NFL1000: Ranking the Top Slot Defenders of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Slot Defenders of 2017 Season

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    The NFL's current "chicken or egg" question is whether slot receivers or slot defenders became more important first. If you don't have a starting-quality third receiver and third pass defender, you are very much behind the proverbial eight ball. When facing teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, with their frequent dual-slot receiver formations, you better have a cornerback or safety who can line up in a dime defense and make things happen against that second slot receiver. 

    Advanced and enhanced receiver formations are why the importance of the slot defender role has grown exponentially over the last decade. Back in the "old days"—say, five to 10 years ago—a slot cornerback was generally a smaller player with some speed, but not enough size to be a starter on the outside against physically dominant receivers.

    Now, that paradigm has shifted: NFL teams seek out a variety of players equipped to adjust to the specific demands of the slot position, and many outside cornerbacks find moving inside to be quite difficult.

    The modern slot defender must be able to play off coverage very well. He must adjust and align immediately to option routes, when receivers change their patterns based on the defender's position. He must be strong and aggressive enough to hold up against the run and blitz successfully, but quick enough to follow a speed receiver 40 yards up the seam, or convert his coverage when a running back rolls out of the backfield and into the formation.

    It's a very tough job, which is why in the 2018 NFL1000 positional rankings, we've given specific rankings and scouting reports to both slot receivers and slot defenders. NFL1000 Defensive Backs Scout Ian Wharton has graded and ranked all defenders who play primarily in the slot, based on the following criteria:

    Coverage: 20 points. 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 adjust to option routes on the fly?

    Reaction: 30 points. Does this player have the reactive intelligence to run a receiver's route with him, or does he waste steps through the route? 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 he recover? Does he lose his receivers on comebacks and cuts? Is he too aggressive to match a more elusive receiver step-for-step, and how many steps does it take 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 after the catch 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? Is he a good blitzer?

    Position Value: 8 points. A score that takes into account the importance of the position when comparing scores across other spots on the defense. Slot cornerbacks are given 8/10 points across the board, making their top possible grade 98.

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



Notable Omissions

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The following slot receivers were not graded because they played fewer than 50 percent of their defensive snaps in the slot in 2017:

    • Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
    • Sidney Jones, Philadelphia Eagles
    • Darrelle Revis, Kansas City Chiefs
    • Gareon Conley, Oakland Raiders

Nos. 35-31

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    35. Brice McCain, Tennessee Titans

    Coverage: 11/20
    Reaction: 
    14/30
    Recovery: 
    13/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    54/100

    Our lowest-graded corner this season, Brice McCain played 414 snaps as part of a rotation that made little sense for the Titans. McCain plays stiff despite being only 5'9", and lacks downfield speed. His issues recognizing routes and defending first-down markers loomed large almost weekly. The 31-year-old was overmatched too often for someone getting that much playing time.

           

    34. T.J. Carrie, Oakland Raiders

    Coverage: 13/20
    Reaction: 
    16/30
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    The Oakland Raiders had a cornerback crisis this season with injuries and disappointing play, and T.J. Carrie's struggles in the slot contributed. Carrie's inexperience inside showed; in 15 starts he rarely displayed any playmaking ability. Carrie's a competitor and gives great effort against the run, but his discipline and run fits are average. There's not much upside to show for the 27-year-old.

         

    33. Phillip Gaines, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 11/20
    Reaction: 
    14/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    In his first season as a slot option for the Kansas City Chiefs, Phillip Gaines struggled. The tall and stiff corner is more of a physical presence outside than inside, and the Chiefs quickly went with Steven Nelson as soon as he was healthy enough to play. Gaines hasn't found consistency with his technique or ball skills despite his four seasons.

               

    32. Buster Skrine, New York Jets

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    14/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    The biggest positive of Buster Skrine's game is his ability to play inside and outside for small stretches, but he does neither well enough to warrant a full-time role. Even in the slot, Skrine resorts to grabbing onto jerseys far too often. His speed is negated by poor technique and route recognition, leading to penalties.

          

    31. Aaron Colvin, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    15/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Most slot defenders are nondescript role players for their unit, merely occupying underneath space in zones. That was Aaron Colvin's role in the No. 1 pass defense in 2017, as he was surrounded by excellent athletes and playmakers. Colvin rarely plays in man coverage and struggles to play the ball, making him more of a run defender without a special skill set.

Nos. 30-26

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    30. Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina Panthers

    Coverage: 13/20
    Reaction: 
    16/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    The lone veteran in the Carolina Panthers cornerback room is Captain Munnerlyn, who was sparingly used this season (he played just 388 snaps), as the team favored using outside linebackers to drop into deep zones. That is partly due to their rare and dynamic linebacker talent, but also because Munnerlyn was a non-factor when he played. He isn't physically gifted enough to consistently play man coverage, and his inability to anticipate plays has led to a drop in forced turnovers.

            

    29. Leonard Johnson, Buffalo Bills

    Coverage: 12/20
    Reaction: 
    17/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    A cog in Buffalo's much-improved secondary, Leonard Johnson followed Bills head coach Sean McDermott from Carolina to Western New York to play in the slot. Johnson isn't a dynamic or special athlete, but he's smart, fills his run assignments and avoids blown coverages in zone. He struggled to impact the game as far as forcing turnovers, an issue over the last several years.

                  

    28. P.J. Williams, New Orleans Saints

    Coverage: 15/20
    Reaction: 
    14/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams missed almost all of his rookie season in 2016. Then, in order to earn snaps in 2017, he had to learn to play inside. He played relatively well considering he lacks ideal physical traits to star inside, as he's upright and stiff in his backpedal. But his length and eye discipline was good enough to get two interceptions and nine pass breakups.

          

    27. Mackensie Alexander, Minnesota Vikings

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    15/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    A rotational slot defender for a historically good unit, Mackensie Alexander was unable to fully snatch the full role from veteran Terence Newman. Alexander is quick and competitive in both the run and pass game. He just doesn't have the elite burst of the best slot defenders, which allows them to fire out of their transitions and play the ball.

               

    26. Desmond King, Los Angeles Chargers

    Coverage: 13/20
    Reaction: 
    17/30
    Recovery: 
    14/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    As part of a secondary that flew under the radar, rookie slot defender Desmond King made a seamless transition from Iowa. His physicality, tackling prowess and comfort in zone responsibilities stood out for a young player new to the position. The Los Angeles Chargers didn't put too much on his plate, allowing him to work downhill as often as possible to mitigate athleticism concerns.

Nos. 25-21

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    25. Bryce Callahan, Chicago Bears

    Coverage: 15/20
    Reaction: 
    15/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Chicago Bears slot cornerback Bryce Callahan is one of the fastest players at the position; but he hasn't figured out how to best use his speed as an asset. Often used in zone, Callahan is capable of covering backs and receivers in the flat, but most sharp-breaking routes give him trouble. The 26-year-old did get his first two interceptions of his career—but missed several games for the third straight year, making his lack of consistency more of a glaring issue.

             

    24. Maurice Canady, Baltimore Ravens

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    18/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Second-year CB Maurice Canady was forced into a slot role after being a boundary corner at the University of Virginia, and he answered the call with surprisingly good play. He isn't yet comfortable enough to locate the ball and make plays, but he did show the fluidity and anticipation needed to fit into Baltimore's press scheme. That type of quick adjustment is uncommon and allowed the Ravens to rely less on veteran Lardarius Webb.

               

    23. Robert McClain, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Coverage: 15/20
    Reaction: 
    17/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    A journeyman on his fourth team, Robert McClain had his best season in terms of ball production. He doesn't have the physical skill set of a reliable man defender, and he doesn't make up for mental mistakes, but he was a good role player in a zone-based defense. McClain is competitive and knowledgable about his own limitations.

          

    22. Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots

    Coverage: 15/20
    Reaction: 
    16/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Filling in for Eric Rowe as the New England Patriots' slot corner, Jonathan Jones was able to hold his own despite getting little playing time in 2016. Jones is fast for the position, doing well on vertical and crossing routes. At 5'9", 190 pounds, he is smaller, though, and not much of a run defender. He was deserving of more playing time overall.

          

    21. Eric Rowe, New England Patriots

    Coverage: 15/20
    Reaction: 
    16/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Limited to just eight games, Eric Rowe was moved into the slot instead of Malcolm Butler. That decision was questionable, as neither excelled in his role. Rowe is more of a physical player who can defend vertical routes with his speed, but struggles with crossers and sharp-breaking routes. That's a bigger concern in the slot than it is outside, and Rowe's season was inconsistent as a result.

Nos. 20-16

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    20. Orlando Scandrick, Dallas Cowboys

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    18/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    With the Dallas Cowboys moving to a more zone-centric scheme, veteran slot corner Orlando Scandrick was the odd man out as the season wore on and the young talent needed playing time. He is long and physical and gives great effort against the run. But as his ball production dwindled to a measly three pass breakups, he'll either need to play more in man or accept a much smaller role moving forward.

             

    19. Steven Nelson, Kansas City Chiefs

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    15/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    An early knee injury limited slot cornerback Steven Nelson to only nine games, and the Chiefs secondary notably improved upon his return. He is an agile and smooth defender, which is ideal for a slot defender. His limited size (5'11", 194 lbs) and inability to play the ball created an issue at the catch point, capping his overall grade.

              

    18. K'Waun Williams, San Francisco 49ers

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    18/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Signing slot specialist K'Waun Williams was one of the many savvy moves the San Francisco 49ers have made in the last year. He struggled with ankle injuries in 2016, but he's always been talented when he's healthy. He proved that again in 2017, with his excellent agility and burst among the best in the league. His run fits have the most room to improve.

               

    17. Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans

    Coverage: 15/20
    Reaction: 
    19/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Sometimes gaining more experience and playing with veterans doesn't fully iron out the inconsistencies in a player's game. That's been the career arc for Houston Texans slot corner Kareem Jackson. The eighth-year pro can be maddening, as he'll register a shutdown snap with perfect technique on one play, and be several yards out of position on the next. Despite his physical gifts, he's yet to fully master route recognition and leverage.

           

    16. Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Coverage: 13/20
    Reaction: 
    16/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    The most unique slot defender and a pleasant surprise due to his role, Mike Hilton added some much-needed unpredictability to Pittsburgh's defense. He was a blitz specialist, totaling four sacks on the season and constantly attacking the line of scrimmage in a variety of run and pass blitzes. He's difficult for an offense to track on a snap-by-snap basis. Hilton's not yet a notable player in coverage and stands to improve considerably in man assignments.

Nos. 15-11

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    15. Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    18/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    The Tennessee Titans spent significant resources to overhaul their secondary into a quality unit. Logan Ryan was a massive free-agent signing, but the deal hasn't been a positive value to this point. Though Ryan is a plus run defender and versatile enough to play inside and outside, he failed to force an interception and was out of position as often as a league-average slot defender. In a vacuum, that's acceptable, but not for his salary.


    14. Nate Hairston, Indianapolis Colts

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    17/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Not considered a big-name prospect in the 2017 NFL draft, Nate Hairston already looks like a fifth-round steal for the Indianapolis Colts. The slot specialist immediately made his presence felt in a young secondary, showing instincts and comfort in the slot that few rookies possess so early on. He's not the most physically strong player at the catch point but has the traits to continue developing.

                  

    13. Brian Poole, Atlanta Falcons

    Coverage: 13/20
    Reaction: 
    18/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Brian Poole doesn't have the type of ball production to garners much attention or praise, but his reliability to play in zone coverage and defend the run has him graded higher than more accomplished resumes. Poole's a standout finisher and capable defender in the flat and on underneath crossing and curl routes. He doesn't have the speed or length to move outside, but his fit in Atlanta's physical unit is unquestionable.

               

    12. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    17/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    After finishing 2016 on such a high note, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seemed to be on the outs with the former New York Giants coaching staff, as his snaps dwindled and, despite being healthy, his usage was inconsistent. He was asked to cover tight ends more than play man on slot receivers, the opposite of the 2016 season. He's more talented than what his playing time indicated, but it's also not fair to grade him higher due to his limited performance.

                

    11. Terence Newman, Minnesota Vikings

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    21/30
    Recovery: 
    15/25
    Tackling: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Even at 39 years old, Terence Newman continues to play well enough to be a rotational player. He shared the role with Mackensie Alexander—and outperformed him. He's masterful in zone assignments and at taking great angles to pursue ball-carriers. Though he doesn't play man often, he does enough to deter targets and prevent big plays. What he's accomplished is a testament to his craft.

10. Nickell Robey-Coleman, Los Angeles Rams

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    17/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Moving from a heavier zone scheme in Buffalo to Wade Phillips' more aggressive man unit in Los Angeles was positive for Nickell Robey-Coleman, although he has had success in a multitude of situations. He's a rock-solid performer, as he's technically sound in his drops and has high awareness for situational play. Robey-Coleman's size was exploited too many times to be a major difference-maker, though.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    In his first season with the Rams, Robey-Coleman gave the same authoritative slot presence Phillips had with Chris Harris Jr. in Denver. He plays as much press coverage as any dedicated slot defender, and he proved to be an excellent on-field shot-caller. His size limitations (5'8", 178 lbs) prevent him from making a consistent impact on the outside, but no matter—he's been a valuable slot man for two different teams and has also been a starter for all intents and purposes.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

9. Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    20/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    The Cincinnati Bengals like to bring their cornerbacks along slowly, and as frustrating as that can be, it's paid off. Fourth-year corner Darqueze Dennard was a surprising breakout slot defender considering his average foot quickness and lack of burst, but he compensated for it with fast recognition skills and consistent technique. His run defense was also among the best at the position, totaling 83 tackles on the season. He's an example of a high floor/limited ceiling type of player.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Dennard's splashiest play of the 2017 season came in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens on an 89-yard pick-six. It was an example of right place/right time as he came up with a dropped pass. Tthe sum of Dennard's film is more impressive; he used his quickness in the open field and recovery speed to get sticky with receivers on option and angular routes, limiting big plays. He has the technique to excel as an outside cornerback as well.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

8. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    20/30
    Recovery: 
    16/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    There wasn't another slot defender who experienced as drastic a second-half improvement as Tyrann Mathieu. The Arizona Cardinals star played all 16 games for the first time in his career, but the first half was filled with inconsistent play a lack of explosiveness. Down the stretch he was in position to challenge receivers much more consistently, and finished the season with the second-most tackles (74) of his career.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Throughout his five-year career, Mathieu has proven highly valuable when healthy at multiple positions in Arizona's defense—everywhere from outside cornerback to deep safety. But it's his excellence as a slot defender in the Cardinals' hybrid coverages that has set him apart. One of the most ferocious tacklers in the game, Mathieu covers a ton of ground in a hurry, allowing defensive coordinator James Bettcher to be highly flexible in his nickel and dime coverages. Mathieu has attained excellent field vision and intelligence over the years; his understanding of the game matches his prodigious athleticism.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

7. Bobby McCain, Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    19/30
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Finding quality slot defenders is difficult, as many fail to force turnovers or function as more than zone occupiers. In his third season, Miami Dolphins corner Bobby McCain became part of the more impactful discussion, as his man coverage sharply improved. His positioning at the apex of routes is much more consistent, which led to career highs in interceptions and passes defensed.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    McCain has been an underrated inside pass defender since his rookie season of 2015, and he kept up a high level of play in 2017. His only real downside as a player is a tendency to let speed receivers get away from him at the second and third levels, but in shorter spaces, he's an agile and aggressive player whose upside should be even more present in the seasons to come.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

6. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Cleveland Browns

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Coverage: 14/20
    Reaction: 
    22/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    A surprising 2016 undrafted free agent who made a noticeable impact as a rookie, Briean Boddy-Calhoun was a rising name entering 2017. But poor coaching decisions put a damper on his second year, as he played much more zone than man, and was often far off the line of scrimmage, more like a safety. That led to little ball production since Boddy-Calhoun is more of a man threat than zone fit. In the right system for his talents, Boddy-Calhoun has more potential than he's shown.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Cleveland's defense has far more talent than you might imagine given the 0-16 record and questionable defensive coaching decisions at times—yes, we're looking at you, Gregg Williams. But when Boddy-Calhoun is engaged in tighter coverages, he has the ability to close quickly and negate yards after the catch. He was out of place at times in his deep zone drops, but he's shown enough skill in tighter coverages to earn more opportunities to succeed in systems that actually play to his talents. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

5. Justin Coleman, Seattle Seahawks

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Coverage: 17/20
    Reaction: 
    20/30
    Recovery: 
    19/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    The statistics don't highlight just how well Seattle Seahawks corner Justin Coleman played. When he took over the slot position from Jeremy Lane, he instantly boosted the pass defense. His short-area speed and fluidity stood out, as he can mirror receivers past the usual 10-yard mark where most slots begin to struggle. His biggest weakness is identifying when a receiver's hands start to rise; he's prone to panicking instead of being confident in his own hand placement and timing.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    After spending two seasons on New England's roster, Coleman was acquired in a trade in time for the 2017 season. He returned his first two NFL interceptions for touchdowns and will be part of a Seattle defense transitioning from the Legion of Boom to a new regime. It's unusual for a cornerback to succeed right away in Seattle's scheme because Pete Carroll has very specific calls for his pass defender. But Coleman showed a consistent understanding of Seattle's zone principles, able to face up in a defense that played more man than in previous years. He has a bright future as a player who can excel both outside and in the slot.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

4. Patrick Robinson, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage: 17/20
    Reaction: 
    20/30
    Recovery: 
    18/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    The best cornerback on a top-three defensive unit, Patrick Robinson had a career year despite his age (30). He was lights-out over the first half of the season, then struggled slightly over the remaining several weeks. But his positioning was above average, and his ball production was terrific as a result. He stepped up in run defense as well.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    A first-round pick of the Saints in 2010, Robinson is one of many players whose careers have been extended because they have the specific skills required for slot performance. He matched his career high with four interceptions, showing an impressive knack for locking down receivers in man coverage on angular routes, and he's able to react to his reads quickly, giving him a natural spacing edge when jumping routes. Robinson also has a great sense of his place on the field, allowing him to shine in coverage against picks and crossing routes where less experienced cornerbacks might get caught up in the wash.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

3. Quandre Diggs, Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Coverage: 18/20
    Reaction: 
    22/30
    Recovery: 
    17/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    It's not abnormal for cornerbacks to hit their stride in their third season, which is precisely what happened to Detroit Lions corner Quandre Diggs. He showed flashes in limited time over the last two years, but he became a valuable and versatile player in 2017. With his ability to play on the line of scrimmage as well as at slot safety, Diggs is a solid option in both man and zone despite his smaller frame (5'9", 200 lbs).

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    The younger brother of former Chargers standout cornerback Quentin Jammer, Diggs spent his first two seasons getting the hang of NFL passing concepts, but he broke out in 2017. While he excels in the slot near the line of scrimmage, all three of Diggs' 2017 interceptions—the first three of his NFL career—came from a slot free safety position. It's this positional versatility that speaks to his potential in a league that values that versatility so highly.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

2. Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Coverage: 16/20
    Reaction: 
    25/30
    Recovery: 
    20/25
    Tackling: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    The Denver Broncos have boasted the best cornerback trio for the last few years, led by one of the few slot defenders who consistently make a weekly difference. Chris Harris Jr. had another great campaign, proving to be sticky in man coverage and possessing rare reaction time on passes. He wasn't quite as sharp as he was in 2016, but a scheme and defensive coaching change also contributed to that.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Harris has been alternating between the slot and outside for years; as the slot cornerback position has become a starter's concern, Harris has arguably been the league's most valuable player in that role over the course of his six seasons. He has every athletic attribute, but it's his sense of what's going on around him—his ability to read quarterbacks and pick up keys from receivers—that makes him special.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

1. Kendall Fuller, Washington Redskins

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Coverage: 19/20
    Reaction: 
    25/30
    Recovery: 
    20/25
    Tackling: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    Our top slot defender this season, sophomore corner Kendall Fuller made a massive leap in performance from 2016. His much-improved balance and reaction time is a direct result of cleaner footwork in his backpedal off the line, and it helped him snag four interceptions and break up 10 passes. His run defense could stand to improve, especially since he has more length than most players at his position. The 22-year-old looks like the future face of the position after such a tremendous campaign.

    —NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

    Perhaps the most impressive thing about Fuller's game in his second season is how many techniques he's mastered. When asked to play more aggressively, he gets his hand on the receiver to use him as a landmark and smoothly follows the receiver through the route. In zone coverage, he has the smooth backpedal and quick hip turn to stick and stay with receivers, as well as the recovery speed to race in and grab the football. He has the potential to be the best slot cornerback in the NFL, and one could argue that he was just that in 2017.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar