Ranking the NFL's Best Cornerback Trios

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 27, 2012

Ranking the NFL's Best Cornerback Trios

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    The NFL is full of talented cornerbacks, but which team has the best roster of starting cornerbacks in the league?

    We're breaking down the best starting trios (yes, nickelbacks are used that much now), not the team with the best individual cornerback. Darrelle Revis is undoubtedly the best in the game, but the New York Jets might not have the best cornerback corps due to Antonio Cromartie's inability to tackle.

    With major moves shaking up the offseason, here is a look at which NFL teams have the most talent in their top three cornerbacks.

12. New York Giants

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    The New York Giants have a dominant front four, but their back end ain't so bad either.

    With the return of a healthy Terrell Thomas and a full offseason for second-year cover man Prince Amukamara, the New York Giants should have the cornerback talent to match up with their dynamic pass-rushers.

    Thomas and Amukamara have tons of potential, but the best player here right now is Corey Webster. He's not remarkable, but he's consistent and can match up with the opposition's best receiver. If rookie Jayron Hosley catches on quickly, he'll add a new element of speed to this physical group and provide great depth.

11. St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams' cornerbacks were absolutely terrible in 2011, so they went out and replaced their top three starters through free agency and the NFL draft.

    In are Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnsona much more talented and physical group that better fits what new head coach Jeff Fisher wants to do on defense. Each player has the size and strength to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage, which is something the Rams can afford to do with a pass rush featuring Chris Long and Robert Quinn.

    There is a lot riding on potential here. Jenkins and Johnson are both rookies, but they are highly skilled players who will complement Finnegan very well if everything goes as planned.

10. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals will get back a healthy Leon Hall in 2012, and that alone is pretty good, but they also added depth and future talent by picking up Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round of the draft. With Hall, Kirkpatrick and a returning Nate Clements, the Bengals are in good shape for the upcoming season.

    There is some doubt about Kirkpatrick's health and how quickly he'll pick up the scheme, and Cincinnati protected themselves against this by adding Terence Newman through free agency. If Kirkpatrick can't go early, there is still depth and experience here to go toe-to-toe with the NFL's best passing games.

9. Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys were not happy with their cornerback play in 2011, so they went out and revamped the position by adding a high-priced free agent and trading up for a first-round cornerback from LSU.

    Morris Claiborne came over via the NFL draft, and he'll be asked to be an immediate impact. That shouldn't be a problem for the former LSU Tiger. Claiborne is an absolute stud who should match up well against the game's best.

    Claiborne is joined by Brandon Carr, who comes down from Kansas City and will be pressed into the spotlight across from the rookie. Working in the slot should be Mike Jenkins, but he's starting the year on the PUP list and may be slow to get started. If so, Orlando Scandrick is still around to fill in admirably.

8. Green Bay Packers

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    At face value, it would be easy to rank the Green Bay Packers higher than this, but there are too many question marks to put them much higher.

    No one has more respect for Charles Woodson's amazing career, but there's a good chance he moves to safety full-time this year. No matter where he's lined up, Woodson is absolutely phenomenal, and it would be shocking if Green Bay didn't match him up in the slot on three- and four-receiver downs.

    Tramon Williams was banged up in 2011, which caused a drop off from his excellent play in 2010. Anyone who saw Williams in the 2010 postseason knows how special of a player he is, though. With a better pass rush in front of him this year and a fully healthy body, Williams should be elite again.

    The No. 3 cornerback spot is shaky. Jarrett Bush probably wins out until Sam Shields can learn to tackle, but the wild card will be rookie Casey Hayward. Hayward has more all-around potential than either Bush or Shields. 

7. Baltimore Ravens

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    There is a lot to like here. By the end of the year, the Baltimore Ravens could easily have the best starting duo at the position.

    The Ravens have one of the most underrated studs in the NFL with Lardarius Webb. If he's not on your radar yet as one of the best and brightest in the game, look him up early this year. Webb is becoming a top-five cornerback based on his ability to not only create turnovers, but in limiting targets thrown his way.

    Opposite Webb is 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Smith, a big, rangy cornerback who can cover major ground and has the size to keep up with the game's bigger targets at the wide receiver position. Smith has the potential to be even better than Webb if he can live up to his athletic ability.

    Working in the slot is Cary Williams, a solid veteran player who works well in the Baltimore scheme. His ability to keep up with smaller, shiftier slot receivers makes him a valuable asset when facing the Pittsburgh Steelers' depth.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Kansas City Chiefs have put together a very good secondary, and that all starts with the play at cornerback.

    Brandon Flowers is legitimately one of the best in the game at what he does. He has shut down the best over the last year, and as his status rises, fewer quarterbacks are challenging his ability on the edge. Flowers has All-Pro credentials.

    At the other corner spot we'll see Stanford Routt stepping in for Brandon Carr. Routt had a great season in Oakland in 2010, but he struggled in 2011. The good news is that the scheme in Kansas City better fits Routt's strengthslocking up in zero coverage and knocking the ball away. 

    At the No. 3 cornerback spot, Kansas City should see Javier Arenas step into a full-time role. Arenas has been great on special teams and spotty in coverage, but he should take off this season with more time to prep.

5. Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks may be ranked No. 5 right now, but by season's end they could be much higher.

    The trio of Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Marcus Trufant may not sound like much to fans who live off the rankings assigned in Madden video games, but watch them play and you'll be hard-pressed to find better play across the board in many NFL cities.

    Sherman is your classic ball hawk. He's sleek and smooth, quickly transitioning in and out of breaks to keep up with speedy receivers. If his rookie season is any indication of what's to come, the Seahawks found a freaking steal in the 2011 fifth round.

    Speaking of steals, Brandon Browner was in the CFL when the 'Hawks signed him. All he did last year was notch six interceptions and play lights-out ball. Browner was talented at Oregon State, but he never caught on in his first attempt at the NFL. He's here to stay now.

    Trufant is the veteran who brings experience and stability to the unit. He's still good enough to match up in the slot, where his ability to press cover can hide the fact that he's lost a step.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The who? Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars come in at No. 4. No, seriously.

    Jacksonville's defense was seriously underrated last year, and even going into the 2012 season no one is giving this team enough credit defensively. That's going to change.

    The Jaguars get back Rashean Mathis; they added Aaron Ross, and they still have William Middleton and Derek Cox at the position. I'll forgive you if you glossed over the actual games and don't know who Middleton and Cox are, but you have no excuse after this.

    Middleton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 7 cornerback in the NFL last season. Yes, he was that good. His partner in crime, Cox, was ranked No. 21. 

    It remains to be seen exactly who will be the top three, but there is enough talent here to lead the NFL in pass defense.

3. New York Jets

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    I'm sure we'll hear about this one from New York Jets fans, but the harsh reality is that while you have the best cornerback in the universe, the other cornerbacks here are merely average at best.

    Darrelle Revis is great—yes, we know. He's unreal, in fact. The cornerback position could be renamed "Revisback," and I wouldn't complain. He's a future Hall of Famer. Antonio Cromartie, however, is not.

    Cromartie is a recognizable player by name, but his play doesn't live up to that. Cromartie has never been a strong tackler, and his coverage ability gets severely overrated by fans. For a player that allows the completions and big plays that Cromartie does, it's shocking that fans even defend him anymore, but they do. His quarterback rating allowed sat at 71.8 for the 2011 season, good for No. 31 overall.

    Kyle Wilson is another story altogether. Let's just apply the "draft bust" label and move on, shall we?

    Listen, Revis is the only reason the Jets are this high. If we were ranking on individuals, he'd be first, but the play around him really is bad.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The NFL lockout hurt a lot of teams, but no team was hurt more than the Philadelphia Eagles.

    A new scheme and first-year coordinator were tough enough to overcome in a regular offseason, but with a lockout and two new starters, the Eagles were way behind the eight ball.

    Nnamdi Asomugha may have taken a step back in 2011 due in part to the lockout and the new scheme in Philly, but make no mistake, he's still one of the best cover men in the NFL. Hands down.

    After Asomugha, the Eagles have a player who is set to take off after a full offseason in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

    There aren't many duos better in the league, which is why Philadelphia comes in so high. The only thing holding them back is in the slot, where Joselio Hanson is good, but not the type of player our No. 1 team has in their nickel package.

1. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons come in at No. 1 overall thanks to a big move to add Asante Samuel to an already strong unit featuring Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. With the trio on the field together, NFL offenses can prepare to be confused.

    The three all ranked in the top 20 when our B/R 1,000 rankings came out. Let that sink in: Out of 100 cornerbacks ranked, the Atlanta Falcons have three who were in the top 20.

    Brent Grimes, despite his limited size, is a legitimate NFL star. He has All-Pro potential every year. Dunta Robinson hasn't been the elite player many thought he would be after coming over from Houston, but he's still good enough to shut down the No. 2 wide receivers he'll see weekly. It will be interesting to see who starts and who is a nickel player, but the reality is that Atlanta can start Grimes and then whichever player gives them the better matchup that week.

    While Robinson is most likely a starter, but he'll move down and play in the slot on passing downs, where his quickness and ability to use his hands will make him the game's best slot cornerback from Week 1.