Arguably the most difficult position to play in the NFL, we are starting to see an entire new breed of cornerbacks with their outstanding heights and athleticism to adjust to any ball thrown their way. We have a couple of seasoned veterans who are going to hang them up for good in the next few years and are without a doubt future Hall Of Famers. We have one cornerback who has been shadowing the best wide receivers on every team he faces since he was a rookie, which has only been making him better and better. We have a bunch of young guys who are as physical as some Linebackers with the instincts of a cornerback and can cover ground like a free safety.
Top Shelf: Charles Woodson, Ronde Barber, Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis, Jonathan Joseph
-With two of the all-time greats who transitioned to safety this season, it hurts to say that they won’t make the list being that they are no longer listed as cornerbacks. However, we are honored to pay homage to them because the sport of football wouldn’t have been the same without Ronde Barber and Charles Woodson. In his sixteenth season, it is almost a miracle how little old Barber, who is only 5-10 and probably hasn’t been over 190 pounds since the Buccaneers Super Bowl run in 2002, has stuck around the NFL for so long. Barber is one of a select few players to record more than 25 sacks and 25 interceptions in his career. That alone deserves recognition, along with his 12 forced fumbles and seven defensive touchdowns.
Woodson on the other hand, is arguably the best cornerback the NFL has seen since Deion Sanders. With former Green Bay Packers Safety Nick Collins trying to make an NFL comeback after breaking a bone in his neck (even though he should retire), the Packers struggled to find a replacement to Collins. They gave Charlie Peprah a chance, but that didn’t quite work out, and Morgan Burnett is still a work in progress. In his eight years in Oakland, Woodson only played three full seasons, as he was constantly injured, leading to his departure with the Raiders. He only recorded 17 interceptions in those seven seasons. Since somewhat being reincarnated in Green Bay, this being his seventh season, Woodson has played five full seasons, and recorded an incredible 47 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles, almost 12 sacks and nine defensive touchdowns. He is hands down a first-ballet Hall Of Famer. One word to describe Woodson is inexorable.
You’d think the Broncos would move Champ Bailey to safety already, but he still shows that he can play on the outside (or at nickel if needed) and still be effective against the best wide receivers out there. Another sure HOFer, Bailey is in his fourteenth season, and can probably play five more once he makes the transition to safety. Had Woodson stayed healthy during his tenure in Oakland, the comparison of who’s the better corner out of him and Woodson would have been an even better debate. It will be a sweet moment that we will never forget if they are enshrined in the Hall of Fame the same year.
Revis and the performance he puts on every week is unbelievable. WRs get trapped on Revis Island and do absolutely nothing. It is a huge deal around the league when someone makes a fascinating catch on Revis or scores on him, which is still a rare occurrence. You can’t stop them all, but Revis stops a significant amount of them. He is the best cornerback in the NFL.
So then there is an argument for second best with three to four cornerbacks. Jonathan Joseph is one of the most disrespectful cornerbacks in the NFL (in a good way). He doesn’t have great stature, but he is one of the most physical cornerbacks in the NFL. His coverage skills are incredible, and it was once reported that when he became a free agent, in 55 attempts, quarterbacks completed only thirteen passes Joseph’s way. What an incredible burn rate. The Texans’ pass rush gets the most shine in Houston, but Joseph is probably the best player on that defense.
Next In Line: Cortland Finnegan, Nnamdi Asomugha, Brandon Flowers, Tramon Williams, Tracy Porter, Brandon Carr
-Of the group listed above, I’d say Cortland Finnegan is the best among the group. His physicality at the line of scrimmage and great tackling ability has transferred from Tennessee to St. Louis with him. For about five years, Nnamdi Asomugha was either 1a. or 1b. in several peoples’ perspective when discussing best cornerback in the league. After signing with Philadelphia, Asomugha hasn’t shown that he is the same cornerback we saw in Oakland, as Philadelphia mixes up their packages instead of just running press-man coverage, where Asomugha flourished. Flowers is one of the most slept on cornerbacks in the league. He can tackle, has great coverage skills and can compete with the best of them. Week 1 of the 2012 season showed what a disadvantage the Chiefs secondary is without Flowers. Julio Jones and Roddy White were constantly abusing Stanford Routt and Jacques Reeves, the number two and three listed corners on the depth chart.
Tramon Williams is one of the cornerbacks who can perform well in man, cover 2 or cover 3. He plays so far off and outside, which makes it so difficult for quarterbacks to guess what coverage he is in. Even in man, he’s at least five yards off and outside. He jumps a lot of routes and comes down heel faster than you can imagine on routes like slants and comebacks. Based on his performance against Chicago in Week 2, he is bound to have a huge season in 2012.
Tracy Porter has always had great coverage skills. He lacks the ability to tackle and is often injured, but when healthy, as we saw in Week 1 (as Porter was named Defensive Player of the Week), Porter can be an elite cover corner. He and Bailey are a great tandem.
Brandon Carr has a big mouth that hardly gets heard around the NFL. In his first four seasons, Carr started in all 64 games, not missing one. This being his fifth season as a professional and as a new addition to “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys, everything he says out of that organization is heard around the league. A prime example was when he said Victor Cruz wouldn’t be hitting his Salsa dance against Dallas in the season opening game, in which Carr locked Cruz down, and we weren’t able to see the Salsa. Carr should have a great year.
Young Guns: Richard Sherman, Joe Haden, Devin McCourty, Patrick Peterson, Vontae Davis, Janoris Jenkins, Morris Claiborne, Sean Smith, Chris Culliver
-Some might think it is blasphemous to add two rookies to this list after playing only four regular season games, but they were the top two cornerbacks in last years’ daft class to several others and myself. Janoris Jenkins has been facing the best that teams can offer him since he attended the Senior Bowl in high school and made an example out of the No. 2 player out of the entire 2008 class, Julio Jones.
Richard Sherman is not far from being an elite cornerback either. He had a stellar performance against Larry Fitzgerald in Week 1, and he may have an even better one against Dez Bryant in Week 2. A former wide receiver at Stanford, Sherman has great stature at 6’3 and well over 200 pounds. His instincts as a former wide receiver has helped him in guessing which routes receivers are going to run against him, leading to an interception. Pay very close attention to the play of this man.
Joe Haden is facing a tough situation right now, as he has been suspended for the last three games and has one more game to serve due to abusing the league substance policy. But Haden has shown constant flashes as a lockdown cornerback since he came into the league. He had a rough rookie season, but that is due to him defending the best wide receiver on every team while he was a pup. If you are strong mentally, that will only make you better, as it is doing for Haden.
Won’t Hurt To Have On Your Team: Antonio Cromartie, Antoine Cason, Carlos Rogers, Rashean Mathis, Corey Webster, Brandon Browner, Chris Cook, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason McCourty
-Some of these guys are veterans around the league, and some are young guys. Either way, they are all decent corners who deserve recognition. Carlos Rogers had the best season of his career last year in San Francisco, as many people wrote him off as a failed observation based on how high he was praised at Auburn. Guys like Brandon Browner, Antonio Cromartie and Rashean Mathis can fill in on almost any team just off their height alone. Receivers are getting bigger and bigger every year. For a cornerback to be 6’1” is a blessing. It adds more to his value too if he is as fast as a guy like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This may be an all-around defensive year, since quarterbacks lit it up around the entire league in 2011. If defenses are going to put a stop to allowing ten quarterbacks throw over 4,000 yards, the cornerbacks will be a huge contribution to making that happen.
Don’t Leave Them Out
-There are a couple of other guys like Leon Hall, Brent Grimes, Ike Taylor, Jimmy Smith, Stanford Routt, Cary Williams, Lardarius Webb and Aqib Talib who also have huge potential and deserve to be heard around the league. The list can go on and on. Guys like Grimes and Williams are very young and have a very high ceiling. The unfortunate thing for Grimes is his season was ended after Week 1. Cornerbacks are very important in the NFL and when a key guy like that goes down, it almost makes a team hit the panic button. Another cornerback who is always injured is Giants’ cornerback Terrell Thomas. Thomas can be one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL. Unfortunately for him, he just had his third ACL surgery in the last seven years. He and Grimes will both be free agents next year. Thomas will be restricted, so the Giants can re-sign him. That will be a tough call, however, being that Thomas is scheduled to make almost $6.5 million next year. He and the G-Men will more than likely come to an agreement of a pay cut if he is re-signed. As for Grimes, he will be one of the highest sought after free agents next year if he isn’t re-signed. Also, be on the look out for Broncos’ Chris Harris and Houston Texans’ Brandon Harris, two very good nickel cornerbacks.