B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 101 Cornerbacks from 2014
Who is the best player in the NFL? Not based on the last 10 years or one game, but over the last year: Who was the best? Good luck answering that one without starting a fight, right?
Well, that's what the NFL 1000 aims to do by scouting, grading and then ranking the best players at each position before putting them in order and breaking ties to come up with the top 1,000 players. No narratives, no fantasy football points, no quarterback rating: This is cold, hard scouting.
You can find rankings for all other positions on our B/R NFL 1000 main page.
The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighed according to importance for a possible best score of 100.
Potential is not taken into consideration, nor are career accomplishments.
Cornerbacks have many responsibilities—and those vary depending on the individual scheme. With that in mind, we graded them on run defense (10 points), coverage (75) and tackling (10), plus five points for their value as a starter or backup. In that category, we're looking at whether the player is a consistent starter, a spot starter, a top-level backup or simply a backup-only player.
In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.
Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.
Each player was scouted by me and a team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Cian Fahey, Dan Hope, Marshal Miller, Justis Mosqueda) with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
101. Greg Toler, Indianapolis Colts62/100
Coverage: 51/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 5/5
Greg Toler (6'0", 190 lbs, 5 seasons) has big potential and has flashed top-tier talent at times, but he was far too inconsistent in 2014 as both a cover man and a tackler. On the ground, he saw 14 of his tackle attempts go for naught—a number that puts a huge damper on his run and tackle scores. In coverage, Toler played largely in man schemes while allowing nine touchdowns and letting 56 percent of attempts thrown his way go for a completion.
100. Will Blackmon, Seattle Seahawks65/100
Coverage: 53/75; Run Defense: 5/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 4/5
Coming off the best season of his career in 2013, Will Blackmon (6’0”, 204 lbs, 8 seasons) crashed back down to earth with a rough 2014 campaign. Working as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ slot cornerback for their first eight games, Blackmon was picked on in coverage and did not record a single pass deflection. After missing the second half of the season with a broken finger, Blackmon was released by the Jaguars this offseason. He was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks, where he is competing to be their slot cornerback, but the injury-prone 30-year-old is truly best suited for playing on special teams.
99. Melvin White, Carolina Panthers65/100
Coverage: 56/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 3/5
Melvin White (6’1”, 215 lbs, 2 seasons) began the 2014 season as a starter for the Carolina Panthers but lost playing time over the course of the year due to poor performance. A big but slow cornerback, White makes some plays on the ball with his length but does not play with enough physicality or fluidity to make up for his athletic shortcomings. He is inconsistent both in coverage and as a tackler and does not make the impact a cornerback of his size should in run defense.
98. Robert McClain, New England Patriots65/100
Coverage: 52/75; Run Defense: 6/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 3/5
At one point, Robert McClain (5’9”, 195 lbs, 5 seasons) looked set to be one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL. However, his performances since that point have dropped off significantly. McClain struggles with his footwork, something that is a major issue for cornerbacks who play inside, and he can’t make up for that with length or ball skills. While he is a good run defender in terms of reacting to plays and aggressively forcing his way to ball-carriers, he must become a better tackler to truly show value there.
97. Chris Owens, Detroit Lions66/100
Coverage: 55/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 3/5
Chris Owens (5’9”, 180 lbs, 6 seasons) is one of many players across the NFL who is immediately thought of as a good slot cornerback simply because of his size. It’s true that Owens had proved to be adequate in the past, but his skill set doesn’t allow him to handle the two-way game that comes with playing inside. Owens doesn’t have the foot speed or balance to consistently contain the faster inside receivers in the NFL, which showed during the 2014 season.
96. Cassius Vaughn, Baltimore Ravens66/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 2/10; Starter: 3/5
While Cassius Vaughn (5’11”, 195 lbs, 5 seasons) has good long speed, he is slow coming out of his stance and flipping his hips, which enables receivers to beat him off the line frequently. He does not play physically and is a poor tackler. After one unimpressive season with the Detroit Lions, Vaughn signed this offseason with the Baltimore Ravens, with whom he will have to fight just to make the 53-man roster.
95. Nickell Robey, Buffalo Bills66/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 2/10; Starter: 3/5
Anyone who supports the underdog will have felt good watching Nickell Robey (5’8”, 165 lbs, 2 seasons) in 2013, but that feeling disappeared in 2014. The severely undersized slot cornerback was exposed more during his second season, as teams were able to attack his limitations at the catch point with greater efficiency. Robey also simply struggled to be as sticky in coverage as he had been the previous year. Rex Ryan may view Robey as a liability who can’t be fixed against the run, which would explain the Ronald Darby draft selection.
94. Robert Alford, Atlanta Falcons66/100
Coverage: 56/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 3/5
Robert Alford (5’10”, 186 lbs, 2 seasons) has been on a roller-coaster ride for his first pair of seasons in the NFL. In just 10 games played last season, the athletic, aggressive cornerback recorded 12 passes defensed, including three interceptions. He also gave up big plays throughout that same span, however, and saw his season end early due to a wrist injury. He has the physical tools to be great but can be undisciplined and slow to react to plays. To remain a starter in the NFL, he will need to start putting it all together in 2015.
93. Josh Wilson, Detroit Lions66/100
Coverage: 58/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 2/10; Starter: 3/5
During his prime, Josh Wilson (5’9”, 188 lbs, 8 seasons) had just enough athleticism to be a serviceable NFL cornerback in the right scheme. Now that he has played most of a long career in the league, his athleticism is declining to the point that it is notably affecting his play. Wilson is essentially a zone cornerback who lacks the burst to take advantage of his intelligence. He doesn’t have the strength or foot speed to effectively play man coverage against even average NFL receivers.
92. Leonard Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers67/100
Coverage: 55/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 3/5
Leonard Johnson (5’10”, 202 lbs, 3 seasons) faced a significant reduction in playing time this past season, as he failed to perform up to expectations as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ slot cornerback. A short cornerback who has limited athleticism and struggles to contest passes in the air, Johnson allowed five touchdowns and recorded only three passes defensed in 2014. Entering his contract year, Johnson needs to step up his game but could be hindered by his physical shortcomings.
91. Bradley Fletcher, New England Patriots67/100
Coverage: 52/75; Run Defense: 6/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 4/5
Bradley Fletcher (6’0”, 205 lbs, 6 seasons) is a big cornerback who struggles to carry his weight effectively in space. Like most players who struggle to move well in space, it’s important for Fletcher to win early in routes when playing press coverage. If his assignment gets a clean release from the line of scrimmage, there is little the cornerback can do. He can make up for his limitations by winning at the catch point with his size, but the impact of that is limited.
90. Darrin Walls, New York Jets67/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 3/5
Darrin Walls (6’0”, 190 lbs, 4 seasons) is an instinctive player who plays with discipline and awareness. However, he lacks the physical talent to be a starting cornerback in the NFL and needs to show more consistency with his footwork when left in space. On underneath routes, Walls can anticipate routes and break on the ball with impressive acceleration. Those plays helped him rack up 12 passes defensed and two interceptions in 14 games last season.
89. Chykie Brown, New York Giants67/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 3/5
Chykie Brown (5’11”, 190 lbs, 4 seasons) started the 2014 season with the Baltimore Ravens but was such a coverage liability in limited action that the Ravens released him after he was burned for a 54-yard touchdown in Week 9. Brown resurfaced with the New York Giants and ended up starting their final four games of the season at right cornerback, but that was only because they lacked a better option after Prince Amukamara went down with an injury. Brown has sloppy footwork, struggles to read routes and makes little impact as a run defender.
88. Antonio Allen, New York Jets68/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 3/5
Left with a scarcity of options at the position last season, the New York Jets moved safety Antonio Allen (6’1”, 210 lbs, 3 seasons) to cornerback. That experiment went predictably poorly: Allen struggled to cover wide receivers on the outside and was shuttled back and forth between positions throughout the year. Simply put, Allen is not athletic enough to play cornerback in the NFL. He lacks long speed and has tight hips.
87. Jimmy Wilson, San Diego Chargers68/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 3/5
There are worse slot cornerbacks in the NFL than Jimmy Wilson (5’11”, 205 lbs, 4 seasons), but he’s simply not much of a playmaker. He gives up too many easy completions and recorded only two passes defensed in 13 starts (14 games) in 2014. Wilson’s best asset might be his versatility to play both safety and slot cornerback, as he did for the Dolphins last season, which makes him a valuable depth addition to the San Diego Chargers, who signed him to a two-year deal this offseason.
86. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Tennessee Titans69/100
Coverage: 55/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 5/5
It’s never a good thing when you’re a defensive back and your greatest strength is your play against the run. Blidi Wreh-Wilson (6’1”, 198 lbs, 2 seasons) is no exception. Wreh-Wilson too often looked lost in coverage for the Titans last year. He doesn’t play with the awareness to locate the football on a consistent basis, and his ability to stick with receivers through breaks is a major concern.
85. Dontae Johnson, San Francisco 49ers69/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 3/5
A litany of injuries on the San Francisco 49ers defense forced them to make fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson (6’2”, 200 lbs, 1 season) a starter late in his rookie season, which yielded mixed results. A big, fast cornerback, Johnson offers great developmental potential and immediately showed some ability in 2014 to break on the ball and make big plays. That said, he didn’t look quite ready for the role he had to take on, as he got caught out of position and was burned for deep completions on numerous occasions.
84. Zackary Bowman, Miami Dolphins69/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 6/10; Starter: 3/5
Although Zackary Bowman (6’1”, 210 lbs, 7 seasons) is only 30 years of age, he appears to have lost some of his athleticism in recent years. The veteran is disciplined and reliable in coverage and a consistent tackler but struggles to stick with receivers in man coverage and isn’t instinctual enough to earn a starting spot by relying on his ability in zone coverage.
83. Johnthan Banks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers70/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 4/5
Johnthan Banks (6’2’, 185 lbs, two seasons) has already started 30 games in his NFL career, but the 2013 second-round pick needs to play better to remain a starter long-term. He has ball skills, as demonstrated by his seven interceptions in two seasons, but he plays too many soft coverages to give up easy receptions. He was also one of the NFL’s least efficient tacklers, with 15 misses, in 2014.
82. Marcus Williams, New York Jets70/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 3/5
An undrafted rookie who was not even on an active roster for the first half of the 2014 season, Marcus Williams (5’11”, 196 lbs, 1 season) became a starting cornerback for the New York Jets’ final eight games of the year. For a player who was certainly not expected to be in that position, he held his own and proved to be an upgrade in coverage over Antonio Allen and Darrin Walls. Even so, he’ll have to fight just to keep his spot on the Jets roster after they made a slew of cornerback additions this summer.
81. Cortland Finnegan, Retired70/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 4/5
Cortland Finnegan’s (5’10”, 190 lbs, nine seasons) career appeared to be coming to an end after the 2013 season, but he found the right place (Miami) for a starting role in 2014. Finnegan’s declining athleticism prevented him from being a valuable starter, but the off-coverage that the Dolphins regularly put him in helped him as much as possible. If he could have been better against the run, he may have had a chance to continue playing in 2015.
80. Dwayne Gratz, Jacksonville Jaguars70/100
Coverage: 52/75; Run Defense: 8/10; Tackling: 7/10; Starter: 3/5
Dwayne Gratz (5’11”, 201 lbs, 2 seasons) is still a young, developing cornerback. He has enough physical talent to be a quality starter in the NFL but needs to show greater consistency in his awareness and ball skills. Gratz is already a high-quality run defender but may find his role diminished by the arrival of Davon House in 2015.
79. Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts70/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 4/5
Darius Butler (5’10”, 188 lbs, 6 seasons) is a fast and fluid athlete but gets caught out of position at times. His lack of size and strength inhibits him, even from the slot, as he is not very physical in coverage and is a shoddy tackler. He’ll likely sustain the Indianapolis Colts’ No. 3 cornerback job for 2015 but could be pushed for playing time by third-round pick D’Joun Smith.
78. Sam Shields, Green Bay Packers70/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 5/5
At this point in his career, Sam Shields’ (5’11”, 184 lbs, 5 seasons) development appears to essentially be over. His past life as a wide receiver still makes him a dangerous player when the ball is in the air, but his footwork causes him major problems against double moves and other vertical routes. Shields can be protected by high-quality safety play, but he’s always going to offer big plays both for the defense and the offense.
77. Buster Skrine, New York Jets70/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 6/10; Starter: 4/5
Buster Skrine (5’9”, 185 lbs, 4 seasons) is a perfect example of a cornerback who was overstretched by his assignments over the past two seasons in Cleveland. As a shorter, quicker player, Skrine often struggles to handle the physicality of bigger receivers on the outside. As such, when he was asked to cover those types of receivers last year, he was beaten frequently. Yet when Skrine is matched up against more fitting opponents, he can excel.
76. Antoine Cason, Free Agent70/100
Coverage: 52/75; Run Defense: 8/10; Tackling: 6/10; Starter: 4/5
Although Antoine Cason (6’1”, 195 lbs, 7 seasons) is only 28 years of age, it appears that his best years may already be behind him. The tall cornerback struggles in space, as he shows sloppy technique and can’t fully harness his athleticism. Cason’s value to the Carolina Panthers last year was in the run game. He showed off an aggressiveness through contact and a willingness to tackle all types of ball-carriers.
75. Trumaine Johnson, St. Louis Rams71/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 4/5
After the 2014 season, it appears more likely that Trumaine Johnson (6’2”, 208 lbs, 3 seasons) will be vying for a roster spot rather than competing with E.J. Gaines for a starting spot. Johnson has impressive size, but he lacks the fluidity and footwork to matchup with smaller, quicker receivers, while not being effective enough vertically to provide value against bigger receivers.
74. Phillip Gaines, Kansas City Chiefs71/100
Coverage: 64/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 2/10; Starter: 3/5
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines (6’0”, 193 lbs, 1 season) for his athleticism as a boundary cornerback. However, as a boundary cornerback, it’s crucial for him to show better technique and awareness to prevent big plays down the field. Gaines has all the physical tools to become a quality starter but needs to adjust to the speed of playing against professional athletes. Gaines also must work on his tackling, or he will quickly become a liability who falls far down the depth chart.
73. Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys71/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 5/5
The decline of Brandon Carr’s (6’0”, 210 lbs, 7 seasons) once-celebrated career continued in 2014. While his physical talent remains, Carr’s footwork and ball skills in coverage prevented him from effectively matching up to even average receivers last season. When you combine that with an inability against the run, it’s easy to see why Carr has been one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent seasons.
72. Demontre Hurst, Chicago Bears71/100
Coverage: 57/75; Run Defense: 5/10; Tackling: 6/10; Starter: 3/5
The Chicago Bears turned to Demontre Hurst (5’10”, 183 lbs, 1 season), who had not played a single regular-season snap after going undrafted in 2013, to fill in as their slot cornerback last season when Charles Tillman went down with an injury. Thrown into a tough spot, Hurst gave an admirable effort. That said, he gets lost in coverage too often and lacks the physical tools to make up for mental mistakes. He’ll face competition for his roster spot in 2015.
71. Bashaud Breeland, Washington72/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 4/5
Washington likely didn’t want to force Bashaud Breeland (5’11”, 197 lbs, 1 season) into the starting lineup so early in his career, but an injury to DeAngelo Hall gave them no choice. Breeland showed off the expected hesitation that comes with rookie cornerbacks, but he also showed off an abundance of talent. His quick feet and aggressive coverage style made him a constant annoyance to the receivers he was covering, even if he was giving up plays.
70. Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams72/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 5/5
Janoris Jenkins (5’10”, 198 lbs, 3 seasons) continues to search for an interception on every play. In theory, it sounds great: A player who threatens a turnover every time the ball is thrown his way is a dangerous player. However, Jenkins goes about it the wrong way. The best way to intercept the ball is to focus on covering the receiver. Jenkins too often focuses on the quarterback and completely loses his assignment in coverage. Until he addresses that issue, he will be a liability for the Rams defense.
69. D.J. Hayden, Oakland Raiders72/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 6/10; Starter: 4/5
It’s been a tough start to D.J. Hayden’s (5’11”, 190 lbs, 2 seasons) career. He has missed a huge number of games through injury, including the first six of the 2014 season. Yet despite that, the Raiders have reasons to be encouraged moving forward. His consistency is still a major concern, but the 24-year-old showed off his potential and athleticism in coverage at times once he returned to the field.
68. Carlos Rogers, Free Agent72/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 4/5
Carlos Rogers’ (6’0”, 195 lbs, 10 seasons) career appears to be dwindling to a close. Although he had one interception-filled season with the San Francisco 49ers as a slot cornerback, his play was never really that of a quality starter. He can still be a contributor in the right situation, but his play was a hindrance in Oakland. Rogers doesn’t have the foot speed or physicality to play aggressive, tight coverage, and his instincts in zone coverage are subpar.
67. Tarell Brown, Free Agent72/100
Coverage: 58/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 7/10; Starter: 4/5
Although now past his prime, Tarell Brown (5’11”, 190 lbs, 7 seasons) was still able to show off his physicality as a cornerback for the Oakland Raiders last season. He is a reliable tackler and instinctive player, but his movement skills appear to be declining with age. Brown needs to show better hand usage to compensate for his slower feet when playing press-man coverage, while his zone coverage doesn’t stand out in any significant way.
66. Kyle Arrington, Baltimore Ravens72/100
Coverage: 62/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 3/5
Kyle Arrington (5’10”, 190 lbs, 6 seasons) has been one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks for the past half-decade, but he is incapable of filling in effectively outside and can be inconsistent. After a disastrous first half in the Super Bowl, in which he was famously benched for Malcolm Butler, Arrington was released by the New England Patriots this offseason. He was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens, where he will fill their need for a nickel cornerback.
65. Brandon Browner, New Orleans Saints72/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 5/5
Brandon Browner (6’4”, 221 lbs, 4 seasons) might be the biggest and most physical cornerback in the NFL, but that’s not always a good thing. While he can be a menace in press coverage, he plays as if the league’s illegal contact rules don’t apply to him and was penalized 15 times last season. He gives up some big plays in coverage because of limited speed and quickness, and he was not as impactful in run defense this past season as a cornerback with his measurables should be. Still, his strength and aggression will bring a presence to the secondary of the New Orleans Saints, who signed him to a three-year contract this offseason.
64. Logan Ryan, New England Patriots72/100
Coverage: 58/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 7/10; Starter: 3/5
In part because of a decrease in playing time, Logan Ryan (5’11”, 195 lbs, 2 seasons) failed to take a step forward in his game after a promising rookie season. He is a strong, physical cornerback with good ability to make plays on the ball, but his lack of recovery speed gets exposed when he makes mistakes. Going into his third year, in which he could end up being the No. 1 cornerback on the Patriots depth chart, Ryan must continue fine-tuning his technique to overcome his athletic limitations.
63. Micah Hyde, Green Bay Packers72/100
Coverage: 62/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 4/5
Micah Hyde’s (6’0”, 197 lbs, 2 seasons) versatility has proved to be valuable for the Green Bay Packers in recent seasons, but his overall level of talent appears to be a concern to general manager Ted Thompson. Thompson spent his first two draft picks this season on players who could take snaps away from the safety/cornerback. Hyde will need to elevate his game in every area to withstand the pressure from Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins this year.
62. T.J. Carrie, Oakland Raiders73/100
Coverage: 61/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 3/5
Not much will have been expected of T.J. Carrie (6’0”, 205 lbs, 1 season) during his rookie season. The seventh-round draft pick not only forced his way onto the Raiders roster but eventually became a heavily featured part of their secondary. He was inconsistent, as you’d expect a rookie to be, but there were definite signs of his potential moving forward. Carrie has good size and mixes aggression with good ball skills to disrupt receivers in their routes and at the catch point. He needs to show better footwork to establish himself as a potential long-term starter.
61. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins73/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 5/5
While the 2014 season wasn’t Brent Grimes’ (5’10”, 185 lbs, 8 seasons) best, he still proved to be a valuable starter for the Dolphins. While primarily playing off coverage, Grimes regularly showed off impressive footwork and awareness to find the football. However, an increase in mental lapses allowed receivers to get the best of him on more big plays down the field last season than in previous years. Grimes should expect to climb these rankings again in 2015 to reclaim his spot as one of the better starters in the NFL.
60. Demetrius McCray, Jacksonville Jaguars73/100
Coverage: 61/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 7/10; Starter: 3/5
Injury gave Demetrius McCray (6’0”, 200 lbs, 2 seasons) an opportunity to start for the Jaguars, and he took over the role full-time from there. The second-year player is a very active, aggressive cornerback who plays with good awareness but isn’t a great athlete. McCray will need to continue to show consistency with his hand usage and footwork to grow into his starting role.
59. Alan Ball, Chicago Bears73/100
Coverage: 59/75; Run Defense 6/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 3/5
Alan Ball (6’2”, 197 lbs, 8 seasons) started the first seven games of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ season in 2014 before his year was cut short by a biceps injury. He has great length for a cornerback and is solid in run support, but he is a limited athlete who struggles to change direction and does not make many plays on the ball. He was signed to a one-year contract this offseason by the Chicago Bears, with whom he will compete to be the team’s No. 3 cornerback.
58. Davon House, Jacksonville Jaguars73/100
Coverage: 64/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 3/10; Starter: 4/5
Davon House (6’0”, 195 lbs, 4 seasons) isn’t listed as an excessively big cornerback but uses his 6’0” frame well. He is best suited to be a boundary cornerback, as he is more of a linear athlete than a fluid player who could move inside. House can consistently win playing the ball in the air but needs to show off better footwork and technique to get into positions where he can use his length and size against receivers. In addition, one of the first things the Jacksonville Jaguars will need to do is make House a better run defender.
57. Bradley Roby, Denver Broncos73/100
Coverage: 62/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 4/5
Of the 2014 rookie cornerback class, Bradley Roby (5’11”, 194 lbs, 1 season) flashed the most talent. While his consistency wasn’t there as a well-rounded player, his ability in coverage should prove to be of great value in the long term. Roby is very fast and showed some understanding of how to stay on top of routes and stick with receivers through their releases from the line of scrimmage. He may not be exceptionally fluid, but he’s comfortable enough covering horizontal routes from the outside. Roby will need to show better instincts in zone coverage, but the Broncos have every reason to be excited about his future.
56. Kyle Wilson, New Orleans Saints74/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 2/10; Tackling: 8/10; Starter: 4/5
During his final season with the New York Jets, Kyle Wilson (5’10”, 190 lbs, 5 seasons) was incapable of living up to his hype. Billed as a potential Wes Welker stopper, Wilson’s physical talent has always been obvious. However, his 2014 season showed off the same recklessness and lack of control that has marred his career. Wilson is always likely to bite on hard fakes from receivers or quarterbacks and doesn’t have the recovery speed once he has dragged himself out of position. Because he is a decent tackler with some physical talent, Wilson might be an effective player if the Saints can give him enough safety help.
55. Terence Newman, Minnesota Vikings74/100
Coverage: 58/75; Run Defense: 5/10; Tackling: 7/10; Starter: 4/5
Terence Newman’s (5'10', 197 lbs, 12 seasons) career is the kind that will be examined in a decade and completely confound those who didn’t get to watch him. He extended his career in Cincinnati during the 2014 season, as he proved to be a valuable piece once again. While he doesn’t have any great traits anymore, Newman’s physicality and technique prevented him from becoming a liability in coverage. His ability to diagnose and attack ball-carriers in the running game continued to be impressive.
54. Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears74/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 5/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 5/5
Kyle Fuller (5’11”, 190 lbs, 1 season) likely learned a lot from his rookie season. The relatively slight cornerback was thrown into the fire as a starter with Charles Tillman sidelined through injury. Fuller was beaten a lot by some very talented receivers but also showed off an ability to play lock-down coverage and find the football with relative ease. Fuller’s consistency is his only real concern. He has shown the footwork, awareness, physicality and ball skills to suggest he can develop into an All-Pro player.
53. Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens74/100
Coverage: 60/75; Run Defense: 4/10; Tackling: 5/10; Starter: 5/5
Injuries may have stripped Lardarius Webb (5’10”, 182 lbs, 6 seasons) of a great career. While he is still a viable contributor on the field, Webb’s knee injuries have sapped his athleticism. He no longer shows off incredibly quick feet, and his fluidity alone can’t compensate enough to allow him to play aggressive coverage. Webb isn’t a physically powerful player either, so he needs to be at his physical peak to be a full-time starter on the outside. He is arguably best suited to play a limited role in the Ravens defense.
52. E.J. Gaines, St. Louis Rams75/100
Coverage: 64/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 4/10; Starter: 4/10
The Rams were likely very pleased with the production they got from rookie E.J. Gaines (5’10”, 190 lbs, one season) during the 2014 season. Gaines is an ideal zone cornerback with enough upside in man coverage to offer versatility as a starter. He doesn’t have great length or straight-line speed, but he is quick and aggressive in his actions with the awareness to read the game as it develops in front of him. The Rams should have high hopes for Gaines as he develops over the coming years.
51. Patrick Robinson, San Diego Chargers75/100
Coverage: 62/75; Run Defense: 3/10; Tackling: 6/10; Starter: 4/5
At a position such as cornerback, it’s difficult to find players with high-end physical talent. Because of that, Patrick Robinson (5’11”, 191 lbs, 5 seasons) is going to be competing for time on the field for most of his career. Robinson can play outstanding coverage at times, but a complete absence of consistency in his footwork and ball skills hamper his overall value.
50. Cary Williams, Seattle Seahawks
Cary Williams (6’1”, 190 lbs, 7 seasons) has always been a physically talented cornerback with the ability to track different types of receivers through different kinds of breaks from different spots on the field. However, he consistently shows off flaws that often prove to be fatal. He is too aggressive with his contact of receivers through their routes and has major issues with locating the football in man coverage. Williams was very inconsistent for the Eagles in 2014, and his success often depended too much on how much leverage the officials would give him when he held/bumped his assignments.
Awareness is a major concern for Williams. He is slow to recognize running plays after initially focusing on his coverage assignment, while his effort chasing down plays that work away from his side of the field remains a question.
Williams is generally an impressive tackler. He was a high-volume producer for the Eagles last year, with his few missed tackles coming when he was reckless with his technique. He appears to understand how to use his frame and strength to drag ball-carriers to the ground.
Williams does enough to suggest that he might be a decent option to start in a really good situation. That seems to be what the Seattle Seahawks are thinking after signing him to a relatively big contract in the offseason. However, any defense with him on the field will likely need to roll its coverage toward him or have coaches who can make a major impact on his approach.
49. Josh Robinson, Minnesota Vikings
While Josh Robinson (5’10”, 199 lbs, 3 seasons) is one of the fastest cornerbacks in the NFL, he has yet to translate his speed into consistent coverage ability. His footwork is sloppy and leads to his getting burned at times, but even when he does stay in stride with receivers, he does not do much to challenge passes at the catch point. He makes it too easy for receivers to leap up over him and make jump-ball receptions.
Robinson was not asked to do much versus the run in 2014, but when he did have to take on runs in his direction, he held up fairly well. He shows above-average strength to hold his ground against blocks. When he does have free room to run, he can cover ground quickly to close on the ball.
Robinson recorded 44 total tackles and had six missed tackles over the course of the 2014 season. When he wraps up a ball-carrier soundly, he exhibits strength in driving through his man to finish the play. In pursuit, he tends to make more sloppy, diving tackle attempts that can lead to whiffs.
A third-round pick in the 2012 draft, Robinson has had a disappointing career to this point. Unreliable because he gives up too many big plays in coverage, Robinson could be on the roster bubble for the Minnesota Vikings this summer.
48. Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets
It was a rebound season for Antonio Cromartie (6’2”, 210 lbs, 9 seasons) after switching teams in 2014. During the 2013 season, Cromartie struggled to keep pace with his assignments as a member of the New York Jets. With the Arizona Cardinals in 2014, his athleticism returned, as he once again proved to be an impressive boundary cornerback. Cromartie’s length, strength and speed allows him to negate vertical routes with relative comfort. He has never been capable of moving inside effectively or consistent working against more horizontal routes from the outside. Playing with cornerbacks who could handle those assignments allowed him to be more effective last year.
Cromartie’s long frame has always hindered his ability to get off blockers and make plays against the run in tighter situations. He can read the play on the edge to get to the ball-carrier, but his consistent effort is always a question mark.
Throughout his career, Cromartie’s tackling has been a concern. In the past, he appeared to proactively avoid putting himself in positions to make tackle attempts. That wasn’t a problem in 2014, and even though he missed a relatively high number of tackles, he was far from a liability.
The veteran defensive back can still be a high-quality starter in the NFL, if 2014 is anything to go by. Reuniting with Darrelle Revis and joining Buster Skrine will allow the Jets to pick and choose his matchups to best suit his skill set.
47. Perrish Cox, Tennessee Titans
It was a breakout season for Perrish Cox (6’0”, 190 lbs, 4 seasons) in 2014. As a full-time starter for the San Francisco 49ers, Cox showed off his ability to find the football. He finished the season with five interceptions and 16 passes defensed by relying on his impressive length and ball skills. Yet despite those statistics, Cox can’t claim to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL already. He is somewhat of a linear athlete without the strength to disrupt receivers’ routes consistently when playing tight coverage.
Cox is a solid run defender. He plays with discipline and awareness once he has recognized the running play, but at times he can be late to react after initially settling into his coverage assignment. He won’t dominate bigger blockers but also won’t let wide receivers repeatedly push him out of plays.
Despite not playing a huge amount on defense in previous years, at least not since his rookie season, Cox has always been a special teams option because of his tackling ability. His technique and strength allows him to be a consistent and reliable tackler regardless of what situation he finds himself in.
In Tennessee, Cox should start across from Jason McCourty. He has enough physical talent and strong enough ball skills to be effective in favorable situations. Asking Cox to carry out difficult assignments in space or against top talent repeatedly would be asking for trouble, though.
46. Byron Maxwell, Philadelphia Eagles
When Byron Maxwell (6’1”, 207 lbs, 4 seasons) was at his best for the Seattle Seahawks during the 2013 season, he was able to consistently win at the catch point against all types of receivers. If he couldn’t get his hands to the football, he got his hands to the receiver’s arms at the point when the ball arrived to break it up. Maxwell struggled to be as consistently disruptive during the 2014 season, and his overall limitations as a space cornerback were attacked with more consistency. While he was a good fit with the Seahawks' scheme, it’s clear that he wasn’t consistent enough with his ability to read the route combinations and react to receivers to earn another contract with Pete Carroll’s team.
Maxwell understands when to transition from coverage to run defense but can be hesitant to aggressively pursue ball-carriers. His aggressiveness through contact should be greater to show off his size and strength.
Technique for Maxwell is very important, as he looks to consistently wrap up ball-carriers with his long arms. He can still deliver hits to receivers in space, too, but refining his technique further is more important to limit his missed tackles.
In a perfect world, Maxwell would be a true No. 2 cornerback. However, the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a huge contract this offseason, so he will be expected to perform like one of the better players in the league at his position. It seems unlikely that Maxwell will be able to justify that investment.
45. Tharold Simon, Seattle Seahawks
It would be easy to think that Tharold Simon (6’3”, 202 lbs, 1 season) is a bad cover cornerback if you only watched him in the playoffs. During the Super Bowl, Simon was exposed by the New England Patriots. While he couldn’t get near the Patriots’ receivers in man coverage, that was more about the matchup than Simon’s overall quality. Simon is a lanky cornerback who needs to get his hands on receivers to be effective. He is much more of a linear athlete who defends the sideline well than a cornerback who can work laterally with quicker receivers such as Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola. Simon has his flaws, but he also has his strengths. When considering the season as a whole, both were prominent on the field.
Simon’s flaws in coverage can be exposed and attacked with much more ease than his defense against the run. While he didn’t play a huge amount, Simon flashed his ability to hold up against blockers on the edge and read running plays quickly to establish good positioning.
There weren’t a huge number of opportunities for Simon to show off his tackling ability in 2014. He obviously has the size and strength to be an effective tackler, but his quickness in space when closing on his targets is a concern.
If Simon can beat out Cary Williams for the starting spot in Seattle next season, the Seahawks will have to work to mask his weaknesses. Much like Brandon Browner, Simon is better suited as a player who can be used for specific matchups and hidden on the sideline against others.
44. Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
The extension of Adam Jones’ (5’10”, 186 lbs, 8 seasons) career in Cincinnati has been fascinating to watch. Although primarily seen as the third option on the depth chart, Jones isn’t an inside cornerback. He plays on the outside when Leon Hall moves inside. On the outside, Jones is able to show off his aggressiveness and physicality in tight coverage. Impressive footwork and balance allows him to stick to quicker receivers, while his quality ball skills and functional strength make it difficult for receivers to dominate at the catch point. Jones has an all-around skill set without any great traits in coverage. His consistency offers the Bengals a very reliable veteran.
Jones is aggressive and energetic as a run defender, but his size limits his ability to work through blocks on the edge. If he can get an early read on the running play, he can use his quickness to work around blocks, but he needs to do that with much greater regularity.
Although he is an aggressive and technically sound tackler who produced at a high volume last season, Jones missed too many tackles to be considered one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the NFL.
He may be replaced by Darqueze Dennard for the Bengals in 2015, but Jones was still a quality starting option for the Bengals in 2014. Even though he was the third cornerback, he still played enough snaps to be considered a starter.
43. Leon Hall, Cincinnati Bengals
Age and injury are undoubtedly affecting the displays of Leon Hall (5’11”, 195 lbs, 8 seasons). Hall once had the perfect skill set for an inside cornerback with enough talent to be a very effective outside cornerback. However, two torn Achilles tendons have slightly taken away from his quickness and balance in space. That’s not to say that Hall is suddenly a bad football player, he’s just not where he once was in coverage. He can still excel with his ball skills and awareness, while his footwork obviously improved the more he played during the 2014 season. Hall’s length allowed him to still be effective even while slowed in 2014.
There was some notable hesitation in Hall’s play against the run last year. It was likely a result of his injuries, but he needs to show more intensity and aggressiveness through contact to earn a higher rating in this area.
As a cornerback who plays inside, it’s always a tougher task to bring down ball-carriers than when you spend most of your time on the outside. For Hall in 2014, the problem wasn’t so much dealing with bigger players than showing off the quickness to react to sudden movements in tight areas.
When Hall fully retained his comfort and health after his first Achilles tear, he was an outstanding player. He appears on track to repeat that feat after his second Achilles tear.
42. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills
Athletically, Leodis McKelvin (5’10”, 185 lbs, 7 seasons) will still feel like he can rival most starting cornerbacks in the NFL. However, 2014 was somewhat of a discouraging season for the cornerback. His footwork and decision-making were repeatedly highlighted for the wrong reasons, as he struggled to keep pace with receivers in man coverage or be proactive/disciplined in zone coverage. McKelvin’s ball skills and willingness to be aggressive allowed him to come up with a number of turnovers that offset some of his failures to prevent big plays.
McKelvin is an energetic run defender with the upper-body aggression to fight his way through the blocks of wide receivers. He lacks the size or strength to work past tight ends and offensive linemen but shows off an ability to use his athleticism to work around those blocks. Consistency is a major issue for McKelvin.
Tackling in space is a strength of McKelvin’s. He can use his athleticism to close on the ball quickly and is very effective when he plays with proper technique. He isn’t a punishing defensive back but is willing to throw his shoulder into receivers’ bodies.
Rookie Ronald Darby is in position to compete for playing time in 2015 with the Bills, but McKelvin’s experience should give him an edge over the youngster.
41. William Gay, Pittsburgh Steelers
William Gay (5’10”, 190 lbs, 8 seasons) has always been a limited player at this level, but his career has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence during his second spell with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gay is best suited to playing zone coverage because he lacks the physical tools to press receivers at the line and run with them on a consistent basis. He relies on his awareness and quickness to be effective. That awareness helped him find the football a lot last year, as he notched 12 passes defensed and three interceptions. Gay shouldn’t be an outside starter, but the Steelers needed him to be last year and likely will again this year.
Gay has always been a willing and aggressive run defender, but he can be somewhat reckless working infield off the edge and lacks the power to take on blocks.
Gay missed way too many tackles last year despite being a high-volume producer. A lack of control and strength at the point of contact limited his effectiveness both in space and in tight. He missed 13 tackles on the year.
Gay should be a nickel cornerback who plays on the inside, but the Steelers appear set to rely on him as an outside starter again in 2015. It’s tough to find quality cornerbacks, so Gay’s experience and consistency will work in his favor.
40. Brice McCain, Miami Dolphins
It’d be easy to get carried away with the displays of Brice McCain (5’9”, 187 lbs, 6 seasons) last season. McCain solidified the Pittsburgh Steelers' cornerback spot by playing disciplined, consistent football. He didn’t show off great physical talent or consistently shut down high-quality receivers, but by simply being effective in his role he proved to be a major upgrade over the Steelers’ other options at the position. McCain shows off impressive ball skills and enough aggressiveness to alleviate the effect of his short frame when he plays outside. With that said, he isn’t talented enough in coverage or in locating the football while playing tight coverage to completely compensate for his physical limitations. McCain showed off good versatility in coverage but didn’t truly excel in any specific area.
McCain’s aggression and resilience shows in run support. He is quick to advance toward the line of scrimmage on running plays and works through smaller blockers and around bigger blockers to locate the football.
A combination of technique and aggression allows McCain to be an effective tackler. His size obviously impacts how much he can punish ball-carriers, but he never shies away from bigger targets.
McCain should be much more effective as a starter in Miami than in Pittsburgh. The Dolphins defense figures to give him much more of a pass-rushing threat so he can use his instincts and ball skills to find the football quickly after the snap.
39. A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans
As the Houston Texans’ No. 3 cornerback last season, A.J. Bouye (6’0”, 191 lbs, 2 seasons) was often targeted by opponents when he was on the field. He exhibits enough speed to run with anyone down the field, but he struggles to stop his feet and change directions and allows many easy catches underneath in result. He is physical at the catch point and has good ability to break on the ball, as evidenced by his 10 passes defensed, including three interceptions, in 2014. He can be too physical at times, however, as he drew 11 penalties last season.
Bouye only made one tackle on a running play within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in 2014. As he often lines up in off coverage away from the line, he is simply not in a position to make run stops on most plays. Even when he is, though, he shows no ability to work his way off a block to get to the ball.
With 51 solo tackles and just three misses last season, Bouye was one of the most reliable tacklers among all NFL cornerbacks. His ratio is inflated by the fact that most of his tackles came on catches right in front of him, but he is consistent in going to the center of his opponent’s body and wrapping his man up soundly to bring him down to the ground.
Bouye was featured regularly in nickel packages for the Texans in 2014, but he is set to lose his role as the No. 3 cornerback following the team’s first-round draft selection of Kevin Johnson this offseason. The 23-year-old could re-emerge in a significant role in the future, but his coverage skills are not quite starting-caliber.
38. Justin Gilbert, Cleveland Browns
Rookie cornerbacks typically struggle to adapt to the speed and precision of the NFL, but that isn’t an excuse that Justin Gilbert (6’0”, 202 lbs, 1 season) can hide behind. The first cornerback selected in the 2014 NFL draft simply didn’t perform up to expectations, even when considered as a raw prospect. His awareness and footwork left a lot to be desired when he was put in space, while his athleticism proved to be too linear when asked to run with receivers in tight coverage. There were flashes of talent when he showed off his length and athleticism, but those were way too few and far between.
Gilbert’s frame isn’t ideal for working through blockers, but his size should be more of an advantage against receivers than it was during his rookie season. It’s very difficult to quickly diagnose running plays when your head is spinning because of the speed of the game, so it’s understandable that Gilbert struggled to play with great intensity against the run.
While he struggled in most areas, Gilbert did at least show off some tackling ability. He can hit receivers with his big frame, while his technique at the point of contact should allow him to consistently take down bigger ball-carriers.
Gilbert was a raw cornerback coming out, so it’s no surprise that he’s still a long way from being starter-worthy at this level. There’s no way of knowing if he will or won’t reach his potential, but we’re no closer to finding out at this point than we were this time last year.
37. Marcus Burley, Seattle Seahawks
It may be hard to gauge Marcus Burley’s (5’10”, 185 lbs, 1 season) ability in a vacuum, but he clearly fit in well with the Seattle Seahawks last year. Burley was forced onto the field because of injuries to other players but never really looked out of place. He doesn’t have any great traits but showed off a well-rounded skill set and enough consistency to be an effective slot cornerback in the team’s nickel formations. While he is an aggressive player, his ball skills and physicality don't project well to a full-time role on the outside, so Burley’s ceiling may be as an inside option.
Any defender who sees the field for the Seahawks has to be a willing tackler who plays with high intensity. Burley offers both of those traits, but little else against the run. He can be slow to react to the run and lacks the bulk to play through contact consistently.
You have to be tough to be an inside defensive back in the NFL, and Burley proved his toughness repeatedly at the point of contact. He only missed one tackle during his relatively short time on the field but still had plenty of opportunities to show off his technique during that time.
The Seahawks suggested that they don’t see Burley as more than a depth option for the slot position with their offseason moves. When they kept him inactive for the Super Bowl, it suggested that they don’t consider him to be of high quality as an inside defensive back, either. They probably would have been better to keep him active for that game, but overall his quality suggests that he shouldn’t be a starter in the NFL.
36. Sterling Moore, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In his first year playing a consistent role on an NFL defense for a full 16-game season, Sterling Moore (5’10”, 202 lbs, 4 seasons) provided unexpectedly solid coverage as the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 3 cornerback in 2014. He was burned on occasion, including on a costly 46-yard touchdown by Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams in Dallas’ divisional round playoff loss. That said, he regularly showed the feet to turn and run with wideouts downfield, as well as the leaping ability and competitiveness to contest passes at the catch point. He recorded 12 passes defensed in 2014.
Moore only made one run stop within five yards of the line of scrimmage this past season, and that play came on a blitz in pursuit. Although he is a chippy player who fights to hold his ground, he is still pushed backward away from running plays, and rather easily, by bigger, stronger wide receivers.
With 42 solo tackles and only four misses during the 2014 regular season, Moore proved to be a reliable tackler. Though not the biggest or strongest cornerback, he finishes tackles soundly by wrapping up the ball-carrier with proper form.
Although he is coming off the best season of his career to date, Moore still projects as a backup going forward. He signed a one-year contract this offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he will likely be the No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback on the depth chart in 2015.
35. Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears
Tim Jennings (5’8”, 185 lbs, nine seasons) played with the same intensity and aggression in coverage last season that has been a staple of his career in Chicago. While he is still willing to be aggressive with bigger receivers to negate the size advantage that most players have over him, his physical presence was notably diminished. Jennings struggled to not bounce off receivers in tight coverage and couldn’t fight through contact to break on the football ahead of receivers like he so often did in the past. He was still a disciplined, versatile cornerback with quick feet and decent awareness, but that physical decline is so important in space.
Even while declining physically, Jennings still showed off the intensity and strength to explode through blocks on running plays. He could consistently work his way toward the ball-carrier while understanding when he needed to set the edge or be aggressive to the inside.
There were times when Jennings would be able to intimidate receivers with his aggressive hits in coverage. That power has faded somewhat, but Jennings is still a high-volume tackler who shows off good technique and enough hit power to be more than just a drag-down tackler.
Jennings isn’t an ideal starter, but in a better situation he could still be a quality contributor. The Bears won’t be in a rush to move on from him in 2015, but it wouldn’t be a major shock if his snaps began to decrease through competition with younger players.
34. Bene Benwikere, Carolina Panthers
A fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft, Bene Benwikere (5’11”, 195 lbs, 1 season) provided a very pleasant surprise with how well he performed in coverage in six regular-season starts and two postseason starts for the Carolina Panthers. Short-armed and slow for an NFL cornerback, Benwikere was projected by some draft analysts to be only a slot cornerback coming out of San Jose State, but he proved as a rookie that he could hold his own outside as well. With a clean backpedal, fluid hips, strength in press coverage and good instincts, Benwikere is able to overcome his physical limitations and hold his own on most plays. He has a knack for breaking on passes, as evidenced by his seven passes defensed and one interception in 2014.
Benwikere made minimal impact as a run defender in his rookie season. He is strong enough to hold his ground against bigger blockers but needs to be quicker in recognition and get himself in consistently proper positions to make up for his deficiencies in size and speed.
In just 10 games played, Benwikere had eight missed tackles but only accumulated 31 total stops. Going into his sophomore season, Benwikere will be expected to improve upon his tackling form.
After finishing his rookie season strong, Benwikere could be a full-season starter in 2015 if he beats out aging veteran Charles Tillman for the No. 2 cornerback job. The 23-year-old has limited physical upside but has his career off to a good start.
33. Jerraud Powers, Arizona Cardinals
After moving to slot cornerback this past season, Jerraud Powers (5’10”, 187 lbs, 6 seasons) had a year of ups and downs. A fast, fluid cornerback who is very good at reading the quarterback’s eyes, Powers undercuts routes to break on the ball with speed, which enabled him to record 10 passes defensed, including three interceptions and numerous additional near-interceptions, this past season. His aggression can backfire on him at times, as it can leave receivers open for receptions behind him. He had some issues in 2014 with staying with the many laterally breaking routes he faced from the slot, while his size limitations enable bigger receivers to box him out at the catch point.
You won’t see Powers, who is small even for the cornerback position, make many plays around the line of scrimmage. He shows good effort in trying to fight his way through blocks but is often driven away from plays by bigger opponents.
Powers had 50 total tackles and seven missed tackles in 2014. For a player who is almost always at a size disadvantage to ball-carriers, Powers is not as sound as he needs to be in wrapping up carriers to finish plays.
Following Antonio Cromartie's one-year stint with the Cardinals, Powers is set to return to his 2013 role as the team’s No. 2 outside cornerback in 2015. Entering a contract year, the 27-year-old needs to play well to make himself an attractive starting option for teams next offseason.
32. Keenan Lewis, New Orleans Saints
It wasn’t the best season for Keenan Lewis (6’1”, 208 lbs, 6 seasons), but it’s hard to put the full blame on him. The New Orleans Saints defense as a whole dragged him down with a limited pass rush, poor game plans and struggling safety help. To compound his problems, Lewis was forced to fight through various ailments to stay on the field. As an aggressive cornerback who relies on his athleticism and length more than his awareness and discipline, Lewis couldn’t afford to play in that situation. He was repeatedly picked on by opposing offenses for big plays and touchdowns.
Lewis’ sluggish play in coverage was matched by his intensity against the run. His lanky frame has always hindered his ability to beat blocks, so his effort became even more important in 2014. He should be commended for that effort, but the quality getting off blocks and attacking the line of scrimmage simply wasn’t there often enough.
Tackling in the NFL is difficult enough for most defensive backs, so it’s especially tough when you’re at a physical disadvantage. Lewis missed a huge number of tackles last year, as he appeared to be a shadow of himself at the point of contact.
No questions should emerge about Lewis’ ability to start in the NFL. He is a high-quality player. His ability to produce was simply eroded by his health and the Saints’ situation last season.
31. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota Vikings
Captain Munnerlyn (5’9”, 195 lbs, 6 seasons) is a versatile defender who didn’t play to his full potential in 2014. During his first year with Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings, Munnerlyn appeared sluggish physically. His feet were slower than they have proved to be in the past, which made him less comfortable in space and affected his decision-making. Even with the additions of Trae Waynes and Terence Newman in the offseason, Munnerlyn can’t expect to get an easier role. He will still need to be quicker in thought and action to be an effective slot cornerback next season.
He's an instinctive, active and aggressive run defender who has just enough physical strength to force his way to the football. Munnerlyn’s run defense should give him the inside track on the starting spot at slot cornerback in nickel packages.
When you play more than 1,000 snaps as a defensive back, you should expect to miss more than five tackles. But not Munnerlyn. His five misses on 1,089 plays reflect his consistent technique and effort.
Waynes’ need for development will likely keep Munnerlyn on the field next season, but his spot as a key contributor is definitely under threat.
30. Tramon Williams, Cleveland Browns
Ted Thompson typically retains his better players when they become free agents, but that wasn’t the case with Tramon Williams (5’11”, 191 lbs, 8 seasons). Williams is going to Cleveland, where he should start across from Joe Haden. His well-rounded skill set will fit in well in Ohio if he can play to the same level he played at in 2014. Williams isn’t an exceptionally tall, bulky or fast cornerback but shows off good strength against bigger receivers. He has quick feet and understands how to mirror receivers in man coverage before showing controlled aggression at the catch point. His ball skills and awareness are above average, which makes him a versatile overall defender against the pass.
Incapable of getting off blocks consistently, Williams can be somewhat of a problem in the running game. He needs to show more consistency with his positioning and aggressiveness when asked to come down and set the edge against bigger players.
He's a technically sound cornerback with the aggressive mindset and physical ability to consistently put ball-carriers on the ground.
At 32 years of age, the only concern about Williams is any potential decline in his physical ability. If he sustains his athleticism, he will once again be a quality player in 2015.
29. Darius Slay, Detroit Lions
After a disappointing rookie year, 2013 second-round draft pick Darius Slay (6’0”, 192 lbs, 2 seasons) started playing up to his billing in his sophomore season. A fast cornerback who can run with any wide receiver down the field, Slay showed a great ability to leap up and make plays on the ball in the air in 2014, recording 17 passes defensed. That said, Slay’s game remains a work in progress. He struggles to cover in-breaking routes and can get beat deep at times—despite his speed—because he will accelerate too late from off coverage and allow a wideout to run right by him.
Slay does not cover a lot of ground as a run defender, but when running plays come in his direction, he shows a willingness to attack downhill and go after running backs. He does not exhibit much ability to claw his way through blocks but at least has the size and strength to hold his ground around the line of scrimmage.
Slay had 64 total tackles and nine misses in 2014. He demonstrates physicality and strength as a hitter but too often just throws himself at the ball-carrier rather than wrap him up with proper form.
At 24 years old with a terrific combination of length and athleticism, Slay has star potential but still needs to improve upon his breaks and consistency in coverage.
28. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants
The career of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (6’2”, 193 lbs, 7 seasons) has finally plateaued. A player who struggled with consistency from his time in Arizona to his time in Philadelphia, Rodgers-Cromartie has enjoyed the prime of his career over the past two seasons. His slender frame should make him susceptible to bigger receivers, but he aggressively attacks the ball in the air and shows off more strength than you’d expect from him in coverage. His quick, precise feet and long speed make it difficult for any type of receiver to escape him in man coverage. Rodgers-Cromartie has shown improved discipline over the years, both in terms of his technique in man coverage and awareness in zone coverage.
Despite his ability to withstand physicality in coverage, Rodgers-Cromartie’s size becomes an issue against the run. He can’t consistently get off blocks in space and is easily knocked around when drawn in tight.
Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t chronically miss tackles, but his hesitation against bigger ball-carriers and his overall lack of power cause him to lose ground in tackle attempts too consistently.
At this stage of his career, Rodgers-Cromartie should be considered one of the more reliable cornerbacks in the NFL. He has his flaws, but on the whole his strengths clearly make him a quality starter.
27. Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers
Josh Norman (6’0”, 195 lbs, 3 seasons) allowed just 27 catches—the least among all NFL cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of their teams’ coverage snaps—on 58 targets last season. Norman did not become a full-time starter for the Carolina Panthers until their eighth game of the season, but once he was moved into the lineup he proved to be consistent and reliable. He is not a great athlete by NFL standards but is physical, technically sound and uses his length well to make plays on the ball. He had 11 passes defensed, including two interceptions, in the Panthers’ final nine games alone in 2014.
A cornerback who typically follows his opposing receiver all over the field, Norman is at his best as a run defender when his assignments bring him inside. He is proficient at attacking toward the line of scrimmage and getting himself in position to make run stops. From the outside of the field, he does not make many plays against the run, as he does not have great speed to cover ground.
Norman exhibits good strength in bringing ball-carriers down when he wraps up properly, but his form gets sloppy when he is on the move. He had 48 total tackles but seven missed tackles (playoffs included) in 2014.
In a Panthers secondary that lacks big-name stars, Norman emerged as the team’s No. 1 cornerback during the second half of last season. If he can perform at the same level throughout the 2015 season, he could earn a lucrative second contract when his rookie deal expires next offseason.
26. Prince Amukamara, New York Giants
There may not be a better example for young cornerbacks to follow than that of Prince Amukamara (6’0”, 207 lbs, 4 seasons). The New York Giants player struggled with his consistency early in his career but was enjoying a breakout season before being injured last year. Amukamara’s footwork went from flashing talent to consistently putting him in the best position to mirror his assignments. He understood how to be balanced and aggressive at different points of the routes he was covering, while showing an awareness to locate and attack the football with his ball skills.
Amukamara has good size and a willingness to fight through blocks to locate the football. He is able to quickly transition from covering his assignment to pursuing ball-carriers while also showing the requisite discipline to set the edge when asked.
Technique, discipline and length allow Amukamara to be a consistent tackler. He didn’t miss a single tackle last season, but he also isn’t going to consistently punish players with big hits.
We may be talking about Amukamara as one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL next year. His status as a high-quality starter is unquestioned.
25. Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills
Stephon Gilmore (6’1”, 190 lbs, 3 seasons) is an aggressive, physical cornerback with the ability to consistently disrupt receivers’ routes in man coverage. When Gilmore wins at the line of scrimmage with his hands, it is very, very difficult to separate from him. However, Gilmore didn’t show enough fluidity through breaks to really excel in coverage during the 2014 season. His play in zone coverage was consistent and reliable but unspectacular.
With his physicality and size, Gilmore is able to get off blocks when he plays with high intensity. Although that intensity can cause him to be somewhat reckless at times, Gilmore’s overall ability against the run outweighs the impact of those mistakes.
Once again, playing under control is what is important for Gilmore as a tackler. He generally does show off good technique and only missed seven tackles last season.
Injuries have slowed Gilmore’s development to this point in his career, but he is still one of the ascending young starters in the NFL. Rex Ryan’s presence in Buffalo should give him every opportunity to elevate himself into one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.
24. Chris Culliver, Washington
Chris Culliver (6’0”, 199 lbs, 3 seasons) started playing the best football of his career to date during the second half of last season; in the final eight weeks of the year alone, Culliver recorded 12 passes defensed, the most by any NFL player in that span. Culliver is skilled at reading quarterbacks’ eyes and receivers’ feet to break in on routes and make plays on the ball, including four interceptions in that same span last year. His biggest weakness is that he is slow to transition when a receiver stops his feet and changes directions or comes back to the ball.
Culliver had very little production as a run defender in 2014. When opponents run the ball away from him, he does not exhibit much effort in trying to pursue the ball-carrier and keep himself in the play.
With 47 total tackles and only four misses, Culliver had good tackling efficiency for a cornerback this past season. He’s reliable in getting defenders to the ground but is a catch-and-drag tackler who allows runners to battle for extra yards.
Culliver raised his value down the stretch last season and got rewarded for it this offseason when the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract. At that money, the 26-year-old will be expected to continue playing at a high level and establish himself as a long-term starter in D.C.
23. Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles insist on keeping Brandon Boykin (5’10”, 185 lbs, 3 seasons) on the inside as a limited contributor to their defense. This decision appears to be based on stubbornness over Boykin’s size, because his coverage is very impressive. Boykin has quick feet and good awareness to diagnose receivers’ routes as they run them. He can flip his hips with ease and attack the football in the air in man coverage, while also showing off a burst that suggests he’d be a dangerous defender to break on the ball from zone. Boykin needs to get more opportunities on the outside. He will get beaten at times because of his size, but his overall value in coverage should compensate for that.
As a slot cornerback, Boykin had to be an aggressive and proactive run defender. He was inconsistent in finding his way to the football, as the bigger offensive players were able to redirect and contain him too easily.
Despite his limited value against the run and overall lack of size, Boykin is an efficient tackler. He relies on his technique and controlled aggression to bring down bigger targets in space or in tight.
Most coaching staffs would likely use Boykin more, considering how poorly his teammates played last year. The Eagles kept him in a role where he is at his best but still aren't getting the most out of him as a potential full-time starter.
22. Johnathan Joseph, Houston Texans
Johnathan Joseph (5’11”, 188 lbs, 9 seasons) is no longer in his prime, but a player who was once one of the most physically talented players at his position still has plenty of athleticism to be a high-quality starter in the NFL. The veteran understands how to use his physicality through routes and is able to show that off effectively by relying on his quick feet to stick with receivers through breaks. With the awareness and ball skills to locate the ball consistently and the versatility to be effective in different types of coverages, Joseph is still a very valuable player for the Texans, despite the addition of Kevin Johnson.
The one area where there appears to be a notable decline in Joseph’s play is his ability to be proactive against the run. He is slower to recognize running plays and get off blocks from bigger receivers/tight ends.
Joseph is a reliable tackler who shows off consistent, effective technique. Despite his age, he is still able to punish receivers with big hits when he gets the opportunity to line them up properly.
Kevin Johnson was drafted to be a starting cornerback in the NFL, but his tenure in the starting lineup likely won’t begin until 2016. Joseph is simply too talented to be pushed to the sideline at this stage of his career.
21. Rashean Mathis, Detroit Lions
At 34 years of age in 2014, Rashean Mathis (6’1”, 195 lbs, 12 seasons) proved he still has the athleticism to run deep with receivers down the field and provide consistent outside coverage. Mathis, who stays at right cornerback for the Detroit Lions rather than following one wide receiver, is at his best playing off the wideout. He shows smarts in zone coverage to consistently get himself in proper positions and uses his length well to disrupt and get his hands on passes at the ends of routes. The weakness of Mathis’ game is press coverage, as he tends to grab rather than jam effectively; he got flagged for eight penalties last season.
A conservative run defender, Mathis made only one run stop around the line of scrimmage in 2014. This stems in part from the fact that he typically lines up more than five yards off the line, but also because he lacks ability to fight his way off blocks.
Mathis recorded 51 total tackles last season—his highest total since 2010—but also had nine missed tackles (playoffs included). He typically makes the cleanup tackles he needs to make downfield, but there’s nothing authoritative about him as a hitter.
Set to be 35 before the 2015 season starts, Mathis is very much on the back end of his career. Even so, he is still capable of providing reliable outside coverage, which is why the Lions re-signed him this offseason for two more years.
20. K'Waun Williams, Cleveland Browns
One of the most pleasant surprises from the 2014 rookie class, K’Waun Williams (5’9”, 183 lbs, 1 season) emerged as a highly effective slot cornerback last season after going undrafted out of Pittsburgh. He played almost exclusively inside and might not be big enough to play outside, but he provided lockdown coverage in the slot and showed playmaking ability. Smooth in his transitions, Williams is also physical and competitive at the catch point, despite his size limitations. In limited action, he broke up eight passes in his first season.
Since he only played in sub-packages, Williams didn’t see much playing time against the run—only 108 snaps—in 2014. His small frame is not conducive to being a playmaker around the line of scrimmage, and he takes some poor angles to the ball. That said, he is competitive and uses his hands well enough to fight his way off blocks from bigger wide receivers. Despite his size, he isn’t pushed around often.
Williams had 31 total tackles and three missed tackles in 2014. He uses good form to wrap up ball-carriers and shows surprising strength in holding his ground against bigger opponents to stop their forward progress and bring them down.
Even though Williams might never be a starting cornerback on the outside, the 23-year-old can be just as valuable if he continues to develop into one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks. He was injury-prone as a rookie, so there is reason for concern about his durability, but he has great skill and competitive nature.
19. Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills
Even though he was not a full-time starter, Corey Graham (6’0”, 196 lbs, 8 seasons) was the Buffalo Bills’ most consistent cornerback in coverage in 2014. Showing great fluidity and speed to flip his hips and turn and run with receivers, Graham is only beaten deep when he gets caught with his eyes in the backfield. He is physical with his hands in coverage but was only hit with four penalties last season. He fights for the ball in the air and makes plays on it, as evidenced by his 15 passes defensed in 2014.
Graham was a regular contributor to the Bills run defense in 2014. He is an aggressive defender who will attack downhill to make a stop around the line of scrimmage when he has an opportunity. When he is in clean space, he is a consistent cleanup tackler downfield but can be blocked away from plays by bigger receivers.
With 76 total tackles and only eight misses last season, Graham was one of the NFL’s most efficient tacklers. He is an arm-tackler, which allows runners to finish forward through him, but he sticks to his form and typically gets his opponent down to the ground.
Graham was the fifth defensive back in Buffalo’s secondary last season but still tied his career-high total with nine starts (eight at cornerback, one at safety) as an injury fill-in. After playing primarily on the outside in 2014, Graham is projected to start at safety for the Bills in 2015.
18. Jason McCourty, Tennessee Titans
Jason McCourty (6’0”, 193 lbs, 6 seasons) is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the NFL. He should expect to be competing with the likes of Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis atop the totem pole. However, he didn’t play to his potential in 2014. McCourty was his usual aggressive self but couldn’t consistently find the football or play the kind of tight coverage that has allowed him to be one of the most physical defensive backs in the NFL over recent years. McCourty was still the Titans’ best defensive back by a significant distance but will expect to play better in 2015.
With his length and strength, McCourty is able to fend off the block attempts of the receivers he is assigned to cover. He can also make an impact against bigger tight ends and offensive linemen when he is aggressive. Consistency with his awareness is all that is hampering the cornerback’s run defense.
Possibly the best tackling cornerback in the NFL, McCourty is a high-volume tackler with the consistent technique to bring ball-carriers down quickly. He can also deliver big hits when put in favorable situations.
At 27 years of age, McCourty should be in his prime. The 2014 season wasn’t his best, but he would still start for any team in the league.
17. Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It wasn’t the best debut season for Alterraun Verner (5’10”, 187 lbs, 5 seasons) in Tampa Bay. The cornerback appeared to struggle to adapt to Lovie Smith’s defense, as he played with more hesitation in space and struggled to locate both receivers and the football with the same haste as in 2013. Verner is still a physically talented player, but his limitations in coverage were exposed more when he wasn’t hidden from tougher assignments like he had been in Tennessee. He managed two interceptions on the year but should have had many more to mask his failures as a whole.
It’s hard to find a player who plays with the same energy and intensity as Verner when it comes to pursuing ball-carriers. He doesn’t sit back in coverage or wait for ball-carriers to find their way to him down the field. Instead he attacks blocks and works through them as much as possible to find the football.
Although he missed eight tackles last year, that was more a reflection of his volume of opportunities than a fault in Verner’s technique or effort. He isn’t a punishing defensive back but doesn’t play with fear, either.
Even though more of his warts were seen under the microscope in Tampa Bay, Verner should still be considered a strong starting option in the NFL.
16. Brandon Flowers, San Diego Chargers
During his final year in Kansas City (2013), Brandon Flowers (5’9”, 187 lbs, 7 seasons) appeared to be significantly slowed by injury. The cornerback who had previously showed off exceptional fluidity and speed was struggling to stick with receivers through breaks when asked to play man coverage in space. The San Diego Chargers benefited from Flowers’ injury after the Chiefs moved on from him. Flowers’ health returned in San Diego, and so did his effectiveness in coverage. His aggression attacking the ball in the air and his quick feet make up for any size concerns.
Although Flowers is a positive run defender on the whole, that is primarily based on his tackling ability. He is smart enough to avoid contact when he can, but his size simply puts him at too great a disadvantage against bigger offensive players in tight situations.
Despite making 51 tackles last year, Flowers only missed four attempts. That kind of consistency is very valuable.
Flowers is one of the most talented cover cornerbacks in the NFL. He is a testament to the idea that size isn’t a prerequisite to be successful at the position.
15. Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos
Although consistency was somewhat of an issue for Aqib Talib (6’1”, 205 lbs, 7 seasons) in 2014, he was still a cornerback in his physical prime playing some of the best football of his career. Talib’s physicality and sheer size have always made him a problematic player in press coverage for his assignments. When he wins at the line of scrimmage, it is very difficult for receivers to escape his clutches down the field. Talib has relatively quick feet and the long stride to run with receivers downfield.
Not many defensive backs in the NFL can feel comfortable setting the edge as a run defender against bigger tight ends or offensive tackles. Talib may not dominate his assignments against the run, but he shows resilience and strength to avoid being pushed off his spot on a regular basis.
Missing just nine tackles while playing more than 1,000 snaps in a season is impressive for a cornerback. For Talib, it shouldn’t be surprising, though. With quickness and length, he only requires consistent technique to be one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the NFL.
At 29 years of age, Talib should have at least another season or two before he has to be concerned about any potential decline. With Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator, he should always be put in the best position to succeed moving forward.
14. Orlando Scanrdrick, Dallas Cowboys
Orlando Scandrick (5’10”, 195 lbs, 7 seasons) isn’t your conventional top-tier talent at the cornerback position. He doesn’t have great length like Richard Sherman and is not exceptionally fluid like Darrelle Revis. Instead, Scandrick’s success is built on his control and discipline. He carries out his assignments in the Cowboys defense effectively by relying on consistently good positioning and awareness. Scandrick is best in zone coverage, in which the Cowboys frequently play him, but is still talented enough to stick to better receivers in man coverage.
Scandrick is a willing and aggressive run defender, but his size limits his effectiveness. He must avoid the bodies of tight ends and offensive linemen to get to ball-carriers, while most receivers can execute blocks on him with some consistency.
Like with his overall run defense, Scandrick is a willing and aggressive tackler. He simply lacks the size to repel bigger ball-carriers without conceding ground on a regular basis.
Scandrick is an integral part of the Dallas Cowboys secondary. His versatility to play both inside and outside while carrying out a variety of assignments will keep him on the field as long as he is healthy.
13. Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Injury cut short a season that Jimmy Smith (6’2”, 206 lbs, 4 seasons) was undoubtedly enjoying. The 26-year-old is firmly in his prime now after struggling early on in his career. While only playing eight games in 2014, Smith was able to show off his ability to get the most out of his physical talent in space. He has developed an understanding of how to use his long, strong frame against receivers in tight coverage with enough awareness and quickness to still be effective in zone coverage.
Smith has all the physical tools and tackling ability to be a great run defender. He just needs to develop more consistency with his recognition and intensity when transitioning from coverage into pursuit.
Smith missed just two tackles in his eight games. He shows off good technique to complement his size and strength at the point of contact.
The Baltimore Ravens cornerback should contend to be one of the top five players at his position in 2015. His development hasn’t been consistent from year to year, but there’s no doubting his talent at this point in his career.
12. Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans
Kareem Jackson (5’10”, 188 lbs, 5 seasons) isn’t necessarily a big cornerback, but he gets the most out of his length with impressive timing and physicality. He has the athletic ability and footwork to play press coverage against the better receivers in the NFL, disrupting routes early to force his assignment to recover quickly to keep the timing of the play. Jackson is best suited to stay on the boundary, and even though his ball skills aren’t spectacular, they are good enough to make him a consistent threat at the catch point.
A willing and aggressive run defender who doesn’t wait for blockers to engage him, Jackson fights his way to the football with some effect, but his overall impact is limited by his relative size limitations.
By relying on consistent technique, Jackson is able to consistently bring down different kinds of ball-carriers. However, unlike teammate Johnathan Joseph, Jackson isn’t built to punish opponents.
The Texans re-signed Jackson to a long-term contract to eventually pair him with first-round draft pick Kevin Johnson. Jackson and Johnson should complement each other well moving forward.
11. Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers
Although San Diego Chargers rookie cornerback Jason Verrett (5’10”, 178 lbs, 1 season) didn’t play much during his rookie season, he did play enough to show off his outstanding coverage skills. Verrett is a short cornerback who likely fell in the draft because of size concerns. Focusing on his size is a foolish endeavor, because Verrett’s ability to stay on top of vertical routes with his footwork and attack the ball in the air with his ball skills and leaping ability often make it irrelevant. Whether he was covering John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald or Eric Decker, Verrett showed that his skill set can match up to any type of NFL receiver.
Verrett is a very aware cornerback in zone coverage who breaks on the ball brilliantly. This awareness and aggression translates to his run defense, but he needs to prove that he can consistently get off blocks when the opposition targets his area of the field.
While wrapping up 19 tackles, Verrett didn't miss on a single attempt last season. His consistent technique and aggression allow him to punish some receivers in space.
As long as Verrett can stay on the field, he has the ability to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
10. Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings
Xavier Rhodes (6’1”, 210 lbs, 2 seasons) emerged as a true No. 1 cornerback in his sophomore season. Put together his stats, his impact and his film, and you get a top-10 corner with a huge ceiling. Rhodes has the length to attack the ball or get physical at the line of scrimmage and the fluid movement to shadow in coverage. Rhodes posted just one interception in 2014, but his 15 passes defensed were most among our top 10 cornerbacks, per Pro Football Focus, and he allowed just 44 catches on 83 targets. Add in that Rhodes allowed just two touchdowns, and you get a feel for his talent—remember that he was penalized 12 times, and you'll see where he can improve.
A big area to improve for Rhodes in 2015 will be his run defense. He has the size, but his awareness and angles in attacking blockers and the ball need refinement. The key for cornerbacks is to protect the boundary and force the play back to the middle—something Rhodes struggled to do.
Rhodes’ impact wasn’t just felt in pass coverage. He proved himself to be a physical, aggressive tackler in space who rarely lets ball-carriers out of his grasp. On the year, Rhodes missed just three tackles while posting 48 solo stops.
If you want to buy early on an up-and-coming star, get on the Rhodes hype train. He has the tools and coaching to be great.
9. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson (6’1”, 219 lbs, 4 seasons) is widely regarded in NFL circles as one of the best pure man-cover corners in the game—which makes evaluating him tough. Peterson does face the opposing team’s best receiver on a weekly basis, but how much of a cushion should he get for that? We tried to weigh that into his score, while also looking at cold, hard stats and studying film.
On the year, Peterson allowed 54 catches—tied for second most among our top 10 corners—on 95 targets. That’s a respectable ratio, and when you add in his three interceptions, you can see Peterson’s impact in numbers. The issues came up with his eight touchdowns allowed (double that of any other top-10 cornerback) and was penalized 13 times (also a top-10 high). Peterson has rare physical tools and talent, but he too often has concentration lapses and tries to do too much in coverage.
With his size and strength, you’d think Peterson would be a monster against the run, but he’s wildly inconsistent in coming up to take on the run. On film it appears he’s trying to come down like a heat-seeking missile, and he loses track of the ball and surrenders contain.
With 51 total tackles and one sack on the year, Peterson showed that he’s able to get ball-carriers on the turf. He’s built like an outside linebacker and can bring the impact of one when he squares up a runner on the move.
There are NFL scouts who will tell you Peterson is the best cornerback in the game based on his athleticism and role in the Cardinals’ scheme. While he is very good, the inconsistencies added up too much for him to be ranked higher.
8. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns
Joe Haden (5’11”, 195 lbs, 5 seasons) played very well in 2014 but started very inconsistently. Haden’s swing from average to great is tough to remember in June, but going back to scouting notes and film study, you see it.
Haden was targeted 113 times (the highest of any top-10 cornerback) on the year and allowed 60 catches—good for an average of 53.1 percent, which is a solid number for a man-coverage corner. The issue is with Haden's allowing four touchdowns and getting called for 10 penalties. Compare that with his three interceptions and 10 passes defensed, and it’s a wash. Haden did recover well after a rocky start to the season and once again showed he’s capable of shadowing the opponent’s best receiver.
Haden is often taken out of the run game with a good stock-blocking wide receiver. Another factor in his lack of an impact here is that he’s following the offense’s best receiver, and many teams tend to run away from their No. 1 receiver.
Haden had big tackle numbers all year, posting 71 solo tackles and dominating games against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 (nine tackles) and Houston Texans in Week 11 (12 tackles). In every game this season he posted at least one solo tackle, proving himself to be one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the league.
Take away the first six weeks of the season, and Haden would make an argument for top-five status. That’s his ceiling, and with the talent around him in Cleveland, it’s unlikely he’ll regress next year.
7. Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
After spending four very good years in Miami, Sean Smith (6’3”, 218 lbs, 6 seasons) has enjoyed huge growth during his two years in Kansas City. The big cover man excels on the edge and has the size and skill to attack the ball on the ground or in the air. On the year, he was targeted 86 times but allowed just 49 catches and produced nine passes defensed to go along with his one interception, per Pro Football Focus. Obviously, we’d like to see more interceptions, but Smith’s ability to take away targets and his balance to cover receivers both big and small add a ton of value to his game.
With his size and toughness, you’d expect Smith to be a bigger presence against the run. When presented with chances to bring down ball-carriers or turn the run back inside, he struggled with consistency.
Smith has the length and power to be an effective tackler in space and shows he can break down and secure the tackle on a runner. His 46 solo tackles were very good, but the seven missed tackles keep his score down.
Smith isn’t given enough credit nationally, for whatever reason. After combing through film, numbers and talking to scouts, it’s clear he’s a top-10 cornerback right now.
6. Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers
Too often, Casey Hayward (5'11", 192 lbs, 3 seasons) is thought of as “just” a slot cornerback, or “just” a zone-coverage player, but his resume is loaded. The production, impact and ability combine to make Hayward a top-six cornerback after missing out on our 2013 rankings because of injury. Hayward has the size and range to attack the ball in the air—he posted three interceptions and seven passes defensed last year—but where he really shines is in limiting targets and taking away his man. On the year, he was challenged just 26 times for 17 catches in 16 games.
When you line up in the slot, you’d better be ready to play the run. Hayward does a good job coming up to take away the edge on runs against sub-packages and has proved he can take on blockers. The lower score here is mostly because of missed opportunities, but even those were created largely by taking on pulling blockers.
Hayward posted 35 total tackles while not being on the field as often as many players ranked around him. He’s a capable, reliable tackler in space but could stand to do better at limiting broken tackles—he missed seven tackles last year.
Some may argue that Hayward shouldn’t be ranked alongside the outside cornerbacks, but we’re judging ability, impact, production and what players did when given the chance to produce. In those areas, Hayward deserves the ranking.
5. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons
A dog in man coverage, Desmond Trufant (6’0”, 190 lbs, 2 seasons) once again cracks the top five—something he’s done every year he’s been in the NFL. With his range, speed, instincts and confidence, Trufant is able to locate the ball and get into position to make a play on it. And while he doesn’t have great hands, he knocks the ball down (nine passes defensed in 2014, per Pro Football Focus) and has the awareness to limit yards after the catch by allowing just 12 yards per catch. When challenged, Trufant limits catches. He allowed just 54 catches on 92 targets, but did so with just two touchdowns coming on his watch. With great size, toughness and fluid technique, Trufant is ready to take his place among the NFL's elite.
If there is a weakness in Trufant’s game, it is his ability to take on the run, but even here he grades out above-average. He’ll fight for positioning and defends the edge well but is too often easily blocked and taken out of the play.
By posting 61 tackles on the year, Trufant once again proved his worth as a three-down cornerback. He’s at his best in pursuit and has shown that he won’t give up on a play.
The casual fan may not be aware of it yet, but Trufant is a legitimate top-five cornerback. He has been in the top five two years in a row.
4. Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos
Last season, Chris Harris Jr. (5’10”, 199 lbs, 3 seasons) came in ranked at No. 6 overall. He takes another step up the rankings this year while cementing himself as an elite talent. On the year, Harris was targeted 89 times but gave up only 46 catches and zero touchdowns. Perhaps most impressively, he allowed just 7.7 yards per catch—by far the best of any player in our top 10 and nearly twice as good as Richard Sherman (13.6 YPC) or Darrelle Revis (13.6 YPC). Harris can flip the field too, as his three interceptions and 10 passes defensed show, per Pro Football Focus. He’s agile, fast, has the instincts to attack and rarely guesses wrong.
Harris isn’t an elite run defender, but he’ll turn the play back inside and does a good job squaring up blockers and getting to the ball-carrier. With so much of his time spent in the slot, he’s often taking on much bigger blockers than traditional cornerbacks.
When asked to put a body on the ball and make a tackle, Harris shows up big despite his smaller frame. He’s able to get low and take on runners but will also throw himself in the way of a runner for a high hit. With 54 tackles on the year, Harris was one of the more active tacklers we scouted at cornerback.
Harris has gone from unwanted out of Kansas to one of the NFL’s best overall players.
3. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
The term “shutdown corner” is thrown around way too much, but Darrelle Revis (5’11”, 198 lbs, 8 seasons) embodies the phrase. During the 2014 season, Revis was targeted 79 times but held his own by allowing just 41 catches. And while he’s credited with giving up two touchdowns, our team found just one touchdown surrendered on his film. With his near-perfect technique, Revis is able to defend against any type of wide receiver you put in front of him. And with 11 passes defensed on the year, per Pro Football Focus, he showed again that his range and ball skills are top-tier.
One area where Revis can’t compete with Richard Sherman is in run defense. Too often we see Revis fight for position but fail to finish the play. When judging opportunities versus production, he came in too low to score higher.
Unlike his run defense score, Revis impressed as a pure tackler. He doesn’t miss tackles often and puts himself in good positions to bring down running backs on the edge or receivers in space. He’s a powerful, willing tackler.
Even as he gets close to 30 years old, Revis still holds the title of one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks.
2. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts
Too many fans forget about Vontae Davis (5’11”, 207 lbs, 6 seasons) when talking about the best cornerbacks in the NFL. That’s OK, because NFL quarterbacks definitely don’t forget he’s out there in coverage. Davis was targeted 71 times—higher than most top cornerbacks—but allowed only 31 catches and didn’t surrender a touchdown all year. Penalties were a bit of an issue—he drew seven flags—but Davis has the quickness to shadow receivers through their breaks and the bulk to get physical at the line of scrimmage. With four interceptions and seven passes defensed on the year, per Pro Football Focus, Davis showed he has the ball skills needed to be an elite cornerback.
Davis is a stout run defender thanks to his penchant for punching through blocks to make plays on the ball-carrier. He’s able to force the run back inside but can also take on running backs head-up if needed.
Davis will go get the football in pursuit or as a lockdown edge tackler. He posted 43 tackles in 15 games last season and was a constant nuisance for wide receivers and running backs underneath.
Davis has been the Colts’ best defensive player since coming over from Miami in 2012. When he’s on the field, he completely erases options for quarterbacks.
1. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman (6’3”, 195 lbs, 4 seasons) isn’t just hype, he’s production. Opposing teams threw at Sherman just 65 times last season, and he allowed 31 catches for just one touchdown in those attempts. When asked to play the ball, Sherman has shown great hands, length and concentration to make plays. He added four interceptions and four passes defensed, per Pro Football Focus, and was only penalized three times in coverage. With ideal length and height, Sherman can match up against big receivers while showing that his technique is smooth enough to lock up smaller, shiftier receivers.
You can’t play in the Seattle defense without being willing to stop the run. Sherman has the size to beat wide receivers trying to block him from the ball and the toughness to come down and stick his nose in against running backs. Sherman is an effective edge defender from his left cornerback spot.
Sherman isn’t afraid to mix it up as a tackler—whether that’s taking on a running back, wide receiver or tight end. He uses his length well and seals the deal with good pop from his shoulders.
You can make an argument that Sherman’s 2014 performance was the most impactful of any player at any position, and the current run he’s on as an elite cover man is putting him in the Hall of Fame discussion.