There are three legitimate great cornerbacks in the NFL: Charles Woodson, Darrelle Revis and Champ Bailey. No knock on Ronde Barber, but he has been in a Tampa 2-system for the majority of his career. I wouldn't put him in the class with those three. But of the four cornerbacks mentioned, three of them are well past their prime, in their mid-to-late 30s and all bound to retire within the next three seasons. Revis is like wine, and has only been getting better year after year. But among elite cornerbacks, after Revis there is arguably a huge drop off.
Finnegan is another intimidating CB who was a nuisance around the league with his physical play. He hit as hard as linebackers, and has great cover skills. He is reuniting with the coach who drafted him, as he signed a huge free agent contract with the St. Louis Rams and their new head coach Jeff Fisher. You can argue for Asomugha that the switch from AFC to NFC also was a contributing factor to his struggles last season. Finnegan will have to make the same adjustment this upcoming season. He seems to blend in with any defensive scheme, so only time will tell if the switch in conferences effect on him as well.
Joseph, on the other hand had arguably his best season of his career, production wise. In 2009, he recorded more tackles, interceptions and passes defensed with the Cincinnati Bengals. But this past season with the Texans, he was on a top-3 ranked defense, and recorded 44 tackles, four interceptions and 15 passes defensed. He faired well in one-on-one coverage with some great WRs such as Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, Anquan Boldin and up-and-coming 2nd year player A.J. Green. Revis, Finnegan, Asomugha and Joseph are considered veterans in the NFL.
There are a couple of other veterans like NY Giants Cornerback Corey Webster , Kansas City's Brandon Flowers and Cincinnati's Leon Hall (if he stays healthy) to look out for this upcoming season. They are respected around the league, and out of the three, I think Webster is not only the most under-appreciated among the list I just noticed, but I think he does not get the recognition around the NFL that he deserves. Never is he hesitant to shadow the best WR on your team. And he makes sure his presence is felt every game. I expect Webster, along with his teammate Terrell Thomas (who missed all of the 2011 season) to have a stellar season in 2012. The two of them make a great combination. Look out for the Giants' secondary this season, especially if Prince Amukamara gets it together.
There is no coincidence that teams are drafting Cornerbacks above six feet tall with the new breed of freakish WRs and Tight Ends, who can easily outmuscle smaller cornerbacks. There are a few Cornerbacks who can easily match up with the bigger WRs when talking about size. But do they have the athleticism to go stride-for-stride with the bigger, faster and more athletic WRs? There are a few CBs who are not heavily praised around the league, but will be known after the 2012 season.
Sean Smith, Cornerback Miami Dolphins. 6-3, 214 pounds
The youngster out of Utah was drafted with high expectations from the Miami Dolphins. In the 2009 draft, the Dolphins took Vontae Davis in the first round and Smith in the 2nd, making them the future of their secondary. Davis is a smaller, faster CB compared to Smith. But like Al Davis once said, "you can't coach size." Size is one thing Smith most definitely has. With his macho attitude on the field, I expect Sean Smith to anchor the Dolphins' secondary this season and have his best season in the NFL in 2012.
Aaron Williams, Cornerback, Buffalo Bills. 6-0, 200 pounds
The San Jose, California native was a late first round pick in my mock of the 2011 draft. Buffalo stole him in the second round, however. I though he should have been drafted before Colorado's Jimmy Smith, who fell to the Baltimore Ravens in the late 1st round. Neither of them had stellar rookie seasons, but I must say that Williams looked far more impressive in his six starts compared to Smith, who only started three games last season. The Bills drafted Leodis McKelvin in the first round a couple of seasons ago. As a rookie, Williams took his starting job, and did fairly well. He only had one interception and five passes defensed, but teams weren't picking on him as much as they were McKelvin. After only seeing playing time in nine games last season, I think Williams will be the Bills' No. 1 Cornerback on the depth chart heading into next season, followed by rookie Stephon Gilmore, then McKelvin at Nickel.
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks. 6-3, 195 pounds
My high school football coach once said wide receivers become the best Cornerbacks. Sherman might be living proof of his theory. Starting out at WR at Stanford, Richard Sherman eventually switched over to Cornerback, the position in which he was drafted to play in the NFL. Once again, a case of the quote "You can't coach size." Sherman recorded 55 tackles, four interceptions and 17 passes defensed in his rookie year with the Seahawks. He has excellent hip flexibility to break on balls and beat WRs to the spot of where the ball is gonna be thrown by the quarterback. If his fellow teammate Brandon Browner did not have just as good of a season as Sherman had, one could have made a case that Sherman should have been in the pro bowl his rookie year. Browner is listed at 6'4", so it'll be nice to see which one of the two will man up to shadow divisional WRs Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald this upcoming season. My money is on Sherman.
A couple of other Cornerbacks to look out for this upcoming season is second year CB Chris Culliver with the San Francisco 49ers. He stuck out in several games to me last season, the first one against the Detroit Lions. Of course the 49ers bracketed Calvin Johnson for most of the game. But when in single coverage, Culliver was on Megatron most of the game, not their pro bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers.
I think rookie CB Casey Hayward will make an immediate impact with the Green Bay Packers. With the career ending injury to Safety Nick Collins, many believe that the Packers will move veteran Charles Woodson to safety. Hayward will see a lot of playing time early in Dom Capers' defense. I think he'll capitalize on his opportunities.