Cornerbacks are a premium position in today’s NFL. That makes pretty obvious sense for a league where 4,000 passing yards no longer elicits any excitement. So which teams have the best group of cornerbacks?
You can, and should, debate the order, but the top five teams on this list all look elite to me, at corner anyway. Atlanta would not have been in the fifth spot this time last year, and I expect Dallas to be even closer to the top after the season, maybe before that even. There’s even more room for debate when you get into the next tier of teams, but some of those units have a question or two to answer.
Let us know in the comments which teams we got right and which ones we missed on. Here is our ranking of the NFL’s best set of cornerbacks:
1. New York Jets
Best Player: Darrelle Revis
Revis can claim the title of the league’s best cornerback. He and Antonio Cromartie make a formidable duo. Kyle Wilson improved in his second season, playing the nickel role, but needs to take a step forward this season. Keep an eye on Donnie Fletcher, a raw prospect who could sneak up the depth chart.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Best Player: Lardarius Webb
Webb looked the part when he moved into a starting role late in 2009, his rookie year. He qualified as elite last season, not allowing a single touchdown pass, according to the data from PFF, and intercepting eight passes. Jimmy Smith appears to have the starting gig opposite Webb locked up. Cary Williams makes a solid third corner and could start as well. Corey Graham was a special teams upgrade this year, and fifth-round pick Asa Jackson adds depth.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Best Player: Nnamdi Asomugha
We can spare you the “dream team” line here. Philly’s secondary underwhelmed last year, but the talent is here for a big rebound as the team moves to more press coverage. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie takes over for the departed Asante Samuel and has to prove that he can do more. Joselio Hanson has been a good slot corner, and rookie Brandon Boykin can step in if he falters. Curtis Marsh could be a factor as well.
4. Dallas Cowboys
Best Player: Brandon Carr
Visions of Eli Manning throwing practice reps against the secondary no doubt influenced Dallas’ offseason plans. Not only did the Cowboys sign a legitimate No. 1 corner in free agency in Carr, they drafted one as well, trading up to the sixth pick for Morris Claiborne. Orlando Scandrick looks like a lock in the slot role. Disgruntled Mike Jenkins could be dealt during training camp. If they can find a path to appeasement, keeping Jenkins gives them even more depth.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Best Player: Brent Grimes
Grimes put it all together last season, and his name showed up as the league’s second-best corner in PFF’s rankings, just behind Revis. Thankfully for the Falcons, he signed his franchise tender. Atlanta traded away some magic beans to get Asante Samuel from the Eagles and now has one of the better starting duos in the NFC. The move also allows the team to move Dunta Robinson into the slot role, which is a better fit. Dominique Franks and Chris Owens bring up the rear of the depth chart.
6. San Francisco 49ers
Best Player: Carlos Rogers
Rogers had a big bounce back season playing for Jim Harbaugh. Whatever was in the water there helped Tarell Brown put together a pretty good season, his first as a starter. Chris Culliver resumes his role as the third corner. Perrish Cox joined Harbaugh’s halfway house crew this year. If the locker room doesn’t explode, he has the talent to start at some point. Tramaine Brock is a sold depth guy too.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
Best Player: Brandon Flowers
The Chiefs lost Brandon Carr, but replacing him with Stanford Routt keeps their starting duo strong. Javier Arenas has done well in the slot. De’Quan Menzie, a fifth-round pick, has the potential to contribute as an inside corner as well.
8. Houston Texans
Best Player: Johnathan Joseph
Few offseason additions had the kind of impact Joseph did for the Texans last season. Another season opposite Joseph will help Kareem Jackson get closer to his status as a first-round pick in 2010. Brice McCain was solid in the nickel role. Houston does not have the deepest group, but it can be effective.
9. Seattle Seahawks
Best Player: Richard Sherman
The idea of Brandon Browner, a four-year CFL player, starting drew chuckles last September. He had six interceptions and two touchdowns, while keeping a lid on opposing receivers. Only his penalty trouble pulled him down. Richard Sherman, a rookie fifth-round pick, proved to be an even better corner than Browner. Keep an eye on how well this pair plays with Dallas, Green Bay and New England on the docket during the first six games of the season. Marcus Trufant returns this season as a veteran backup.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Best Player: Ike Taylor
Taylor had a solid season, but he turned 32 in May. Keenan Lewis played well enough to earn a shot at replacing William Gay opposite Taylor this season. Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, both entering their second-year, will continue working their way up the depth chart this season.
11. New York Giants
Best Player: Corey Webster
Webster had a career-high six interceptions last year. With Terrell Thomas back in the fold this season, the Giants have a good pair of starters at corner. Prince Amukamara, last year’s first-round pick, was still struggling with the foot he broke in training camp last year, but he did manage to get back on the field late in his rookie season. A positive marijuana test made Jayron Hosley a value pick in the third round, and he could be in the mix later in the season.
12. Tennessee Titans
Best Player: Jason McCourty
A Titans defensive backfield without Cortland Finnegan will take some getting used to. Fortunately for Tennessee, they have a capable, young pair of starters in Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. Reports from spring practices have Tommie Campbell working on the outside and Verner sliding to the slot in nickel packages. Coty Sensabaugh’s speed could get him some looks, and watch how Ryan Mouton rebounds from an Achilles tear that kept him out last season.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
Best Player: Leon Hall
Hall was playing well until his tore his ACL. The Bengals expect him back for camp, but keep an eye on just how effective he is. It would be a minor upset if rookie first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick is not starting in Week 1, especially with Hall’s status cloudy and Nate Clements starting to show his age. Pacman Jones, Jason Allen and Terrence Newman add some experienced depth.
14. Arizona Cardinals
Best Player: Patrick Peterson
You can be forgiven if you forget Peterson did something besides return punts last year. Arizona needs him to play better in coverage in his second season. Steelers free agent William Gay has a line on the other starting spot, taking over for Greg Toler who missed all of last season with an ACL tear. Rookie Jamell Fleming has the talent to play his way into a role this year.
15. Buffalo Bills
Best Player: Stephon Gilmore
Buffalo drafted Gilmore with the 10th pick in the draft this year, but he has been playing behind Leodis McKelvin in spring practices. Expect that to change; in fact, don’t be surprised if McKelvin is playing somewhere else, down the depth chart, when the season starts. Aaron Williams should be better his in second season, and McGee to the slot helps solves the subpar rotation they used there last year.
16. Cleveland Browns
Best Player: Joe Haden
Cleveland has a very good corner in Haden. Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine will press Sheldon Brown, 33, for the starting job opposite Haden. Trevin Wade, a seven-round pick this year, and James Dockery, a UDFA last year, can make a case for playing time with a strong camp.
17. Chicago Bears
Best Player: Charles Tillman
Chicago can boast the best group of corners in their division. Neither Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford completed a touchdown pass against Tillman last year, and he even frustrated Calvin Johnson in coverage. Tim Jennings had a career year in 2011. Free agent addition Kelvin Hayden should be better in Chicago’s cover-2 defense as a third corner. They also have D.J. Moore in the mix with a pair of late round draft picks, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy.
18. Denver Broncos
Best Player: Champ Bailey
Bailey looks like an ageless wonder at 34. Nevertheless, Denver added a pair of free agents in Tracy Porter andDrayton Florence to bolster the team’s starting rotation. A one-year contract give Porter some extra incentive to bound back from a poor season. Chris Harris is a decent nickel, and fourth-round pick Omar Bolden gives the Broncos some youth.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars
Best Player: Derek Cox
Jacksonville’s corners were hit hard by injury last season. When Cox was in the lineup, he played well. Rashean Mathis’ age and rehab from a torn ACL probably gives Aaron Ross, a free agent addition, the edge over him. William Middleton played well when pressed into service; only Cox had a better grade in coverage according to Pro Football Focus.
20. St. Louis Rams
Best Player: Cortland Finnegan
One of the league’s worst secondaries last year, the arrival of Jeff Fisher brought in Finnegan to add a real shutdown presence to the team’s backfield. Rookie Janoris Jenkins is the odds-on favorite to start opposite Finnegan. Bradley Fletcher can be a quality starter, but two ACL tears in three years is real hurdle. Trumaine Johnson, a third-round pick, could play a role too. This is a group mostly made up of raw talent — behind Finnegan — that could surprise.
21. Miami Dolphins
Best Player: Vontae Davis
Miami struggled even more in the four games that they were without Davis. Sean Smith had a down season, but could rebound in a contract year. Richard Marshall was a good offseason addition that adds a legitimate starter if Davis or Smith miss any time.
22. Green Bay Packers
Best Player: Tramon Williams
Williams played through a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener all last year, setting up a disappointing season after a dominant 2010. Because it affected the the nerves in his shoulder, he is still not at 100 percent.Charles Woodson tied for the league lead with seven interceptions, but his coverage was average at best. He turns 36 in September and could move to safety depending on how quickly second-round pick Casey Hayward catches on. Sam Shields saw the third-most snaps of any Packers corner last year.
23. New Orleans Saints
Best Player: Jabari Greer
A shoulder injury compromised Greer’s effectiveness last season as part of a unit whose underachievement was concealed by the offense. Patrick Robinson steps into Tracy Porter’s old starting job. A first-round pick in 2010, he earned a shot with his play last season. Johnny Patrick moves into the third corner role in his second season. Rookie Corey White is waiting in the wings should Patrick falter.
24. New England Patriots
Best Player: Kyle Arrington
Picking “the best” from this group is really more like picking the least offensive. Keep an eye on Alfonzo Dennard, a seventh-round pick this year who was once regarded as a first-round pick before a rough Senior Bowl and a pre-draft run-in with a cop. Arrington, Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling could start the season seeing most of the snaps at corner.
25. San Diego Chargers
Best Player: Antoine Cason
Cason and Quentin Jammer both had down years in 2011, part of which could be attributed to the lack of pressure from the front of San Diego’s defense. According to Pro Football Focus’ numbers, Cason’s coverage grade flatlined at zero last year, after leading the team at 6.4 the year before. Jammer really fell off, and at age 33, the declining numbers signal a trend. Norv Turner has to hope that Marcus Gilchrist can improve in his second season, showing enough to work his way into the rotation on the outside. Shareece Wright is another second-year player hoping for a mulligan.
26. Washington Redskins
Best Player: Josh Wilson
Yep, Wilson is Washington’s best corner, no matter what DeAngelo Hall might think of himself. Wilson graded out with a 1.2 in coverage versus a -8.5 for Hall, according to PFF last season. Tony Romo was 11-for-13 against Hall last year with one touchdown. Cedric Griffin, signed as a free agent, helps the rotation, if he can stay healthy. Kevin Barnes is getting some work at safety after working as the team’s primary nickel corner.
27. Minnesota Vikings
Best Player: Antoine Winfield
A broken collar bone kept Winfield off the field most of last season. He enters this year, at age 35, as Minnesota’s top corner. Chris Cook being found not guilty on domestic violence charges this spring was the equivalent of a free agent addition for Minnesota. He has talent, if he can stay focused. Signing former Raven Chris Carr bolsters the depth chart, and third-round pick Josh Robinson has potential.
28. Carolina Panthers
Best Player: Chris Gamble
Gamble deserves more credit than he received for his play last year, considering he had almost no help from the other 10 players on the field with him. Captain Munnerlyn is penciled in as the other starting corner, but works best with limited exposure. Fourth-round pick Josh Norman, a Mike Mayock endorsed player, generated buzz in spring practices that he could press for a starting role this year. Cast off by the Patriots, Darius Butler made six starts last year. Brandon Hogan is still recovering from a torn ACL.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Player: Aqib Talib
Talib’s assault charges were dropped last month, which means Tampa still has its top corner. Ronde Barber is a safety now, and Eric Wright replaces him after signing a free agent deal far above his ability. E.J. Biggers is a so-so third corner, and Myron Lewis is a warm body. Sixth-round pick Keith Tandy could leap up the depth chart by default.
30. Detroit Lions
Best Player: Chris Houston
Picking Detroit’s best corner is a toss up. Houston should be, but he dislocated his shoulder in the playoff loss to New Orleans. Third-year man Aaron Berry should start opposite Houston, but his recent DUI arrest did him, or the team, no favors. Alphonso Smith is certainly vocal, but has been the subject of frequent trade rumors in the offseason. Being a Colts’ castoff raises questions about Jacob Lacey, the slot corner. Jim Schwartz has to hope that third-round pick Dwight Bentley is a quick learner, because Detroit’s secondary is a real liability.
31. Oakland Raiders
Best Player: Ron Bartell
Oakland’s best cornerback was released by the St. Louis Rams this spring. Let that sink in for a moment. The Raiders could not afford the bad contract they gave Routt, forcing them to let him go. Bartell was a decent corner with the Rams, but fractured a vertebrae in his neck last season. Shawntae Spencer is another rebound candidate. A starter for the 49ers, he fell out of favor in 2011 and saw his playing time cut drastically. DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa represent the youth movement.
32. Indianapolis Colts
Best Player: Jerraud Powers
Blech, this secondary is bad. Powers would be a middling second corner on most teams. With Kevin Thomas as the other starter, you can understand why they would be interested in trying to get Dallas to part with Mike Jenkins. They signed Justin King, who the Rams declined to re-sign, to add veteran depth.