was only targeted 56 times last year. Unless the likes of Robert Alford and Jalen Collins can raise their game and force teams to take on Trufant more often, the Falcons will sport a lopsided secondary, with one of the league’s top corners seeing little of the ball as teams gain their yards away from him.

26. Chicago Bears

Top CBs: Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter, Brice Callahan

Key stat: Fuller surrendered 50+ receiving yards in a game just twice last season.

After a very disappointing rookie season, Fuller appeared destined for a similar year two after poor showings against Green Bay and Arizona to start 2015. However, after that slow start, he finished with one of the top-15 coverage grades over the final 15 weeks of the season. Fuller’s sustained form was not matched by Tracy Porter, but Brice Callahan will look to build on a solid rookie season out of the slot, with a pair of pass defenses on 33 targets in 2015.

27. Dallas Cowboys

Top CBs: Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne

Key stat: Carr, Claiborne, and Byron Jones each allowed a 100.0+ passer rating last season.

The Cowboys missed Orlando Scandrick badly last season, but his return can only do so much for a cornerback corps that still fields Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Carr has surrendered 18 touchdowns since he arrived in Dallas in 2012 (six in each of the last two seasons), with Claiborne surrendering a passer rating in excess of 100.0 in three of his four seasons as a Cowboy. Scandrick improves matters for Dallas, but one corner can only do so much.

28. Baltimore Ravens

Top CBs: Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Kyle Arrington

Key stat: Smith surrendered six touchdowns last season, a career-high.

In the first four seasons of his career, Jimmy Smith surrendered only six touchdowns, a figure he matched during a disappointing 2015 season that also featured a career-high 10 missed tackles. A return to his fine form of late 2013 and 2014 (before injury cut his breakout season short) would be a boost for a Ravens’ secondary that is relying on veterans like Shareece Wright, Kyle Arrington, and Jerraud Powers to produce at levels that they have only shown sparingly.

29. Philadelphia Eagles

Top CBs: Nolan Carroll, Eric Rowe, Ron Brooks

Key stat: Rowe allowed a 80.3 passer rating last season when targeted, fifth-best by a rookie CB.

The Eagles have plenty of options at cornerback, and though the quarterbacks may steal the headlines, the battle for playing time at cornerback might be the best camp battle in Philadelphia this summer. Can Ron Brooks translate his familiarity with Jim Schwartz’s system into playing time? Can JaCorey Shepherd pick up where he left off when he tore his ACL a year ago and claim the slot role? Outside, the likes of Leodis McKelvin and Jaylen Watkins will put pressure on Nolan Carroll, and in particular, Eric Rowe to earn their starting spots ahead of the regular season.

30. Tennessee Titans

Top CBs: Jason McCourty, Perrish Cox, Brice McCain

Key stat: Cox surrendered seven touchdowns into his coverage last season, a career-high.

2015 could barely have gone much worse for the Titans, and their cornerback corps didn’t escape the damage, with McCourty struggling before his season was cut short by injury. Among the corners who registered playing time, only rookie slot corner Cody Riggs surrendered a passer rating below 100.0. McCourty is now three years removed from his best form, but his sure tackling will at least provide an upgrade after Perrish Cox and Coty Sensabaugh missed a combined 23 tackles last year.

31. Miami Dolphins

Top CBs: Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain

Key stat: Maxwell allowed 100.7 passer rating into his coverage, a career-high.

A first year outside the safe haven of Seattle didn’t go well for Byron Maxwell, and after being traded by Philadelphia, he must start again in Miami. Maxwell still had a nose for the football in Philly (intercepting or breaking up at least 10 passes for the third year in a row), and could very well share starting duties this season with Howard, who surrendered a completion on less than 45 percent of the 162 passes targeted into his coverage over the final two years of his career at Baylor.

32. Carolina Panthers

Top CBs: Robert McClain, James Bradberry, Bené Benwikere

Key stat: 68.4 percent of the Panthers’ CB snaps in 2015 will be replaced this season.

Returning only Bené Benwikere, Robert McClain, and Teddy Williams among corners who played for the team last season, the Panthers face a tall order to produce a secondary that can match up to last year’s group. The Panthers invested multiple picks in corners in the draft, and unless McClain and Benwikere can produce on the outside in a way they haven’t done to this point in their careers, the pressure will be on the Panthers’ young corners to produce immediately.

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