Best Cornerbacks in the NFL 2023: Sauce Gardner Tops the List, Jalen Ramsey and Stephon Gilmore Battle Atop Rankings

Best Cornerbacks in the NFL 2023: Sauce Gardner Tops the List, Jalen Ramsey and Stephon Gilmore Battle Atop Rankings

The dominance of the modern passing game in the NFL forces teams to invest in cornerbacks and for fans to more closely pay attention to the back seven, making the question of who the best cornerbacks are in the NFL even more relevant than it has been in the past.

Cornerbacks drive modern NFL defenses, and without an elite one, it’s impossible to lay claim to a high-level defense. Let’s look at who the top cornerback in the NFL is and where the top NFL cornerbacks fall on the list after that.

Who’s the Best Cornerback in the NFL?

The New York Jets’ Sauce Gardner is the best cornerback in the NFL today. It’s difficult to think of many times a rookie cornerback entered the league and immediately became the best player at their position, but Gardner has managed it.

Some of this has to do with the dearth of shutdown cornerbacks across the league, but Gardner is playing at an elite level. His physical talent stands out immediately; it’s not just that players that large shouldn’t be able to move with that speed or agility, it’s also that he does it with such fluidity and ease that it looks effortless.

MORE: Sauce Gardner Named Defensive Rookie of the Year

Gardner’s been sticky in coverage and has been able to take on receivers of every stripe, playing quick players tightly and breaking up passes for contested-catch mavens. Gardner’s shown that he can win in man, zone, and mixed coverages. He has deep downfield speed, patience at the line of scrimmage, and plays physically without incurring flags. It’s a remarkable skill set.The best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2023.

Cornerback Rankings 2-10

2) Jalen Ramsey, Miami Dolphins

In a “down year,” Jalen Ramsey was still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Aside from shutting down opposing receivers, he showcased fantastic run-stopping ability and is scheme neutral — he can succeed at whatever is asked of him.

3) Stephon Gilmore, Indianapolis Colts

Unlike some of the other cornerbacks on this list, Stephon Gilmore shadows players like an old-school shutdown corner. And in that spirit, he’s closing out his opponents.

Gardner and Ramsey may be doing more with their incredible physical skills, but that doesn’t take away from Gilmore’s strength, speed, and savvy. He’s not playing at the level of his DPOY season, but it’s close.

4) Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos

Patrick Surtain II has been quite literally living up to his name as an elite cornerback and has helped the Denver Broncos maintain their position as a top-tier defense even after trading away their star edge rusher.

Teams are afraid to throw at Surtain, and he has one of the lowest target totals among cornerbacks in the NFL right now. When he’s targeted, it often goes badly for quarterbacks.

5) Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles

Darius Slay has been a nightmare for opposing passers, with one of the highest rates of pass breakups in the NFL when targeted. Slay’s length and speed truly stood out this past season in the Eagles’ scheme, and passing windows are tighter than ever. He was as crucial to Philadelphia’s run at the Super Bowl as any defensive lineman.

6) Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers

A little more inconsistent than the other cornerbacks on this list, Jaire Alexander’s best is still among the elites. His ability to come up in big moments propels him further up the board than other, more consistent, players.

Alexander’s athletic skill set allows him to play all three CB spots, and his instincts give him great opportunities to close down on his opponents. The Packers’ defense hasn’t played up to its potential, but Alexander is not the reason why.

7) Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

Trevon Diggs is playing better at cornerback than he was last year when he earned All-Pro consideration and led the league in interceptions. The reason is that, even though his turnover totals are down, he’s playing more consistently and giving up fewer yards in coverage.

Week to week, Diggs is doing an excellent job creating tough passing windows and contributing to one of the top defenses in the league by being a demon in coverage.

8) James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles

Playing opposite Slay is James Bradberry, who might be one of the best offseason pickups this year. Bradberry looks like his Carolina self instead of how he looked in New York, and the result has been shutdown play. Like Slay, Bradberry has length and speed and knows how to use it, though his quickness and instincts are just a tick below Slay’s.

9) Charvarius Ward, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have had elite play at all three levels of the defense, so it’s difficult to fully appreciate the great players that play alongside Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, and Talanoa Hufanga.

However, Charvarius Ward is one of the critical pieces to the dominant 49ers defense that shut down the explosive Miami Dolphins, embarrassed Tom Brady, ended Seattle’s hopes for a divisional crown, and held Justin Herbert’s Chargers to just 16 points.

10) Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The focus of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been Brady and his level of play, but the defense is incredibly underrated and has been driving their wins when they come. A big part of that comes from their secondary play.

MORE: Who Are the Highest-Paid Cornerbacks in the NFL in 2023?

And without Carlton Davis or Antoine Winfield Jr. at various points throughout the season, it’s been up to Jamel Dean to step up. He’s answered the call. Dean is playing high-level football and has been for a little while.

11) Chidobe Awuzie, Cincinnati Bengals

After suffering a torn ACL midway through the season, Chidobe Awuzie was unable to contribute to a Bengals defense that ended up needing someone as talented as him to finish out their playoff run. Awuzie is a high-level corner that showed up to Cincinnati playing at an average level signed to an average deal. They’ve gotten more than their money’s worth as he’s turned into a zone-coverage maven that didn’t allow a touchdown all season, doesn’t allow yards after the catch and made life difficult for even some of the best receivers in the NFL.

12) A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons

A young phenom mired in an otherwise disappointing defense, A.J. Terrell might be the future of the Falcons. He’s already turned in high-level performances both years of his career. In 2021, he allowed just 200 total yards on the season. He, too, has been better in zone coverage with his eyes pointed at the quarterback, which might explain the dropoff in play in 2022, but he’s still a fantastic player.

13) Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots

Jonathan Jones finally proved he could play on the outside instead of just in the slot and he played lights out. He does a great job plastering himself to receivers in man coverage and never fails to create tight windows regardless of his assignment. His size disadvantage against larger receivers did make it difficult for him to be consistent, but he’s been otherwise a great corner.

14) Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills

A previous defensive player of the year candidate, Tre’Davious White has played outstanding football. But he hasn’t lived up to the level of player he demonstrated in 2019, where he was one of the best man coverage corners in the NFL. Injuries have slowed him down and he’s no longer the elite corner he once was, but he could recover that athleticism and level of play going forward. Even if he doesn’t, he’s a quality player.

15) Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens

Marlon Humphrey has been a fantastic ball-hawk for Baltimore and a big part of their blitz-heavy, man coverage-dependent scheme, though he’s shown the versatility to win in similar zone situations, like Cover-4 and Cover-3. His slot-outside flexibility has been an enormous help for the team as well. Though he can gamble and make mistakes, his ability and awareness to get his hands on the ball is tremendous. Lately, that’s resulted in more pass deflections than interceptions, but it’s a great asset and the fact that he can regularly force fumbles is a nice bonus.

Top Cornerbacks: 16-32

16) Mike Hilton, Cincinnati Bengals
17) Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs
18) D.J. Reed, New York Jets
19) Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
20) Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers
21) Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks
22) Desmond King II, Houston Texans
23) Kader Kohou, Miami Dolphins
24) Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh Steelers
25) Martin Emerson, Cleveland Browns
26) L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs
27) Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
28) Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens
29) Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
30) Patrick Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
31) Adoree’ Jackson, New York Giants
32) Kendall Fuller, Washington Commanders