Though the debate between prioritizing pass rush vs. coverage has been ongoing, it’s undeniable that cornerbacks help define modern defenses. That’s why it pays to have the best cornerbacks in the NFL on your favorite team.
Without an elite cornerback, it’s impossible to produce an elite defense. That’s why we ranked the best cornerbacks in the NFL and identified the top players at the position in the league.
Who’s the Best Cornerback in the NFL?
The New York Jets’ Sauce Gardner is the NFL’s best NFL cornerback today. Rookie cornerbacks rarely enter the league with an immediate impact, but he demonstrated on-field traits typical of elite corners and had the production to match.
In today’s NFL, there seemingly aren’t that many shutdown cornerbacks, so that helps Gardner’s case — his 2022 campaign wasn’t up to the standards of 2009 Darrelle Revis or 2006 Champ Bailey — but he played at an elite level.
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Gardner has uncommon speed and fluidity for someone with his size and length, making all of his on-field movements look effortless. He combines that with an advanced understanding of opposing offenses and a fantastic ability to read receivers, anticipating route combinations and double-moves with the eyes of a 10-year veteran.
Gardner’s been sticky in coverage and has been able to take on every kind of receiver, challenging big possession pass catchers in the air and out-competing quicker slot weapons in space. 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.
Cornerback Rankings 2-10
2) Jalen Ramsey, Miami Dolphins
Jalen Ramsey had one of his worst years as a corner in quite some time — perhaps his worst year as an NFL player — and it was still better than 99 percent of cornerbacks in the league. Not only can he make life hell for opposing receivers, but he’s also one of the most physical run-stopping corners in the NFL and can play in any scheme.
3) Stephon Gilmore, Dallas Cowboys
Stephon Gilmore is still playing at an elite level at his age, and he’s doing it unlike many other corners, shadowing a team’s best opposing receiver and erasing them from the game.
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 didn’t play at the level of his DPOY season in 2022, but it was close.
4) Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos maintained defensive performance after trading away their star edge rusher, and the reason was Patrick Surtain II. He’s been quite literally living up to his name as an elite cornerback forcing teams to throw away from him. He had one of the lowest target rates in the NFL and has great performance on balls thrown his way.
5) Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
Darius Slay has had one of the highest “ball-hawk rates” — pass deflections and interceptions per targeted pass — and it’s a product of his savvy, speed, and length. The scheme maximized what he did well, shrinking passing windows and enabling a Super Bowl run.
6) Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
At his best, Jaire Alexander is up there with the top cornerbacks in the NFL. He has been more inconsistent than them, which is why he placed sixth on the list, but there are days when he looks better than all of them. Given that he tends to come up big in the most important moments, his inconsistency hasn’t hurt him too much.
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 had a better 2022 than 2021 despite earning All-Pro consideration from leading the league in interceptions that year. Even though he had fewer turnovers, he played with more consistency and gave up fewer yards in coverage.
Week to week, Diggs has done 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
The Eagles were able to retain their cornerback group despite losing a number of other players on defense, and that’s great news. James Bradberry, playing opposite Slay, has played his best football in Philadelphia. He, like Slay, has length and speed and the awareness to know how to use them well though he doesn’t have the same high-level instincts.
9) Charvarius Ward, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers found ways to shut down some of the top offenses in the NFL, and though they have elite talent at every position, a big part of that was Charvarius Ward. His coverage numbers are impressive, and they come in part because he has great instincts for how he and his teammates need to react to changing offensive circumstances.
10) Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers’ defense didn’t get much discussion last year, but they played at a high level for most of the season. Their wins had come primarily through the defense, not the offense, and that defense featured fantastic play in the secondary.
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Without Carlton Davis or Antoine Winfield Jr. at various points throughout 2022, it was up to Jamel Dean to step up, and he answered the call. Dean played 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. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Awuzie is a franchise corner.
He arrived as an average-quality corner but has improved substantially since then. He’s turned into a zone-coverage maven that didn’t allow a touchdown all season, limits after-catch yardage, and made life difficult for even some of the best receivers in the NFL.
12) A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons
A.J. Terrell is a lone bright spot on the Falcons’ defense, and he’s played well for two years. He allowed only 200 yards in his rookie year and was played out of scheme in 2022 while still turning in an even better year. If he can allow his man coverage abilities to match his zone coverage capability, he’ll be one of the best corners in the NFL.
13) Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots
Jonathan Jones played on the outside in 2022, and it turned out to be a great decision. He was a great slot corner, but he turned those skills into great outside play and found ways to plaster himself to opposing receivers in man coverage. There are still size concerns to overcome, but he plays well.
14) Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
Tre’Davious White has played outstanding football year after year and has been a deserving candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in multiple seasons. He’s fallen off a bit since 2019 when he was an elite man coverage player, but he’s still an incredible asset for the Bills to have. Injuries may be part of the issue, and if he recovers his speed and quickness, he’ll potentially turn into an elite player again. If not, he’s still better than most CB1s in the league.
15) Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens had built their defense off of a blitz-heavy scheme that puts stress on their corners to win in man coverage, and players like Marlon Humphrey were key to making that work. He’s been capable in Cover 3 and Cover 4, and he wins on the inside and on the boundary. He’s a bit of a gambler at times and can get burned as a result, but his ball-hawk rate is fantastic, and he knows how to turn the ball over. It’s a great asset to have.
16) Mike Hilton, Cincinnati Bengals
Mike Hilton was the best blitzing cornerback in the NFL when he played for the Steelers and played above-average in coverage before signing with the Bengals. He maintained that ability to blitz but improved his coverage ability in Cincinnati, manning the slot in ways that enabled the rest of the Bengals’ defense to take off.
17) Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have done well with their young cornerback group, and Trent McDuffie is the biggest part of it. He’s remarkably physical but plays inside the lines. His size will limit his upside, but he does a great job forcing bigger receivers into difficult positions, and he’s improved his press coverage capability since college. He has the speed to keep up deep, though his recovery ability isn’t up there with some of the top players at the position.
18) D.J. Reed, New York Jets
The Jets’ decision to pair D.J. Reed with Gardner was inspired, and they ended up with the top cornerback group in the NFL as a result. There aren’t many elite cornerback pairs left in the modern NFL, and it looks like the Jets are attempting to revive the successful Cromartie-Revis era of the late 2000s. It’s working, and Reed has done an excellent job limiting opportunities for quarterbacks scared to test Gardner.
19) Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
One of the more underrated cornerbacks, Tyson Campbell has always had a knack for getting his hands on the ball. He’s reeled in his gambling tendencies and has done a fantastic job limiting opposing receivers despite issues with Jacksonville’s pass rush and at safety. If he can keep this up, he’ll move up the ranks.
20) Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers
Of any player with 375 coverage snaps, Horn had the fewest total allowed receiving yards in 2022 and was fifth among all players in yards allowed per snap behind Gardner, Surtain, Bradberry, and Campbell. His size and length are a big part of his playstyle, and it’s a shame he couldn’t put together a complete rookie year to put all of his talents on display. In his upcoming third year, he might be able to establish himself as a top corner in the NFL.
21) Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks
There are a few players on this list that have “uncommon” or “rare” movement ability for their size, but there is no one in the NFL like Tariq Woolen. Few players at any position ran a 4.26 40-yard dash or faster, and few players at the cornerback position can play at 6’4″.
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Woolen did both and plays like it, with incredible on-field speed, recovery ability, and surprising fluidity. He plays to his 42-inch vertical as well. He needs technical refinement, but he’s truly a marvel.
22) Desmond King II, Houston Texans
As a primary slot corner, King was great, but he was pushed to the outside and played better than the Texans could have hoped. He’s not an elite player and had his size get the best of him at times, but his savvy and quickness have served him well.
23) Kader Kohou, Miami Dolphins
A surprise after seeing multiple Dolphins miss time due to injury, Kader Kohou put together an excellent rookie year despite not getting reps as an undrafted free agent, and he showcased that he could find ways to win, especially in press coverage. His technical capability has surpassed a number of veterans, and he has the ability to become a cornerstone of the defense.
24) Cameron Sutton, Detroit Lions
The Lions were aggressive in free agency at resolving their back-end concerns, even after trading away starting cornerback Jeff Okudah. Cameron Sutton gives them inside-out flexibility, and his quickness has been a big asset for him throughout his career. He’s been better in zone coverage, and he isn’t as physical as some other slot corners, but he helps improve almost any team he’s on.
25) Martin Emerson, Cleveland Browns
Like Kohou and Campbell, Martin Emerson has escaped larger public attention despite his high level of play. He only allowed a 50 percent completion rate in coverage and shined when he could play in man coverage. Emerson plays with physicality and does a great job rerouting receivers and disrupting timing, and with all of the potential the Browns have on their back end, they could end up as a sneaky pick for one of the top defenses in the NFL.
26) L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs
L’Jarius Sneed has done well ever since his number was called his rookie year as a coverage player, but he’s added blitzing to his repertoire, and it’s been a big gain. Sneed has been effective in both man and zone coverage but thrives as a zone corner and does well with his eyes to the quarterback.
27) Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks
It’s hard to put rookies on the list, and, like Kohou and Woolen, rookies from later rounds or who were undrafted may surpass first-round picks. It’s always hard to predict which players will end up here. But Devon Witherspoon has the ability to immediately upgrade the Seahawks’ secondary and play at a high level right away, joining players like Surtain, Horn, and Gardner as highly drafted rookies who make an immediate impact.
28) Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
There’s some projection here for Xavien Howard. At his best, he’s a top-five cornerback. At his lowest, he’s a liability whose gambling tendencies don’t pay off. But if he’s fully back from injury, he’ll find ways to turn games in his favor. The Dolphins have the potential to have an elite secondary with Vic Fangio coordinating and a lot of talent on their roster. Howard is a big part of that.
29) Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Denzel Ward is a physical, athletic corner who has demonstrated a high level of technical skill. But 2022 was a down year, and he didn’t play with confidence — his awareness seemingly disappeared, and he couldn’t play up to the level of his previous seasons. After improvement late in the season, it’s believable that he could enter 2023 as a top-10 player.
30) Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots
A super-athlete with some technical improvement left before he can consistently shine as a corner, Christian Gonzalez could nevertheless make an immediate impact as a cornerback, especially in New England, where they find ways to maximize defensive backs better than almost any other team in the league. Gonzalez should match up athletically with every type of receiver
31) Patrick Peterson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Patrick Peterson no longer has the all-world athletic ability that made him such an outstanding option in Arizona, but he has incredible awareness and vision. He’s a bit better as a zone corner now, but his ability to diagnose offenses and close in on receivers still makes him a huge asset.
Without the speed to keep up with deep threats or the quickness to deal with shifty slot receivers, he won’t be a great matchup for every offense. But he’s a good player to have on the roster.
32) Adoree’ Jackson, New York Giants
Another great athlete, Adoree’ Jackson revived his career in New York and became a huge part of their playoff run. He played extremely up and down and doesn’t have the high-level understanding of offenses that other corners have, but he does do a good job of deploying his athleticism to limit receivers.