NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 CB Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 CB Market

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    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we've used the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and scouts Ian Wharton and Marcus Mosher dive into the cornerback class.   

    Just as it has been with so many positions over the last decade, the requirements to play cornerback at a high level in the modern NFL have changed radically.

    Yes, the tall, aggressive defender who can press at the line of scrimmage and force his position on receivers, trailing them up the boundary and locking them down all the way is still highly prized. But the truth is, those cornerbacks are rare, and they don't tend to last long at that level. The Jets' recent release of Darrelle Revis is a stark reminder of that.

    So, if you don't have a Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib or Xavier Rhodes, what do you do? You match players to scheme.

    The Patriots are an excellent example of a team that takes decent cornerbacks and makes them good—and good corners and makes them great—because they understand it's a matchup league, and players must be put in positions that allow them to succeed given their specific physical characteristics.

    As coaches and general managers will tell you, because it's become a sub-package league (the NFL plays with five or more defensive backs on at least 60 percent of its total snaps over the last couple of seasons), the importance of the slot cornerback as a de facto starter can't be overemphasized.

    The 2015 Broncos benefited from this when Chris Harris Jr. was locking down everyone he faced in the slot, and other players like Atlanta's Brian Poole, Tennessee's Brice McCain and New England's Logan Ryan are perfect examples of players who profit from this new paradigm. Their teams gain from it as well, because they understand the types of players required to work inside.

    Ryan is included our top cornerbacks for the 2017 free-agent class, and there's just about every type of corner on the list. More than ever, that's what the NFL needs.

                            

    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
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    FL1000 Free-Agent Left Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Offensive Guard Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Center Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Right Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Inside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Defensive Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Running Back Rankings

21. Sam Shields

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Sam Shields did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

             

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    It's too bad Shields only started one game and missed the rest of the season due to injury. He has talent. Coming into the season, we had him ranked 23rd. Shields is a speedy corner who uses that speed to recover and put himself in position to make plays.

    He has a concussion history, and it'll be tough for a team to throw a big contract at him even with his talent. He's also 29, so Father Time will start to catch up to him soon. Shields might be worth the risk if he's medically cleared, but he's likely not talented enough to take the risk on. Expect teams that play heavy man-to-man or that press a lot to be interested. That best fits his style of play.

               

    Doug's Quick Take: Looking past Shields' abbreviated 2016 season, he's been one of the more consistent coverage men in the NFL over the last few seasons. He's equally adept outside and in the slot, and that will make him appealing to many teams on a short-term contract.

                    

    Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks

20. Leon Hall

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Leon Hall did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

         

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    At 32 years old, Hall continues to be a viable option in the secondary for playoff contenders needing a versatile piece. He spent 2016 with the New York Giants, rotating between a slot safety alignment and the occasional over-the-ball, line-of-scrimmage slot position. In total, he played 384 defensive snaps, the least in his career in a non-injury-shortened season.

    Hall's physical capabilities have dipped, as the days of his being an elite slot corner with outside versatility are long gone. But he can still be a veteran who makes an impact as a depth piece, especially as more defenses utilize 4-2-5 looks with five defensive backs on the field with one manning the slot. Hall's ideal role is as a zone slot defender, where he can take advantage of his instincts and downhill burst in coverage.

    Unless a rebuilding or middling team wants him as a veteran presence in the locker room to help young corners in their development, it's more likely that the top-tier contenders will have interest in Hall. He earned just $1.5 million last year, so he's a relative bargain for his skill. Relying on him to play in key moments should be a more enticing option than using a rookie or inconsistent veteran in those spots.

                  

    Doug's Quick Take: Hall still has a bit left in the tank, but he's not great in the slot anymore, and he needs to be protected by scheme more than he used to. Teams looking for veteran leadership in a young secondary will come calling, but his starter days could be over.

                    

    Potential Suitors: New York Giants, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders

19. Captain Munnerlyn

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.6/30
    Recovery: 15.8/30
    Slot: 14.5/20
    Tackling: 5.6/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 60.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 87/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    Once a premier slot cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn has declined due to injuries the past two campaigns. Turning 29 this offseason, Munnerlyn's logged only an average of 66 percent of all defensive snaps since 2015, compared to over 87 percent from 2012 to 2015. The Minnesota Vikings, who also have to deal with Terence Newman's free agency, must decide whether it's time to turn to Mackensie Alexander in the slot or give Munnerlyn a chance to re-establish himself.

    His ranking is based on his 2016 play and not the previous quality seasons he had with the Carolina Panthers and Vikings. Munnerlyn was often caught out of position in the slot, allowing 25 of 40 targets to be completed while in man coverage, with two going for touchdowns and 14 for first downs. It's a difficult job, but Munnerlyn's positioning and burst often looked a hair too slow to impact the pass.

    What teams must decide is whether this was an aberration due to injuries, or if this is the new normal for Munnerlyn. It's likely he'll settle for a one-year deal late in free agency.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Munnerlyn has been among the most-targeted slot cornerbacks in the NFL over the last two years, and that has taken its toll. He doesn't have the same short-area quickness he used to, which is a real liability for an inside defender who has to deal with every possible route concept. He'll most likely have to settle for a prove-it deal in the short term.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars

18. Nolan Carroll

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.6/30
    Recovery: 15.9/30
    Slot: 14.7/20
    Tackling: 5.4/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 60.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 86/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    Coming off three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Nolan Carroll's looking for a multiyear contract, as he just turned 30 years old in January. Philly put Carroll into a tough situation. He played in a scheme that fit him—a press-heavy alignment—but was miscast as the Eagles' top cornerback. That role is not on par with Carroll's talent, which is closer to a rotational depth player than a bona fide starter.

    Last season was the first time Carroll started all 16 games, but he's generally been reliable throughout his career. Being available to play is a good thing, especially among a crop of corners who have struggled to stay on the field over the last few years. Just once in his seven-year career has he played in 11 or fewer contests.

    Though his upside is limited, he made just $2.36 million last season, per Spotrac. For that cost, he'd be a major upgrade as a third or fourth boundary corner for a handful of teams. A return to the Eagles could be possible if they whiff on other free-agent ventures, but there's a reason they should be aggressive in upgrading both starting corner spots.

              

    Doug's Quick Take: Carroll's play has declined in each of the last three seasons as his snap count has increased, which may speak to a future as a situational player. As a backup outside and in the slot, he can still help a team, but asking him to take 1,000 snaps against top receivers is an iffy notion.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints

17. Brandon Boykin

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Brandon Boykin did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

      

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    It's that point in the market where it's time for teams to make some upside signings. Whether due to injury, poor fit, inconsistent play or lack of opportunities, this next tier will be the bunch that signs for little but could pay off as depth. Once a great slot corner, Boykin's career has taken multiple turns in the last two years.

    After snatching six interceptions with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, Boykin's playing time dipped by 100 snaps in 2014 before the Eagles traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite giving up assets for him, the Steelers played Boykin just 274 snaps, then declined to re-sign him despite his playing well.

    Boykin's journey continued to Carolina, where he signed, then was released in the same summer. Finally, he caught on with the Chicago Bears before he ended up on injured reserve prior to playing in any games.

    Why he has been through so many teams in the last two years is mysterious. He's a good player, especially in the slot, and he fits most teams. He'd be an upgrade for half the league, including the last four teams he's been on. But there must be more to this story, and that could limit the interest in Boykin's services.

                   

    Doug's Quick Take: Boykin's recent decline is indeed a mystery. He seemed primed to take advantage of the NFL's increasing focus on the importance of slot cornerbacks, but the Eagles deemed him fungible after a great season, and the Steelers didn't play him that much. Teams will do a lot of vetting, and maybe they know more than we do, but it's tough to reconcile Boykin's tape with his disappearance.

                           

    Potential Suitors: Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts

16. Corey White

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Corey White did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

               

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    White, who spent 2016 with the Buffalo Bills, is atop the list of players who stood out in limited snaps as a fill-in corner for the Bills for the majority of the season. His average ranking for the three games he started at cornerback was 45th out of the 190 total corners graded this season. White's been a journeyman throughout his career, though, playing for four teams in six seasons.

    Still, he'll be just 27 years old at opening kickoff, and he has the versatility to play safety and boundary cornerback. At 6'1", 210 pounds, White showed good athleticism, speed and fluidity while mirroring receivers this past year. For teams needing valuable depth and upside, White could be the answer for a few games.

    His experience as a safety and special teams member shouldn't be overlooked, either. He played 247 special teams snaps last year in addition to 413 defensive snaps. White won't headline a free-agency haul, but he could be valuable if injuries strike midseason.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: White allowed just 18 receptions on 35 targets in 2016, per Pro Football Focus, meaning that teams have a decent amount of tape to help them gauge his value. He'll be one of the better backup and spot-starting boundary cornerbacks in this free-agent market. He's not a great run defender per se, but he'll add good coverage to any defense.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints

15. Marcus Williams

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 16.9/30
    Recovery: 16.7/30
    Slot: 14.8/20
    Tackling: 5.6/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 63/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 64/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    The New York Jets appeared to be set with a solid secondary entering 2016, boasting a mix of veterans and young players who had flashed significant talent. One year later, the group is in shambles after a horrendous campaign for the entire unit, meaning major change is coming. One corner who should be back, though, as he's a restricted free agent, is Marcus Williams.

    Soon to be 26 years old, Williams had a breakout 2015 season with six interceptions, but he couldn't find nearly as many opportunities in 2016 despite playing 164 more defensive snaps. He had luck finding the ball so often two years ago, but he's not a ball magnet like the NFL's great cornerbacks. That's why the Jets should apply the one-year restricted tender and see if he can improve in a crucial fourth campaign.

    If the Jets want to overhaul the position and let Williams walk or trade him, there should be a solid market for his services. He's young, has length and is a willing tackler. He's not the most agile or fluid, though, so a mid-tier deal would likely be his max on the open market.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: The Jets had a ton of trouble marrying personnel to scheme in 2016, but we can't point to that as the reason for Williams' regression. He was great in 2015 in limited snaps, but the increased volume seemed to affect him last year, as did Darrelle Revis' playing problems. Williams does a lot of things, but none of them particularly well, and he'll have to make strides in his technique this season if he wants a good long-term deal. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs

14. Prince Amukamara

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.9/30
    Recovery: 15.9/30
    Slot: 15.1/20
    Tackling: 5.1/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 61/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 81/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    One year ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Prince Amukamara to a short deal to see if he could piece together a full season for the second time in his career. Although he played in 14 games and started 12—his most since 2013—his level of performance appeared diminished from his previously high standard. Now, Amukamara will hit the market again, and it's harder to see a clear fit.

    His athleticism has dipped since the Giants drafted him in 2011, likely in part due to his injury history. His age, 28 this summer, is also working against him since he's trending downward early. He had every chance to claim the Jaguars' No. 2 corner spot across from Jalen Ramsey, but he couldn't lock it down.

    However, he's still a rosterable player at a valuable position. His average rank for 2016 was the 55th-highest among NFL1000 corners, with less variance throughout the year than many of his peers in this tier of free agents. Teams looking for a rotational corner on the boundary and needing a third corner, should kick the tires on Amukamara on another one-year contract.

                          

    Doug's Quick Take: For all the legitimate talk about Amukamara's reduced athleticism related to his injury history, he's a credible outside corner who may have potential if he pulls inside to the slot to advance his career. Certainly, he'll move above the veteran-minimum level (though not far above) in any contract he signs.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles

13. DeShawn Shead

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 16.7/30
    Recovery: 16.6/30
    Slot: 14.6/20
    Tackling: 5.9/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 62.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 65/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    A product of Seattle's obsession with lengthy cornerbacks, DeShawn Shead is the latest No. 2 corner who played across from Richard Sherman to hit free agency. His up-and-down first season as a full-time starter should have left the Seahawks worried about the position long term, as Shead's only bright spot was his run defense. His immense 6'2", 212-pound frame has plenty of strength, and he knows how to apply it when he recognizes the ball-carrier is heading his way.

    Shead's not likely a long-term answer, as he'll be 28 in 2017, but since he's a restricted free agent, it's unlikely he'll go elsewhere. No teams prioritize Shead's size like Seattle, although it does translate to other schemes and situations. If the Seahawks don't offer a one-year deal and allow him to reach unrestricted free agency, things may become interesting.

    His inexperience showed last year, as he bounced around our rankings, and our cumulative coverage numbers highlighted the film. He allowed 24 of 36 targets to be completed in press-man, and 23 of 35 targets in off-man for 28 first downs and two touchdowns. Since he put up only one interception and 14 passes defensed, regardless of coverage, it's possible other teams would even look at Shead as a safety.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Playing Cover 3 boundary opposite Sherman is not a job for the weak-willed, and Shead has done a decent job under those stressful circumstances. His current ACL recovery may take him long into the 2017 campaign before he's ready to play, and that will obviously affect his prospects. Someone may get a real steal here if they're willing to wait and need a good hybrid defender.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans

12. Darius Butler

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 17.1/30
    Recovery: 16.6/30
    Slot: 16.6/20
    Tackling: 5/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 64.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 49/133

                                     

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    We've reached the best slot option of the cornerback free agents, Darius Butler, with specialists and limited starters are listed below this point. Butler just completed a five-year stint with the Indianapolis Colts and will be 31 soon. He's struggled to stay on the field the last two years, playing just 58 percent of his team's total defensive snaps. He's a part-time player but is an effective one when he's on the field.

    In our weekly rankings from 2016, Butler never graded worse than the 62nd-best corner for any game, and his average finish was 43rd. His ability to compete with slot receivers in man and zone coverage is one of the reasons contenders needing a short-term upgrade should give him a look despite his injury history. He was our fourth-best slot specialist in the NFL last year.

    His market will be limited, but so will the risk in a contract. A one-year deal with incentives should be an adequate offer. The upside in signing Butler, especially for teams with depth that can withstand possibly missing him for a few weeks, is relatively high.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Butler does still have some value in the slot, and his willingness to transition full time to safety if need be, as Nat Newell of the Indianapolis Star noted, is an interesting wrinkle. He still has the range to provide value as an inside and upfield defender in that role. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars

11. Terence Newman

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 17.5/30
    Recovery: 17.1/30
    Slot: 15.2/20
    Tackling: 5.2/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 63.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 53/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    It's normal for athletes to see decline in their early 30s as the quick-twitch traits that allow them to be special fade some, but that still hasn't applied to the 38-year-old Terence Newman. Newman started 10 games in 2016 and participated in 15, still showing the consistency that has defined his long career. 2017 will be his 15th in the NFL, but he's hitting free agency without a guarantee that the Minnesota Vikings want him back.

    Newman will fit specific situations only, not just due to his advanced age and the possibility of a drop-off. He played the majority of his snaps in off coverage, totaling 114, and allowing just 50 percent of those to be completed. Some of that is luck based on poor throws, but Newman's still a good athlete who can get to the catch point and make the receiver work to finish the play.

    The biggest selling points for Newman include the fact he can occasionally play press on the outside and align in the slot in addition to his preferred off-man assignment. He should also receive a one-year deal, so the guaranteed money won't be large enough to keep a team from making other personnel moves. He's the ideal stopgap for contenders.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has worked with Newman since their days in Dallas, and Zimmer loves Newman's intelligence and leadership. If he doesn't re-sign with the Vikings, it would be a surprise, but he's got enough skill as a slot and underneath defender to still make a difference in any aggressive zone scheme.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks

10. Brandon Carr

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 17.6/30
    Recovery: 17.1/30
    Slot: 15.6/20
    Tackling: 5.4/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 64.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 44/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    Most free agents fail to fully realize their megadeals due to the albatross contract structures that can weigh on the salary cap as the player declines. The Dallas Cowboys plucked Brandon Carr from the Kansas City Chiefs with an absurd five-year, $50 million deal well before it was popular to give a cornerback such money (2012). Despite totaling just one interception in the last three seasons, Carr survived the full length of his contract and now re-enters free agency.

    Carr's been a decent coverage corner throughout his career, including 2016, despite being thrust into the No. 1 role as Morris Claiborne missed nine games. He has the length and strength (6'0", 210 lbs) to effectively press at the line of scrimmage, but his speed has diminished enough to make him a liability when he loses at the line. The soon-to-be 31-year-old will be year-to-year from now on.

    Defenses looking for a mentor for young players or a stopgap who can still rotate in at the second corner spot should be interested in Carr's services. He's never missed a start, so his durability and experience will be helpful somewhere. His landing with a contender who needs immediate depth would be ideal.

               

    Doug's Quick Take: Carr doesn't have the pure speed or angular agility to stick and stay with the best receivers in the league, so he was never able to live up to the massive contract the Cowboys gave him. That doesn't mean he's a complete bust; just that he's probably going to be relegated to second-corner and slot duty.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals

9. Logan Ryan

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 17.5/30
    Recovery: 17.5/30
    Slot: 15.3/20
    Tackling: 5.6/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 64.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 43/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    Through the first 10 weeks of the 2016 season, it seemed as though the Patriots had a major question mark regarding Logan Ryan's future. His average rank in the NFL1000 up until Week 11 was 65th, and he fluctuated between average and flat-out bad performances in that period. But then Eric Rowe was inserted into the lineup as a full-time player, allowing Ryan to be used as both a slot and boundary corner, and his outlook changed.

    Ryan's been a solid but unspectacular player throughout his career, specializing as a versatile piece who can play in the slot, rush the passer and be just good enough outside the hash marks to fill in when needed. His value to the Patriots grew when he didn't have to be the No. 2 corner every snap, and his average grade in the final seven games rose to 19th among all corners.

    With teammate Malcolm Butler in line for a new deal in the near future, it's possible Ryan slips away in free agency, where he should be a coveted third cornerback with starting ability in a pinch for contending teams. Ryan's still just 26 years old and doesn't have the injury history that several others on this list have. The downside is that he's not proven as a long-term starter on the outside, which is so much more valuable than a slot corner if history is an indicator of how teams will pay slots.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Ryan has always been a really good slot defender, and in today's sub-package league, that makes him a valuable starter on a lot of teams. No, he's not equipped to handle No. 1 receivers on a week-to-week basis, but few cornerbacks are, and he's done enough in a complex, varied system to earn a lot of respect as a multi-position pass defender, occasional blitzer and average run-stopper. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals

8. Alterraun Verner

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 18.8/30
    Recovery: 19.2/30
    Slot: 16/20
    Tackling: 6.2/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 69.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 22/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    Veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner was released earlier this offseason as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers terminated his contract with one year remaining. Verner was a free-agent pickup by the previous coaching regime but fell out of favor as the Buccaneers acquired both Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves last year. The guaranteed money ran out, allowing the Buccaneers to save $6.5 million in cap space, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.

    Verner's been a solid player when he's played, even if his interception total and playing time have dipped. In the six games he had 20 or more snaps, we graded him as above-average. His ability to play the slot is especially enticing, as he finished in the top 20 grades for slot score and had a top-10 tackling grade in a small sample size.

    At 28 years old, the 5'10", 187-pounder still has gas in the tank. Teams looking for a slot upgrade—and there are a number of them—should see if Verner's available for a reasonable cost. He may need to take a short-term deal with his age and lack of playing time this past season, but the results from last year were encouraging.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: A healthy scratch far too often after playing very, very well in Tennessee for a number of years, Verner seemed to decline far too rapidly with the Bucs. He had a decent 2016 campaign with limited snaps, allowing 13 receptions on 28 targets, and he may be at that point in his career when a rotational role is best. Slot corner is a viable option.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints

7. Dre Kirkpatrick

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 18.4/30
    Recovery: 18.7/30
    Slot: 15.2/20
    Tackling: 5.3/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 66.7/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 32/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    After slow-cooking cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick for three seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals finally saw some of what their 2012 first-round pick could do as he earned 29 starts over the past two years. The issue with the Bengals' method was that it thrust a player who had been banged up with little exposure to the NFL's speed into a major role, and he's been inconsistent.

    The 27-year-old had a six-week stretch from Week 10 through Week 15 where he landed in our top 38 corners. That included our seventh-highest corner grade in Week 12. That glimmer of a more well-rounded, confident and technically proficient Kirkpatrick is what potential suitors hope they'll get. But the question as to what upside is left is fair.

    The Bengals have had successful defensive back minds like Vance Joseph and Mike Zimmer work with Kirkpatrick, and still he's closer to an average player more often than not—and that was in a favorable system. Kirkpatrick fits into Cover 3 and Cover 4 defenses that can offer consistent safety help over the top, in part due to his limited quickness and recovery ability.

    When Kirkpatrick is playing well, he drives hard on the ball and maximizes his length in trail technique. He'll be a risky signing, considering he's already closing in on 28 years old, so any long-term deal will likely be a glorified two- or three-year pact if Kirkpatrick doesn't show improvement.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Kirkpatrick was the Bengals' best outside cornerback in 2016, and he's not a one-year wonder. Yes, he's inconsistent and schematically limited, but teams with legit center field safeties that need aggressive cornerbacks who will break on the ball expertly will love him. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals

6. Darrelle Revis

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    Billie Weiss/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 18.8/30
    Recovery: 17.8/30
    Slot: 15.4/20
    Tackling: 5.5/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 66.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 34/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    In an unsurprising move, the New York Jets released Darrelle Revis after the two seasons comprising his second stint with the team. Despite having a solid 2015 campaign, Revis felt the effects of Father Time, as the 31-year-old's elite athleticism transitioned from slow decline to dramatic drop-off. The future Hall of Fame candidate became strictly an off-ball corner who needed safety help to be effective.

    He admitted to ESPN Radio his conditioning was poor, and that can't happen again as his margin for error is much slimmer than ever. But when he was engaged, there were stretches when he was still a quality starter. He ranked in the top 10 overall corners three separate weeks, and seven weeks he was a top-32 corner. He'll be an upgrade for several teams if he can replicate that play.

    Contenders needing a No. 2 corner should look to add Revis on a one-year deal. If he's motivated—and he should be considering his career is in the twilight stage—then the risk on a short-term deal pales in comparison to the potential payoff.

    As for a move to safety, that's a difficult projection. Revis could have value in half-field assignments, but expecting an older, slower version of him to be successful there would be folly.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Revis' severe downturn in 2016 may have been in part because he didn't show up in shape—that's a theory I've heard from a lot of people in the know. But it's not as if he was much better in the second half of the 2016 season, when he allowed 15 receptions on 24 targets from Week 9 on. Even before the felony charges that made his release a fait accompli, there was talk about moving Revis to safety for the 2017 season.

    The team that takes a chance on him in 2017 and beyond will most likely get him on a team-friendly deal, because if he's suspended at all for whatever may have happened in relation to those charges, it will delay his transition to a new scheme. Revis already proved in his one year with the Buccaneers that his productivity went way down when he was tasked to play less aggressive coverages, and he's just not the player he used to be.

    Some team will take a shot because of the name and the hope that he can make the kind of corner-to-safety transition guys like Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Devin McCourty have undergone, but there are a lot of complications here. Based on his 2016 tape, Revis' future in the NFL is far from guaranteed at any kind of high level, and complications abound.

                

    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers

5. Morris Claiborne

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 20/30
    Recovery: 19.1/30
    Slot: 15/20
    Tackling: 6.1/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 69.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 19/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    The Dallas Cowboys waited five years for 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne to hit his ceiling, getting a few glimpses along the way of the prospect they thought they drafted. But injuries and inconsistent play have continued to plague him. Another injury cut short his 2016 effort, making it four consecutive years he has missed at least five games. When he was on the field through Week 8, he looked like a solid starter, and that intrigue is going to be worth a modest gamble in free agency.

    Coming from Rod Marinelli's Cover 2 defense, Claiborne will find plenty of schematic fits on teams looking for an upgraded top or second cornerback on a short-term deal. He likes to jam receivers and has enough foot speed to carry them upfield to safety help, with his hand placement and recovery ability looking much better in 2016 than prior seasons. He was on pace to grade as the 29th-best corner for the NFL1000, which is a testament to his talent despite the many setbacks he's faced.

    A return to Dallas on a one- or two-year deal with incentives to keep his cap number low would make the most sense for Claiborne, but a contender wanting short-term relief with major upside might be more willing to guarantee two full years of salary. That's a risky proposition, but the free-agent group takes a dip after the first four names, and takes a sharper one shortly after Claiborne, so he could cash in due to the circumstances.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: The light definitely went on for Claiborne in 2016 after years of iffy technique, leaky coverage and injury issues. The latter concern will affect his ability to get big dollars on the open market, but he's developed enough despite those absences to be a major point of interest for a lot of teams. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts

4. Ross Cockrell

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 19.6/30
    Recovery: 19.2/30
    Slot: 15.5/20
    Tackling: 5.4/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 68.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 24/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    A restricted free agent, Ross Cockrell has had an unconventional path to reach this stage of his career. A fourth-round pick cut by the Buffalo Bills after just one season, Cockrell quickly found his footing in Pittsburgh's zone-based scheme. He established himself as the best corner in a talented unit with veteran William Gay, Artie Burns and the versatile Sean Davis.

    It's almost a guarantee Cockrell will be back in Pittsburgh next year, as it must groom more depth to eventually replace Gay with a nickel corner, and he'll be affordable on a one-year tender. If Cockrell and the Steelers opt for an extension, the franchise may get a good price because of his unique build and system fit. Few teams run as much off-zone as the Steelers, and despite his 6'0" frame, he has sub-30-inch arm length, which was part of the reason he didn't last in Buffalo's press.

    Cockrell will turn 26 right before training camp begins, so a long-term deal can be beneficial for both parties. Improving his interception total and run defense should be atop his goals list as he enters his second year as the No. 1 corner on the roster. If he gambles on himself to become more of a creator in the turnover department instead of a play preventer, his value could significantly rise.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Mike Tomlin has a serious background as a secondary coach, and he was mightily impressed with Cockrell's ascent in 2016, per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune, so you can bet that the Steelers will hold on to him in 2017. If he's able to repeat his breakout season, he'll be in line for big money. His return to Pittsburgh at that point may depend on the development of Burns, the team's first-round pick in 2016.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears

3. Stephon Gilmore

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 19/30
    Recovery: 19.2/30
    Slot: 15.1/20
    Tackling: 5.1/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 67.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 29/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    Like Trumaine Johnson with the Rams, Stephon Gilmore's situation in 2016 was less than ideal for him to succeed, as then-Bills head coach Rex Ryan switched from an aggressive press scheme to an off-man design to alleviate stress from the unit. The move generally worked, but it exposed Gilmore's biggest weakness, which is staying disciplined in off coverage and being able to read routes with a cushion. He's a much stronger press-man corner.

    The divide between the team and Gilmore was exacerbated when Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 reported Gilmore will seek top-five cornerback money following a seemingly poor season. His eight penalties in 2016 and constant threat of missing games due to random injuries makes him a risk for any team. That's especially true when looking at elite positional money. He's closer to being above-average and a solid No. 1 corner than he is a true lockdown player.

    What's important to remember is Gilmore will still be just 26 when the season kicks off, despite his 66 starts. A five-year deal could actually be fulfilled, as he'd be just 31 at the conclusion of it. He's in his prime and has avoided missing major time since 2013. As long as expectations are in line, Gilmore can be a good signing and a significant upgrade for young teams and contenders alike.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Even the great press corners struggle in off and bail coverages. The same is true when they have to deal with angular routes from a cushion—a few games of Richard Sherman tape will tell you that. Gilmore may have been affected by a change in scheme and Ryan's recent, highly puzzling inability to do what's best schematically for his players, but he still had five picks and allowed just two touchdowns.

    In any system that allows him to press and determine position from the snap, he's still got dominant potential. The top-five money? That might be out of the picture, but some team will make him quite rich.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals

2. A.J. Bouye

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 19/30
    Recovery: 19.8/30
    Slot: 15.9/20
    Tackling: 5.4/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 69.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 20/133

                    

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    The Houston Texans carried one of the deepest cornerback depth charts in the league, keeping the talented but raw A.J. Bouye hidden until injuries required him to start 11 games in 2016. Bouye had flashed significant upside in 2014 as a second-year player in his starts, but was relegated to a reserve role after the Texans added Kevin Johnson to the core of Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson.

    But his flashes evolved toward a more consistent level when given the opportunity, and now he's our third-best free-agent cornerback on the market.

    Bouye has the size that every team will covet, standing 6'0" and 191 pounds. More importantly, he enjoys a physical style of play. Sometimes that doesn't pay off, as his 10 defensive penalties show. But the mindset is what's an important tell, as every successful cornerback has to be willing to test the limitations of the referee's whistle.

    The advantage of playing in Houston behind a crafty veteran like Joseph is the improved technique in man, zone, off and press coverages. Ideally, Bouye will press a majority of his snaps and maximize his length and fluidity. The ability to play in any scheme will greatly favor the 25-year-old's standing in many teams' eyes.

    Despite his limited starting experience, with only 19 total starts, Bouye is a better risk than Byron Maxwell was two years ago—meaning he should see a big score from a corner-needy team.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: The value of the true lockdown cornerback in the modern NFL has teams trying to ignore the specter of the one-year wonder, and Bouye will be the most recent beneficiary of that phenomenon. That's not to say Bpuye isn't a legitimate multi-year star in the making; his tape is really impressive.

    But one should always proceed with caution when the proverbial light goes on over half a season in a contract year, and the player in question is now in line for a major cap hit over multiple seasons. Bouye is just as versatile as he seems; it's just a matter of the right overall scheme. He can trail receivers with the best of them, and he's quick enough in short spaces to handle the best receiver cuts. 

                         

    Potential Suitors: Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals

1. Malcolm Butler

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 19.6/30
    Recovery: 19.4/30
    Slot: 15.9/20
    Tackling: 5.5/10
    Positional Value: 9/10 
    Overall: 69.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 CB Rank: 18/133

                        

    NFL1000 cornerback scout Ian Wharton

    From undrafted free agent to Super Bowl hero to one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL on a weekly basis, Malcolm Butler will be staring down his first big payday in the near future. A restricted free agent, Butler will likely again be with the New England Patriots next season, even if it is on a one-year deal. An early extension could benefit both parties, and that's been New England's preferred method of keeping in-house talent throughout its dynasty.

    Butler could sacrifice a bigger overall contract for some security and more money up front if he were to sign a long-term deal this offseason instead of playing out a one-year pact before hitting unrestricted free agency next year. Playing in New England would be tremendously advantageous on the field despite hurting his overall net worth compared to what he'd fetch on the open market.

    The 27-year-old is a solid overall corner who can play in both man and zone schemes as a boundary and nickel, but he excels in press zone. He finds the ball well, and despite dropping some easy interceptions in his first two starting seasons, he breaks up a lot of passes, totaling 31 over the past two years. If he becomes available, defenses looking for a refined technician with a versatile skill set would have to prioritize Butler.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: Allowing just 59 receptions on 105 targets through the 2016 regular- and postseason, Butler has proved beyond a doubt that there's a lot more to him than the play that ended Super Bowl XLIX. He's likely got at least one more year with the Patriots, and if he's able to duplicate his 2016 performance, the combination of his tape and the fact that he's done so well in a Bill Belichick defense will make him a highly prized free agent to just about every team—including Belichick's. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts

    Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus and B/R scouting, unless otherwise noted.