Top 10 NFL cornerbacks set to hit free agency

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the Buffalo Bills walks onto the field before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 11, 2016 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. Pittsburgh defeats Buffalo 27-20. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Free agency is quickly approaching, and teams can never have too many cornerbacks. While there might not be as many big-name stars hitting the market like there are at other positions, there are plenty of players who can be every-down starters for several rosters.

To see Pro Football Focus’ full NFL free-agent rankings featuring the top 50 players set to hit the market in 2017, click here.

1. Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills (73.2 overall grade in 2016 season)

Among this year’s cornerback class, Gilmore is the closest thing there is to a sure thing. As a rookie, he was the Bills' starting right cornerback in Week 1. Since then, he has either been their right cornerback or tracked opposing No. 1 wide receivers. He has 48 combined interceptions and pass breakups since entering the league in 2012, tied for ninth-most. He allows a few too many big plays to be an elite cornerback, but the good plays he makes against the competition he faces far outweigh the bad. While he earned a lower grade in the 2016 season than most other CBs on this list, his larger body of work elevates him to the top of the ranking.

2. A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans (90.9)

Coming into the 2016 season, Bouye had logged less than 900 snaps of NFL experience on defense, and was fourth on the Texans' depth chart. Thanks to injuries, he got his shot, and played like one of the top cornerbacks in league. Bouye was the only cornerback with 10 or more pass breakups and less than 10 yards per catch allowed in 2016. With just two missed tackles, he was one of the surest tacklers at the position. The biggest concern is that Bouye has only shown this ability over one season. He’s going to earn a pay day, but it’s very possible that he will never reach this level of play again. If he is able to reach it, though, some team might get a steal.

3. Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams (81.0)

Early in his career, Johnson's play was average overall for a starter. Recently, however, he has developed into a solid starting cornerback for the Rams. Since entering the league in 2012, he has recorded 16 interceptions, tied for fifth-most; whoever signs him is bound to get some big plays. However, Johnson has also recorded 50 missed tackles since entering the league, fifth-most at the position. If a team can live with his missed tackles, Johnson can be a solid cornerback to leave on one side of the field.

4. Logan Ryan, New England Patriots (83.5)

Ryan is one of the biggest names among this free-agent cornerback group, thanks to being a starter for New England and his ability to go on hot stretches. Over the last two seasons, Ryan has been the third-most-targeted cornerback in the league, and by most metrics, he’s fallen between average to above-average. One thing that plays into his favor is that he has just two missed tackles in coverage over the last two regular seasons. Everyone above him on the list has very little slot cornerback experience, but Ryan saw the 12th-most coverage snaps in the slot for cornerbacks last year. He has stretches of play where he can get exposed, but some team will take advantage of his ability to line up at multiple positions.

5. Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys (84.7)

After being selected as the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, Claiborne has largely been a disappointment. Over his career, he’s allowed a passer rating of 97.7, ninth-highest among cornerbacks with at least 1,500 coverage snaps since 2012. The reason he’s this high on the list is because in 2016, it seemed like Claiborne started to turn things around. Over the first half of the season (before missing the second half), he allowed a 51.9 percent catch rate and 8.9 yards per catch, both career lows. He has also performed well when lining up in press coverage. Claiborne allowed just nine of 25 passes thrown his way to be caught, and a passer rating of 29.4 when targeted after lining up in press. For teams that like lining up a cornerback in press coverage and are willing to take a risk, Claiborne could be the right guy.

6. Prince Amukamara, Jacksonville Jaguars (76.6)

Amukamara spent years with the Giants, consistently grading out just above average. He signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Jaguars, in which he proved he is still a slightly above-average cornerback. He has never been one to record many interceptions, but that hasn’t stopped him from preventing catches at a better rate than plenty of other cornerbacks. The players above him on this list may have a higher ceiling, but with Amukamara, you’re likely getting exactly what you expect. He will be an alright option as a No. 2 cornerback, but ideally, a team can use him as an outside cornerback just for nickel sets.

7. Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals (74.7)

Kirkpatrick is the third 2012 first-round pick on this list. It wasn’t until his fourth year in the league that he became a starter. Over these last two regular seasons, he has 23 penalties, which is tied for the most among cornerbacks, and 30 missed tackles, also tied for the most. When he’s not missing tackles or having yellow flags thrown because of him, he has been able to prevent catches. His 58.6 percent career catch rate allowed and 11.5 yards per catch allowed are both below the league average, and he has stayed close to those two marks each of the last two seasons. If Kirkpatrick can tone down the missed tackles and penalties, then he could start to turn his career around. Without that improvement, though, teams may be better off without him.

8. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota Vikings (75.5)

Since Munnerlyn joined the league in 2009, no cornerback has played more coverage snaps in the slot. His play from one season to the next has been sporadic, but for his career as a whole, he’s been an above-average slot cornerback. This past season was a particular down one for him, as he allowed a 76.5 percent catch rate, and is among the older cornerbacks on this list, which works against him. What works in his favor, though, is that every year, slot cornerbacks are used more and more, and there is not a high supply of slot CBs in this free-agent class. If there are even just a few teams wanting to pay for a slot cornerback, that could really drive up Munnerlyn's price.

9. Terence Newman, Minnesota Vikings (86.4)

We have made it clear that Newman had an unprecedented year for a cornerback of his age (38) in 2016. The main thing holding him back on this list, however, is that age. Most cornerbacks in this top-10 ranking can be a solid starter for multiple years to come, and can possibly play even better, but Newman doesn’t have that kind of time. Over the last six games of the 2016 season, he played 65 percent or more of the Vikings' defensive snaps just twice. If he can recreate the same level of performance in 2017 as he did this past season, though—even if he only plays 50 percent of a defense's snaps—that adds value to a team.

10. Sterling Moore, New Orleans Saints (72.3)

While most cornerbacks on this list are high draft picks who have only played for one team in their career, Sterling Moore was an undrafted rookie who has made many stops along the way. He has seen plenty of time out wide and in the slot, and he’s consistently graded at or above average. He’s a cornerback unlikely to break the bank, and unlikely to ever become a star. However, when you have someone with versatility to where they can line up and you know you can get starting-caliber play from them, you have a good role player.


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