NFL1000: Ranking the Top Outside Cornerbacks of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Outside Cornerbacks of 2017 Season

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    Logan Bowles/Getty Images

    Cornerbacks have been challenged to lock up the sport's best receivers since the invention of the forward pass. Through the eras, physical dominance defined the best pass defenders, from Dick "Night Train" Lane to Willie Brown to Lester Hayes to Deion Sanders.  

    But if you want to be one of the game's greatest cornerbacks in the modern era, you have to meet unique challenges. No longer can you simply bump against your receiver and wrestle him to the ground. Ever-favorable offensive rules have hamstrung cornerbacks, forcing them to play deep balls with perfect technique or risk a game-changing pass-interference call.

    Moreover, the route concepts modern corners must cover are more advanced than ever. Floods, switch releases, double slot combos…the list goes on. In an era when most cornerbacks must be able to switch between man and zone coverage—at times on the same drive—coordination with teammates is at an all-time premium.

    So, the modern cornerback must bring a unique skill set to the table. He must be lightning-quick to deal with vertical routes to the boundary. He must have instant recovery speed to handle all kinds of angular routes. And he must be stout in the run game. The days of cornerbacks making plays in the defensive backfield and "business decisions" as force defenders are over.

    The best corners of this era are among the greatest we've ever seen, precisely because they are so challenged on every play. NFL1000 defensive backs scout Ian Wharton has been watching every team, and he's ranked all the game's outside cornerbacks (we'll have a separate article ranking primary slot defenders) with the following criteria:

    Coverage: 25 points. This is based primarily on outside coverage but also measures slot coverage. How well does this player take his receiver through the route? Is he equally adept at man, zone and pattern-reading coverage? How well does he backpedal and turn? Can he keep pace in bail coverage?

    Reaction: 25 points. Does this player have the reactive intelligence to run a receiver's route with him, or does he waste steps? How well does he time his jumps, deflections and interceptions? How many opportunities does he miss or make by being in the right place or one step out of line?

    Recovery: 25 points. If a receiver uses a step to get away from this defender, how well and how quickly does the corner recover? Does he lose his receivers on comebacks and cuts? Is he too aggressive to match a more elusive wideout step for step, and how many steps does it take him to get back on track if he does make a mistake?

    Tackling: 15 points. After a catch is made, how often does this player allow yards afterward because he can't close and wrap up? Is he a useful force defender against the run, and if so, how quickly does he adapt from coverage to run defense?

    Position Value: 10 points. A score that takes positional importance into account when comparing grades across other spots on the defense. Cornerbacks are given 10/10 points, making their top possible grade 100. 

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Notable Omissions

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Cornerbacks who spent the majority of their pass-defense snaps in the slot are excluded from the outside cornerback rankings. These players were graded as slot defenders:

    • Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
    • Bryce Callahan, Chicago Bears
    • Brian Poole, Atlanta Falcons
    • Chris Harris, Denver Broncos
    • Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Cleveland Browns
    • Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans
    • Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati Bengals
    • Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina Panthers

    Slot-defender rankings will be released tomorrow.

    In addition, we left out any outside cornerback who played fewer than 10 percent of his team's total snaps, including these players:

    • Jason Verrett, Los Angeles Chargers
    • Ladarius Gunter, Green Bay Packers
    • Bene' Benwikere, Dallas Cowboys
    • Marcus Williams, Houston Texans
    • Leon Hall, San Francisco 49ers

Nos. 76-71

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    76. Shareece Wright, Buffalo Bills

    Coverage: 11/25
    Reaction: 
    10/25
    Recovery: 
    11/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    49/100

    Wright was thrust into action when E.J. Gaines missed several games and parts of others throughout the season, and the results were on par with the rest of the journeyman's career. He struggled dearly as an outside corner, lacking the athleticism and feel for the game to be effective for more than a few drives of relief. He's often targeted as soon as he enters the contest, which is a bad sign. The Bills should be in the market for an upgrade on their third boundary corner position.

                 

    75. Ryan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 12/25
    Reaction: 
    11/25
    Recovery: 
    12/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    There may not have been a more overwhelmed corner to earn more than 500 snaps than Smith. The 2016 fourth-round pick appeared to be guessing at routes with little consideration for how much help he had. His struggles with staying in position to challenge at the catch point were a major issue, and offenses routinely targeted his side of the field. He was unfit to be the third boundary corner in 2017.

                        

    74. Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals

    Coverage: 12/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    12/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Bethel was a starter for most of the season's first half before Tramon Williams supplanted him in Week 7. His main strength is his 6'0", 200-pound size, which helps close the gap on passing windows. But he struggles to turn and run with receivers, proving to be stiff with his movements and limited with acceleration to recover from losing ground early. He was rarely seen after the first six weeks of the year.

                            

    73. LeShaun Sims, Tennessee Titans

    Coverage: 13/25
    Reaction: 
    12/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Arguably the most questionable move the Titans made last season was releasing veteran Jason McCourty in favor of playing Sims as their other boundary corner in nickel packages. The 6'0", 203-pound Sims has great size, but the rest of his skill set and physical traits are limited. He's a mismatch for any starting-caliber receiver to attack, as his slow feet and inability to stay square in his drops make it easy to complete passes his direction.

                  

    72. Kayvon Webster, Los Angeles Rams

    Coverage: 14/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    11/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Questioning a defensive mind like Wade Phillips' is rarely the right thing to do, but looking back at his decision to utilize Webster as the No. 2 corner, it's fair to wonder what other options he had. Webster wasn't terrible but also contributed little. That isn't surprising after he was mainly a special teams player in Denver with Phillips. He's a stiff athlete who lacks a feel for routes and the ball. His biggest positive was his execution of play calls, and mental mistakes rarely caused him to blow an assignment.

                     

    71. Daryl Worley, Carolina Panthers

    Coverage: 12/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    11/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    A big, long, physical corner—the type the Panthers prioritize to assist in their run game—the 6'1", 205-pound Worley is less of a coverage threat than any starting corner in the NFL. The second-year man struggled with his technique, overly relying on his strength to disrupt receivers, and then was often in no-man's land in zone assignments. His lack of impact is an issue, and the Panthers should look for an upgrade. Unless Worley suddenly develops an eye for the ball and creates turnovers, he's more suited for a depth role than a starting role.

Nos. 70-66

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    70. Anthony Brown, Dallas Cowboys

    Coverage: 13/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    After the Cowboys overhauled the cornerback position and subsequently the scheme from man-based to more zone focused, they made some bold decisions that failed to pan out. Both former starters—Brandon Carr (Ravens) and Morris Claiborne (Jets)—went on to have great seasons elsewhere, while the Cowboys failed to see growth from Brown. He's physically limited on the outside and looks best served in the slot, with his quickness a plus. He looked like an end-of-the-roster type in 2017.

                    

    69. Terrance Mitchell, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    Mitchell's pendulum is as extreme as any at the position. He's constantly putting up poor performances but has extremely good plays mixed in. He's a great athlete and can turn and run with almost any player, but he also lacks confidence in his ability to play with his head turned away from the ball. That led to a whopping six penalties and far too many coverage breakdowns.

                    

    68. D.J. Hayden, Detroit Lions

    Coverage: 12/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    A more physically gifted athlete than rotation-mate Nevin Lawson, Hayden's more of a variance player in coverage than his teammate. He lacks the discipline to be a regular, which is why he performed better in the slot in 2016 with the Oakland Raiders than he did outside. Though Hayden's a capable press corner, he's not reliable enough with his technique or route recognition to be more than a depth piece. Like Lawson, he shouldn't get as many snaps as the Lions gave him.

              

    67. Dexter McDonald, Oakland Raiders

    Coverage: 14/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Injuries thrust McDonald into the starting lineup, and his performance lacked the impact Oakland needed to overcome talent deficiencies elsewhere. The 6'1", 200-pound McDonald used his size nicely at the catch point to disrupt passes, but his struggles with staying in phase during his backpedal and mirroring receivers were limiting. As an off-ball corner and in zone, he couldn't quickly process what offenses were setting up and often just acted as a warm body.

                

    66. Darryl Roberts, New York Jets

    Coverage: 13/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    The Jets tried to unearth potential young studs by rotating their third cornerback throughout the season, and Roberts ended up with the most snaps as that player, but he looked unfit for the role. Despite being a quality athlete, Roberts was streaky. His struggles identifying route concepts and considering the first down marker proved to be critical flaws. His technique and anticipation must greatly improve for him to continue warranting the 467 snaps he played.     

Nos. 65-61

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    65. Nevin Lawson, Detroit Lions

    Coverage: 14/25
    Reaction: 
    15/25
    Recovery: 
    11/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Across from star Darius Slay, the fourth-year Lawson played in a rotation with D.J. Hayden in 2017. Strictly an off-ball corner, Lawson held his own in coverage with his solid tackling and ability to deter big plays. The problem has been overcoming limited athleticism, size and ball skills. The 5'9", 192-pound defender has yet to log a career interception, and his lack of playmaking ability makes it difficult to justify playing him more than as a depth piece.

                    

    64. Prince Amukamara, Chicago Bears

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    The Bears doubled down on their veteran cornerback investments due to the uncertainty surrounding Kyle Fuller after he missed 2016, and neither Amukamara nor Marcus Cooper paid dividends. Amukamara played in 14 games, but he failed to notch an interception for the second consecutive season and couldn't hit double-digit pass breakups for the fourth time in seven years. His inability to find the ball is a costly weakness that shows up too often for him to be a quality regular.

                

    63. Dontae Johnson, San Francisco 49ers

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    It took Johnson until his fourth season to earn significant playing time, but it appeared to be too little, too late for the large, physical corner as far as locking down a starting job. The 6'2", 200-pound defender started all 16 games but proved ineffective at forcing turnovers and breaking up passes at a high enough rate (1 INT). His limited foot speed and lack of instincts to find the ball early in routes were difficult for him to overcome, especially as he struggled to play well into the season's final month.

                     

    62. Rasul Douglas, Philadelphia Eagles

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Given the opportunity to start five games due to injuries elsewhere, Douglas looked like a potential playmaker, notching an impressive two interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 422 snaps. Though the ball production bodes well for his outlook, there's also a reason he was targeted so much. Like his teammate Jalen Mills, Douglas was too often out of position to challenge at the catch point due to poor technique and still hips. He has a lot to clean up before he can be considered a reliable starting option.

               

    61. Vernon Hargreaves, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 13/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    The Buccaneers gambled on a pair of 5'10", quick, off-ball cornerbacks by acquiring Brent Grimes and Hargreaves in 2016, and they hit on Grimes but missed on Hargreaves. The Florida product sees the game slowly and doesn't fully trust his athleticism, often giving receivers too much cushion as he's unable to recover from a technical misstep. Tampa Bay eventually moved him into the slot before he missed the last five games of the season with a hamstring injury, and he looked more at home in that role.

Nos. 60-56

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    60. Quinton Dunbar, Washington Redskins

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    The Redskins used Dunbar sparingly this season but have already awarded him with a three-year extension, as he was set to hit free agency. Dunbar is a versatile player who can move from the boundary to guard receivers and into the slot against tight ends if need be. He's ideally a third corner who rotates in, as his ball skills and stiffness limit him from being a more valuable upside player.

                                                 

    59. Adoree' Jackson, Tennessee Titans

    Coverage: 13/25
    Reaction: 
    15/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    6/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Jackson oozes the physical traits and upside that make coaches want to mold his raw tools, but he had growing pains this season. Outside of a month stretch late in his rookie campaign, he was wildly unpredictable even drive-to-drive, at times dominating on go routes and then getting lost on curls and posts as he failed to read them effectively.

    He doesn't have to be perfect with his technique because of his athleticism's ability to bridge the gap, but he has to anticipate and study tendencies much better to get closer to his ceiling.

                                                 

    58. Kevin Johnson, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 14/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Constant battles with injuries have zapped a promising early start to Johnson's career with the Texans. After coming back in October from an MCL sprain, Johnson had a bad stretch until the last two weeks of the season, constantly looking lost and physically unable to hold his own. He's a solid technician and capable in both press and off-alignments, but 2017 was challenging as he dealt with an injured knee and a concussion.

                             

    57. Kevin King, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 14/25
    Reaction: 
    13/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    King had an impressive showing against All-Pro receiver Julio Jones in Week 2 of his rookie season, but he struggled to find much consistency outside of that matchup. At 6'3", 200 pounds, King possesses elite size and a unique ability to close passing lanes, giving him a larger margin for error with his technique and anticipation. But the lack of foot speed when he needed to change direction had him out of position far too often on hard-breaking routes. He remains a project with high upside as he enters his second season.

                               

    56. Davon House, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    12/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    The Green Bay Packers' decision to go with a familiar face to bring stability to their young cornerback depth chart could have gone better—an outsider such as Jason McCourty or Brandon Carr would have helped—but House proved to be a good value in the 12 games he started.

    Though House has never come close to mirroring the production he had in 2015 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is an average cover man capable of playing in man and zone. He's prone to giving up plays on deep routes with only decent speed, so his overall impact was limited this year.

Nos. 55-51

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    Chris Keane/Associated Press

    55. Damarious Randall, Green Bay Packers

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    15/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    It's been a bumpy experience for Randall, who's had to deal with a slew of injuries and a rotation of personnel around him over the last three years. He spent most of his time as an outside corner in 2017 but looked most comfortable in the slot when the team was healthy enough to move him inside. He had four interceptions, but two of them were more lucky than skillful. The Packers should treat him more as a slot safety than a true cornerback as he enters his fourth season—a critical campaign for his future status with the team.

                                   

    54. Jourdan Lewis, Dallas Cowboys

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    There are few NFL corners under 5'11" who are successful on the boundary for a reason, as the league is full of lengthy athletes at receiver who can outrun and outreach smaller defenders. That proved to be a challenge for the 5'10" Lewis, who had a nice rookie campaign, though he was outmatched in several contests.

    He's tenacious and physical in the running game, although he had some problems finishing tackles. A move to the slot is potentially the best fit for him, as he struggled to deal with bigger-framed tight ends and receivers. Nonetheless, the Cowboys should be satisfied on their return so far from the third-round pick.

                               

    53. Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    In August, the Steelers handed Haden a three-year contract that was essentially a one-year, low-money deal with two option years in case he looked good enough to keep past 2017. The veteran had a nondescript season—like the last several he had with the Cleveland Browns—as he was still uneven with his eye discipline and wanted to jump every underneath route.

    He's almost purely a vertical zone defender at this point, making him a fit for the team's scheme, but his limited speed and reliability were issues once again.

                                 

    52. Ross Cockrell, New York Giants

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    After acquiring Cockrell from Pittsburgh in exchange for a conditional pick in the 2018 draft, the Giants relied on the cornerback more than anticipated. But they were able to get their money's worth. Cockrell is an ideal third boundary corner despite his short arms (29 ⅞") and lack of great deep speed.

    He has good timing when defending the ball and better instincts than some starters across the league. His physical limitations can affect the running game, but his effort and ability to play in zone and man with safety help make him an underrated corner.

                                                    

    51. Darrelle Revis, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 18/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    6/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Revis, a future Hall of Famer, signed with the Chiefs at the end of November in pursuit of another payday and ring, but his performance in five games may not warrant a return. He looked more comfortable in Kansas City's press-man-heavy scheme as opposed to the New York Jets' off-man tactics in 2016, and he was acceptable as a No. 2 corner.

    His run defense was atrocious, however, as he was clearly not trying on numerous snaps. His natural instincts can carry him as a rotational piece, but his effort and conditioning will need to improve for him to continue playing.

Nos. 50-46

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    50. Rashaan Melvin, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Melvin graded as one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL1000 a year ago. After getting his chance to re-enter the lineup because of injuries, he took advantage and looked more like a rotation-worthy player who could use his 6'2", 196-pound size on vertical routes to force difficult plays on the sideline. He's not able to change directions easily and struggles with his physicality when he doesn't locate the ball, so he's overmatched as a starter. But teams can do worse for a third or fourth corner.

                                     

    49. Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas Cowboys

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Injuries limited Awuzie to only 309 snaps in his rookie season, but he was clearly Dallas' best outside cornerback among the team's three young players. Awuzie is a standout athlete who can play in zone and man, and he has the fluidity to carry receivers downfield and the size (5'11", 202 lbs) to challenge at the catch point. He looked lost in the Cowboys' zone-heavy approach at times, forgetting where he should be, but experience should help ease that issue entering 2018.

                                        

    48. Byron Maxwell, Seattle Seahawks

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    A midseason pickup for next to nothing after the Miami Dolphins switched to more of a man-based scheme, Maxwell returned to where he first found success and played relatively well. He is an average starter with limited deep speed and stiffness that causes him to struggle on in-breaking routes. But he's also great at forcing fumbles and difficult catches with his play strength. It's easier to like his performance without the inflated price tag from his 2015 free-agent contract creating expectations.

                                            

    47. Shaquill Griffin, Seattle Seahawks

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    It quickly became apparent the Seahawks should play Griffin, a 2017 third-round pick, as their No. 2 cornerback after he rotated with veteran Jeremy Lane for the first month of the season. He's more gifted athletically, and his natural feel for when he should be physical made him a better fit to start. Griffin had a strong first half of the season and then hit a rookie wall down the stretch. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his first campaign.

                         

    46. Artie Burns, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Instead of making a leap in his sophomore season, Burns had a frustratingly bumpy ride. An off-ball corner in Pittsburgh's scheme, Burns still struggled in zone drops and reads to provide help, and he gave too much cushion to underneath routes. He has the athleticism to turn and run with most receivers yet found himself guessing at the stem of routes. His ability to recognize route patterns and tendencies must improve for him to be more productive.

Nos. 45-41

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    45. Jalen Mills, Philadelphia Eagles

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    The cornerback position was by far the biggest weakness on a terrific Philadelphia Eagles defense, and Mills was the usual target when opposing offenses needed big plays or conversions. The second-year corner was one of the least disciplined players at the position across the league, prone to double moves, and he struggled to identify routes early. His length proved valuable in closing passing lanes and helped him break up 14 passes, but his inconsistent play was an issue throughout the year.

                                      

    44. Quincy Wilson, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    The Indianapolis Colts likely had bigger plans for Wilson than for the rookie to start only five games. A knee injury limited the second-round pick, however, and others seized the opportunity with him out. When Wilson played, he flashed his ability to press receivers effectively and was able to continue carrying them up sidelines without losing ground.

    He has the size (6'0", 206 lbs) and speed (4.54 40-yard dash) to become a standout starter. He'll have to improve his route recognition and reduce his desire to grab on to jerseys when he loses, as he struggled to identify route concepts often. More experience can help expedite his learning curve.

                                                                                         

    43. Eli Apple, New York Giants

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    This was a year of turmoil for Apple. The No. 10 overall pick in 2016 was saddled with the expectations of his draft position, but public opinion of him is lower than his play warrants. He's a capable second corner in man coverage, and he showed plus athleticism and improved his ability to mirror receivers with crisp footwork in and out of breaks.

    He struggled finding the ball and playing it, which was also an issue at Ohio State, and his consistency in zone reads must improve. Overall, he's talented enough to continue developing, and if his mental consistency improves, he'll solidify himself as a quality starter.

                                                       

    42. Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    The New England Patriots flirted with trading Butler prior to his contract season, and they may regret not capitalizing on his value considering he had a down year. Butler is a tough-nosed, physical corner who has to win early at the line of scrimmage, or else, with his average speed (4.62 40-yard dash) and route-recognition skills, he struggles to catch up.

    He's a scheme-versatile player and showed improved zone instincts, and his ability to slide into the slot is a bonus. Overall, he's not consistent enough to be viewed as more than a role player, though.

                                                                     

    41. Cordrea Tankersley, Miami Dolphins

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    14/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Taken in the third round of the 2017 draft, Tankersley looked like a potential steal in his 638 snaps. He's a standout athlete and fit Miami's more man-heavy approach this season (it previously had a zone focus). He made several clutch plays on the ball to tip interceptions to teammates, though he missed several games because of injury.

    He'll need to continue improving his discipline on double moves and also become more comfortable when playing off the line of scrimmage, as he hesitates a little too much while coming downhill on underneath routes.

Nos. 40-36

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    Henry Browne/Getty Images

    40. Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins

    Coverage: 15/25
    Reaction: 
    15/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Howard's sophomore campaign had multiple arcs. He was maddeningly poor and regularly out of position for two-thirds of the season. Then a switch seemed to flip, and he had a dominant December that not only resulted in all four of his interceptions in two games, but also an increased awareness and much better technique in man assignments.

    He was able to stay in the hip pocket of receivers on all routes instead of just the underneath routes that he regularly fared well on. He then dropped to more inconsistent levels in the final two weeks, leading to questions about where he'll eventually settle as a player.

                                           

    39. Jamar Taylor, Cleveland Browns

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    18/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams puts more pressure on his secondary than any defensive play-caller in the league with his extreme Cover 3 alignments. Unless the cornerbacks are unbelievably good, they'll be exposed, and Taylor was in that position this season.

    An average cornerback who has value because of his ability to play as an off-ball outside corner or as a nickel, Taylor held his own as a boundary, but he wasn't able to be an impact player. His lack of elite physical traits makes it impossible for him to be a lockdown corner on a weekly basis.

                                  

    38. Sean Smith, Oakland Raiders

    Coverage: 18/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    The Oakland Raiders' decision to sign Smith after his terrific 2015 season with the rival Chiefs looked troublesome almost immediately, as his top-end speed and foot quickness have dropped as he's aged. He's still been their best cornerback, however, and the 30-year-old had a resurgence over the second half of the year after the team started playing him more out of pure need.

    The 6'3", 220-pound Smith is a huge, physically dominant corner who can defend vertical routes effectively as well as cover tight ends. He's not the high-end player he once was, but he's serviceable.

                                                   

    37. Tramon Williams, Arizona Cardinals

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Arizona rotated through bodies at its second cornerback spot until it finally hit on Williams. The journeyman had a comeback season that could lead to an extension of his career by another year or two. More of a zone fit, Williams looked healthier with his speed and agility back—unlike his previous stint in Cleveland. He was rarely out of position or blowing a coverage, which helped this secondary solidify itself in the second half of the year.

                                                               

    36. Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals

    Coverage: 18/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    In his third full season as a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, Kirkpatrick seemed to flatline in his development and settle in as an average starter. He boasted quality play strength that helped deter receivers from fighting for the ball on the sideline, but his physicality was an issue at times, as he liked to grab receivers' jerseys to help himself recover.

    He got caught flatfooted because of inconsistent route recognition and lacked the burst and top-end speed to recover. His physical limitations forced him to be excellent with his instincts, but he's yet to master that part of his game.

Nos. 35-31

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    35. Johnathan Joseph, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    18/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Johnathan Joseph has been an outstanding cornerback throughout his career, and in his 12th season he finally showed real signs of aging. At 33, his ability to run downfield with receivers and break on downhill routes diminished. His impact on games is now closer to that of an average starter—even more than it was in 2016, despite similar statistics. He's an off-ball specialist in the twilight of his career but will consistently be in position in zone assignments and limit big-play potential.

              

    34. E.J. Gaines, Buffalo Bills

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling:
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Originally viewed as a throw-in for the Bills in the Sammy Watkins trade with the Los Angeles Rams, E.J. Gaines had a solid third year in 2017. The physical zone specialist was the perfect No. 2 corner for the Bills' Cover 2-heavy scheme. He's neither a big player nor adept at playing the ball, which limits his overall upside. But he adds value by playing the run well, complementing a unit that asks their secondary to fill run gaps.

          

    33. Ahkello Witherspoon, San Francisco 49ers

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    The 49ers took advantage of the deep 2017 cornerback class by grabbing Ahkello Witherspoon in the third round. He quickly looked at home as a starting boundary corner, with impressive foot speed and reaction time for a 6'3" frame. He sometimes took false steps in his backpedal in press assignments, but he was effective overall. He appeared more comfortable in man coverage than zone, where he was slow to react when tasked with Cover 2 drops. But experience can help smooth both of those issues out.

          

    32. Ken Crawley, New Orleans Saints

    Coverage: 18/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    No team saw as much improvement from their starting cornerbacks as the New Orleans Saints. The drastic development of No. 2 corner Ken Crawley, a 2016 undrafted free-agent, was a major revelation for the unit. The lengthy athlete saw the game slow down considerably compared to his rookie campaign, and he showed impressive anticipation and feel for routes. He isn't as consistent in his backpedal and transitions as he could be, making him especially vulnerable on out-breaking routes, but he's half of one of the top duos in the league.

          

    31. Trevor Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    18/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    As difficult as it was for the Chargers to lose Jason Verrett to another season-ending injury, Trevor Williams was able to prove his long-term value. He became the No. 2 corner and was rarely a liability as an off-ball and zone specialist. He's not as instinctive or physically dynamic as Verrett, but he's consistent and only 24 years old. His presence may allow the Chargers to plan their future without Verrett.

Nos. 30-26

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    30. Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 19/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Brent Grimes, now 34, has maintained a high level of play well past his physical peak. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played to his strength, which is off-man and a mix of vertical zone drops, so he can read and react to the ball. He's still quick to break on underneath routes and athletic enough to challenge jump balls, but his recovery speed is all but gone. He needs help over the top to prevent big plays, and his run defense has always been shaky.

                 

    29. Ronald Darby, Philadelphia Eagles

    Coverage: 19/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    The Eagles traded for Ronald Darby to help with their cornerback woes, but he missed half the season with injury. After recovering from the dislocated ankle, he struggled to play with as much discipline. Nevertheless, he proved his playmaker chops with three interceptions and nine passes defensed in just 382 snaps. He's a dangerous off-ball corner who can play in both man and zone with his excellent speed and short-area quickness.

               

    28. Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    The gigantic contract that Stephon Gilmore signed with the Patriots this past offseason skews how he's viewed at times, but it was a successful first year for the pairing. He was a better fit in New England's more aggressive, press-man focus than Buffalo's off-ball alignments, even if his raw numbers declined. He can be frustrating; when he loses, it's bad, and he'll give up chunk plays. He also struggled with communication breakdowns in zone, continuing his tendency to point toward others after a big play to his side of the field.

          

    27. Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

    Coverage: 18/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    Aqib Talib began the year as one of our top cornerbacks, and he delivered a solid but unspectacular age-31 season. It's clear he has physically taken a step back after a dominant 2016 campaign, but he was still an above-average starter. He transitioned away from pressing at the line of scrimmage, and he played off ball more, which is likely related to the coaching change. With his fluidity and length, he can continue to be a solid starting option for at least another year, maybe more.

         

    26. James Bradberry, Carolina Panthers

    Coverage: 16/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    As one of the biggest cornerbacks in the league, it's fitting that James Bradberry (6'1", 212 lbs) is also one of the best run-stoppers at the position. He's a great fit for the Panthers' zone-heavy approach, as his length and willingness to drop into running lanes helped build a great defense. Where Bradberry struggles is in coverage, though. He's prone to getting lost in his assigned zone, and physically he's not as smooth in man coverage as he needs to be when facing the tough NFC South. He'll need to continue developing his route recognition and balance in order to be a more effective coverage talent.

Nos. 25-21

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    25. Robert Alford, Atlanta Falcons

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    18/25
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    Robert Alford has been one of the most underrated corners in the NFL over the past two seasons. He finished the year with the second-most passes defensed (23), and was a versatile cog in Atlanta's much-improved defense. He's capable of playing in press and off-man alignments, as well as sliding inside to the slot. He'll get grabby if he loses early in routes, and he sometimes struggles to identify in-breaking routes, causing him to grade as an above-average, but not great, player.

          

    24. Josh Norman, Washington Redskins

    Coverage: 19/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    2017 was the first of Norman's career where he failed to register an interception. The 30-year-old corner is on the downside of his career, lacking the burst that caused his breakout in 2014 and 2015. Still, he's a tough-nosed run-stopper who can roam underneath zones effectively, even if he's no longer a playmaker.

            

    23. Bradley Roby, Denver Broncos

    Coverage: 17/25
    Reaction: 
    18/25
    Recovery: 
    21/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    It's uncommon for former first-round picks to be undervalued, but just look at Bradley Roby. The third leg of a terrific trio, Roby played just 677 snaps this season yet finished tied for 13th in passes defensed (17). He's not a major interception threat, but he continues to get a hand in to break up the target, averaging 12 passes defensed per season. He's a great athlete with excellent speed. His next step will be continuing to improve his route anticipation to stay sticky on double moves.

          

    22. Brandon Carr, Baltimore Ravens

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Brandon Carr's first season with the Baltimore Ravens went better than expected. The 31-year-old had his best season since 2013 in a more aggressive press scheme than the one used in Dallas. His physicality and ability to disrupt routes early fit perfectly with the Ravens defense. His play was good enough to keep rookie Marlon Humphrey off the field more than anyone could have guessed. Carr is an ideal No. 2 corner and should have solid trade value this offseason if the team wants to promote Humphrey.

          

    21. Bashaud Breeland, Washington Redskins

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    He doesn't have the same reputation as his teammate Norman, but quietly Breshaud Breeland had a stellar season for the Washington Redskins. His vastly improved balance on changes in direction resulted in 19 passes defensed, a career high. He's an excellent athlete, capable of playing press-man coverage and routinely forcing tough catches. He's not much of an interception threat, but he's a high-end No. 2 corner at worst right now.

Nos. 20-16

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    Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

    20. Morris Claiborne, New York Jets

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    The New York Jets were able to get the best out of cornerback Morris Claiborne, picking him up as a one-year flier after he struggled to stay on the field in Dallas. The 27-year-old is far from a playmaker on the ball, but is an above-average pure-coverage talent, especially in man assignments. He's confident and capable of staying in position without safety help due to his ability to match his eyes and feet. His lack of great feel for where to settle in zones is a big reason why he's never had more than one interception in a season, though.

         

    19. Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants

    Coverage: 18/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Ankle surgery prematurely ended Jenkins' season, which was on pace to be his best statistical campaign. Amidst the drama and unease around the team as they continued to stack losses, Jenkins didn't always seem fully engaged as he was in 2016. The numbers don't reflect it, but Jenkins was responsible for a few of the mental miscues in the secondary. Nevertheless, he did rebound to finish his nine-game season well and remains one of the most talented corners.

            

    18. Jason McCourty, Cleveland Browns

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    The Browns' decision to sign former Tennessee Titans cornerback Jason McCourty was a shrewd move, especially since they inked him to a two-year deal. Over the first half of the season, he was terrific despite the difficult circumstances that Gregg Williams put in place. Looking back, a contender in need of an impact veteran would've been wise to trade for McCourty for a playoff run. He produced a quality season on a unit that was overrated if going by raw statistics, but he was a consistent performer and one of few standouts.

                 

    17. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens

    Coverage: 19/25
    Reaction: 
    16/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    As a third boundary corner who rotated in until Jimmy Smith's injury, Marlon Humphrey flashed tremendous skill and upside for this defense to develop. His size and strength are a perfect fit for this scheme, as he has the prowess to immediately jam receivers, then the athleticism to slide his feet with them up the field. The rookie is surprisingly polished and looks like he's ready to start in 2018. His ball production is his weakness right now but is also not a major concern.

              

    16. Trae Waynes, Minnesota Vikings

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    17/25
    Recovery: 
    20/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    The Minnesota Vikings had faith that 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes would make a leap in his development despite starting only 10 games in his first two seasons, and they were proven correct. As the season progressed and Waynes continued to gain experience, he blossomed into a No. 2 cornerback. While he still struggled to find the ball and was prone to the occasional penalty, his consistency as a pure cover corner massively improved. They can trust him in single coverage with little help, as he's one of the best at recovering from an early misstep with his elite speed.

Nos. 15-11

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    15. Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Offensive players weren't the only ones who benefited from a coaching staff overhaul. Trumaine Johnson played much more effectively under Wade Phillips' attacking style compared to the conservative, off-ball zone approach of the previous staff. Johnson's a solid press corner who disrupts plays at the line of scrimmage with his strength and length. He's prone to getting lost in zone when he doesn't have a clear assignment, and is a tad slow when he has to turn and run due to stiff hips.

          

    14. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    After losing half of his 2016 campaign to a torn pectoral muscle, the Falcons' Desmond Trufant had a solid bounce-back season, though he wasn't quite as dominant as pre-injury. He was arguably the league's best pure cover man in 2015, showing elite route recognition and anticipation skill. He still had stretches in 2017 where offenses couldn't complete anything to his assignment, but he struggled at times to stay in the hip of his man as well as he did the previous two seasons.

           

    13. Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills

    Coverage: 19/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    78/100

    It's not often that a draft pick looks like a major steal after his rookie year. But the Buffalo Bills nailed their decision to trade down in the 2017 NFL draft and select Tre'Davious White. He was the second-most productive first-year corner, just behind fellow phenom Marshon Lattimore in interceptions and passes defensed. Still, White was extraordinarily good at playing the ball, showing true No. 1 corner potential in Buffalo's zone-heavy defense, and will be a pillar of this unit moving forward.

          

    12. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    21/25
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    After a slight decline in 2016 (it was later revealed he had been dealing with a knee injury throughout the year), Richard Sherman had a great start to the 2017 season before tearing his Achilles. He was able to play more press-man coverage this year, looking more fluid and fast in his movements as the defense evolved to be less zone-oriented. It's questionable whether Sherman will ever be the same again as he turns 30 years old this offseason and recovers from such a massive injury.

            

    11. William Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals

    Coverage: 21/25
    Reaction: 
    19/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    Although William Jackson was only credited with five starts, he was the second boundary cornerback for the Bengals as Adam Jones was often replaced on the second series of games. Jackson is likely the best cornerback that few talk about, already having a well-rounded game despite playing in his first full season. He's regularly in the hip pocket of receivers in man, and has a better feel in consistency level in both Cover 3 and Cover 4 assignments than most corners. His next step to become an elite player is forcing more turnovers.

10. Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    21/25
    Recovery: 
    20/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    82/100

    One of the biggest surprises of this season was the re-emergence of former first-round pick Kyle Fuller as a legitimate starter. The Chicago Bears secondary took a major step forward as Fuller led the young unit, notching the third-most pass breakups in the league. An off-ball specialist with a quick reaction time and great acceleration, Fuller took advantage of being in a contract year as he emerged as a quality No. 1 cornerback. He should be viewed as a premier free agent this offseason.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Fuller wasn't even assured of a roster spot as the 2017 season began—he's dealt with a lot of injury and technique issues since his fine rookie season in 2014—but he really came around in Vic Fangio's defense. Fuller has developed a smooth backpedal that allows him to track receivers well, and he's great at jumping routes to deflect passes. Less of an aggressive press cornerback than a technician in off and bail coverage, Fuller is an ideal zone cornerback who can stay with the game's better receivers in tight man coverage when necessary.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

9. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

16 of 24

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Coverage: 21/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    82/100

    As the Arizona Cardinals played more zone coverage in 2017, especially in the first-half of the season, Patrick Peterson's production dipped despite maintaining his usual high level of play. He continues to be one of few corners who regularly follow a receiver, proving capable of matching up with any receiver archetype. His season was overshadowed by other corners, but he remains a top-tier player at the position with his blend of incredible athleticism and solid technique.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Peterson's 2017 season was yet another example of the truism that you don't judge cornerbacks solely by their interception totals. He had just one pick, an easy play in which he was the beneficiary of a deflected pass against the Texans in Week 11. As he has done through most of his career, Peterson proved once again that he is among the best defenders in the league when it comes to tracking a receiver through a route with outstanding technique. Peterson will give up the big play at times, but for the most part, receivers do not look forward to their days with him.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

8. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints

17 of 24

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage: 22/25
    Reaction: 
    22/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    83/100

    Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore had as impressive a rookie year as we've seen from a cornerback. He should be the runaway Defensive Rookie of the Year selection, totaling five interceptions and 18 passes defensed. He already has elite route recognition, technique and ball skills. His only struggles this year came against Julio Jones, who is an impossible matchup for every cornerback with his otherworldly athleticism, size and precision.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    There were many reasons for New Orleans' radical defensive turnaround after Week 2 of the 2017 season. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's adherence to pattern-matching concepts helped a lot, and Lattimore's emergence was an equally crucial factor. While the Ohio State alum has all the athletic talent you'd want in a cornerback, it's his route recognition, ability to read keys and how he stays "sticky" with a receiver all the way through the route that make him special. He looked like a 10-year veteran in his rookie campaign.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

7. Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings

18 of 24

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Coverage: 23/25
    Reaction: 
    20/25
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    83/100

    There isn't a more physical cornerback in the NFL than Xavier Rhodes. It took years for him to master the balance between being too handsy and drawing penalties to be where he is now, which is among the very best coverage threats. A pure press corner who can shadow top receivers, Rhodes only had two poor outings this season. Otherwise, he's a lockdown star for the one the NFL's best defenses.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Rhodes (6'1", 218 lbs) is built more like a safety than a cornerback, and he brings a safety's physical mentality to the field. His size limits his quickness in short spaces, but Rhodes does very well to press at the line and use his receiver's movements as landmarks throughout the route. He's embraced the intricacies of his position, and that's allowed him to become one of the league's best pass defenders.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

6. Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Coverage: 23/25
    Reaction: 
    23/25
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    84/100

    Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward has been one of the NFL's best values the last two seasons, with this past campaign solidifying his place amongst the best of the best. His presence helped transform the Chargers' back end into one of the better groups, routinely locking down his assignment. He uses his physicality wonderfully on the top of routes, rarely overstepping the rules, while still disrupting the timing of the play. His biggest weakness is that he lacks the truly elite speed to go one-on-one with the fastest receivers in a foot race.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    If A.J. Bouye isn't the NFL's best technician at the cornerback position, it's because Casey Hayward might be. The Packers made a major mistake letting him walk after the 2015 season. But it's been great for Hayward because he was able to maximize his talents in the Chargers defense. Hayward doesn't carry side advantages, and he doesn't have exceptional straight-line speed, but he has a tremendous understanding of the routes his receivers are running, a terrific backpedal which puts him in the right place at the right time, and a calculated yet aggressive approach to the ball when it's in his area. You won't see many 5'10" cornerbacks excelling on the outside; Hayward is the exception because he understands his position so completely.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

5. Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Coverage: 21/25
    Reaction: 
    24/25
    Recovery: 
    21/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    85/100

    The most dangerous cornerback in the NFL resides in Kansas City. Third-year corner Marcus Peters continued on his Hall of Fame trajectory with another five interceptions, nine pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He's massively reduced the big plays he allowed in his rookie season and is seeing less targets, yet his production remains high considering the chances he's getting. The lone weakness on his resume remains his tackling effort, which is often more of a strip attempt than staying genuine in his form.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Peters is one of the most exhilarating and frustrating boom-and-bust players in the NFL. When he's on point, he's obviously an interception machine, with the ability to see the entire field and the athleticism to jump routes that aren't even his to cover. There are also times when he'll break technique and allow big plays. The Chiefs have made a bargain with the upside of Peters' talent, knowing that the downside is also inevitable. If Peters can stay assignment-correct on every play, he has the potential to be the best pass defender of his generation.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

4. Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    21/25
    Recovery: 
    22/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    85/100

    Though Jalen Ramsey's teammate edged him for the top spot, it's not a slight on Ramsey's talent. The second-year cornerback continued his development into the elite category of playmakers at the position, tallying four interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Ramsey can continue to improve in staying disciplined and balanced as he waits for receivers to make their cut. There were numerous times this season where he was caught out of position, and either the quarterback missed the throw or never saw his receiver break Ramsey's coverage.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Ramsey is reminiscent of Richard Sherman in his bold and aggressive approach. He has the size and physical nature to envelop receivers at the line of scrimmage and through the route, as well as the closing speed to negate any potential completion. Where Ramsey comes up short—and this has always been true of Sherman too—is his difficulty in adjusting his body fast enough against more agile receivers on quick change-of-direction routes, such as curls and comebacks. It may be that Ramsey plays very well through his career with this as his sole Achilles' heel. He has every other physical attribute to excel at the position. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

3. Darius Slay, Detroit Lions

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    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    Coverage: 20/25
    Reaction: 
    23/25
    Recovery: 
    21/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    85/100

    Prior to this season, the biggest knock on Darius Slay's play was the lack of high-end ball production. But that massively changed as Slay took advantage of the targets load he was given. The NFL leader in interceptions and passes defensed at the position, Slay was a slam dunk All-Pro selection. He's not quite the stickiest player in man coverage, lacking the elite fluidity that others have, but he's proven to be excellent playing off the line of scrimmage. His numbers fairly represent his mastery of timing and ball awareness.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Slay brings to mind former Patriots/Eagles/Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel with his ability to not only time his close coverage with receivers after the snap in off-coverage concepts, but his uncanny ability to time the jump of a route to get the ball. Additionally, Slay has a great sense of a quarterback's weaknesses—he seems to know when a QB doesn't have the arm to make a particular throw, or tends to be inaccurate to a certain part of the field. His success is an obvious example of the value of tape study and the understanding of an opponent's tendencies and weaknesses. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

2. Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Coverage: 22/25
    Reaction: 
    21/25
    Recovery: 
    21/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    86/100

    There's been no question whether cornerback Jimmy Smith can play at an elite level over the last three years, including a masterful 2017 campaign. The issue has been staying on the field and avoiding setbacks, as he tore his Achilles and was suspended four games for PED use. Smith has a near-perfect blend of physicality, route recognition and field awareness. He doesn't defend the ball extremely well, and thus his production was average, but he does more before the ball arrives to affect the offensive player than he does as it arrives. He's undervalued compared to his impact on the Ravens defense.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Smith has played just two full seasons in his NFL career, but when he's on the field, he's one of the smartest cornerbacks in the league—and a perfect foil for the schemes of newly retired Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who loved to use altered and disguised coverages to fool enemy quarterbacks. Injures have limited his top-level speed, but few defenders in the NFL have a better sense of route recognition, and Smith has the mental edge to succeed in any defense. If health is a skill, it's the only one he hasn't fully shown in his pro career. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

1. A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Coverage: 22/25
    Reaction: 
    22/25
    Recovery: 
    21/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    10/10
    Overall Grade: 
    86/100

    Our top cornerback this season is Jacksonville Jaguars' All-Pro A.J. Bouye. There wasn't a more consistent corner in terms of coverage positioning, and his six interceptions and 18 pass breakups enhanced our stance. This was Bouye's first full season as a starter, and he set the tone for one of the league's elite defensive units. He's a terrific player in all phases, alignments and scheme.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Though Bouye played cleanly throughout the regular season, he was victimized for two touchdowns against the Steelers in the Jaguars' divisional playoff win. On the first, Antonio Brown benefited from an uncalled push-off in the end zone; on the second, Brown used a dynamite foot fake to establish inside position on a deep boundary route. If Antonio Brown is the only NFL receiver making you look vulnerable, you're in pretty good shape. For the most part, Bouye is the NFL's best technician at the position, able to play press, off and bail coverage with equal aplomb. Moreover, he proved that his outstanding 2016 season in Houston was no one-year wonder.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar