NFL News & Analysis

Signature Stat Spotlight: Cornerbacks

PFF’s in-depth charting and advanced stats look beyond the box score to identify key metrics otherwise overlooked across all positions in the NFL. This “Signature Stat Spotlight” series will walk readers through the varying advanced stats and metrics we track for every player at every position in every game.

We’ve now discussed the advanced stats behind running backs and offensive linemen, so we’re now moving to the defensive side of the ball to get an advanced look at cornerbacks. Charting targets, receptions allowed, yards allowed, touchdowns allowed and forced incompletions serve as the core of what we use in our advanced stat formulas for cornerbacks. With the aforementioned information, we can pull yards allowed per coverage snap, targets per coverage snap and receptions allowed per coverage snap. We calculate passer rating allowed, yards after the catch allowed and catch percentage allowed (receptions allowed/targets), as well.

[Editor’s Note: To dive into PFF’s grading system and Premium Stats 2.0, subscribe to PFF’s ELITE – Monthly or ELITE – Annual subscription.] 

In addition to the above metrics, we chart first downs allowed and targets either dropped by the intended receiver or thrown off target. Forced incompletion percentage, which takes all forced incompletions (pass breakups, interceptions, tight coverage) and divides them by total targets, is also tracked outside of Premium Stats 2.0 and sometimes referred to in our articles or social graphics. Shortened to FINC% at times, this statistic gives us a great idea of which cornerbacks make plays on the ball at the highest and lowest rates.

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Among the 115 NFL cornerbacks with at least 30 targets in 2019 (including the postseason), New England PatriotsJC Jackson ranked first in passer rating when targeted at 35.9. He allowed just 31 receptions from 65 targets for 328 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions. He was also the only cornerback to record a passer rating when targeted below 45.0 this past season. San Francisco 49ersRichard Sherman and Jackson’s teammate Stephon Gilmore ranked second and third at 45.3 and 48.0, respectively.

Houston TexansLonnie Johnson allowed an NFL-high 133.5 passer rating when targeted across 354 coverage snaps and 60 total targets. The rookie cornerback earned just a 29.0 PFF coverage grade and allowed 503 yards and nine touchdowns in the process. Veteran cornerback Josh Norman ranked second-to-last in passer rating allowed (133.3) in 2019.

Other rate stats included in Premium Stats 2.0 for cornerbacks among other defensive positions are yards allowed per coverage snap, coverage snaps played per target and coverage snaps played per reception allowed.

Among cornerbacks with at least 300 coverage snaps played, Philadelphia EaglesRonald Darby ranked dead last in yards allowed per coverage snap at 2.02. He allowed 39 receptions for 664 yards and six touchdowns from just 62 targets in 2019. Brian Poole, D.J. Hayden, Richard Sherman, Byron Jones and Casey Hayward led all qualifying cornerbacks in yards allowed per coverage snap.

Player Name Coverage Snaps Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Yards/Coverage Snap
Brian Poole 464 53 33 244 1 1 0.53
D.J. Hayden 369 41 25 210 0 0 0.57
Richard Sherman 642 61 34 373 1 5 0.58
Byron Jones 536 53 30 331 3 0 0.62
Casey Hayward Jr. 512 47 26 329 4 2 0.64

Hayward was rarely tested in 2019. He averaged 10.9 coverage snaps played per target and 19.7 coverage snaps played per reception this past season; both figures led all qualifying cornerbacks.

Slot Cornerback coverage Performance

Dennard led all cornerbacks with at least 25 targets in the slot in passer rating when targeted from said alignment at 68.4. The Cincinnati Bengals veteran allowed just 14 receptions from 26 slot targets for 134 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions across 235 slot coverage snaps. 49ers’ K’Waun Williams ranked second in passer rating when targeted from the slot (69.3) with just 323 yards and zero touchdowns allowed from 56 slot targets along with two interceptions.

No qualifying cornerback allowed a higher passer rating from the slot than Denver BroncosWill Parks, as he allowed 18 receptions from 26 targets for 222 yards and five touchdowns en route to an NFL-high 134.9 passer rating allowed from the slot.

Forced Incompletion Percentage

Charting forced incompletions and tracking forced incompletion percentage takes understanding cornerback performance to the next level. Because yards allowed per coverage snap, passer rating allowed, etc. all include passes dropped by the receiver and off-target passes, such numbers can be inflated due to opponent error rather than the success or high-end play of the cornerback in question. Forced incompletion percentage adds context to such figures and provides a clearer picture as to which cornerbacks are making plays on the ball and creating incompletions rather than benefitting from fortunate circumstances such as a dropped pass or inaccurate throw. Coverage grade plays into such clarity, as well.

The NFL leaders in PFF’s forced incompletion percentage (FINC %) among cornerbacks with 30-plus targets in 2019 are as follows:

Name Team Coverage Snaps Targets Forced Incompletions FINC %
Jamel Dean Buccaneers 265 47 14 29.8%
Rasul Douglas Eagles 371 60 13 21.7%
Shaquill Griffin Seahawks 633 70 15 21.4%
Carlton Davis Buccaneers 613 105 22 21.0%
Adoree' Jackson Titans 513 63 13 20.6%

To continue to learn more about PFF’s advanced stats, please stay tuned for the rest of our Signature Stat Spotlight Series. Or, better yet, subscribe to PFF’s ELITE subscription to dive into the numbers yourself throughout the offseason and into next season.

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