Best Cornerbacks in the NFL 2023: Jalen Ramsey Leads the League While Devon Witherspoon Rises

The importance of defending the pass forces fans to ask, who are the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2023? Here's a look at the top 32.

The dominance of the modern passing game in the NFL forces teams to invest in cornerbacks and for fans to pay closer 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.

Check out our other top positional rankings here: QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | G | DT | EDGE | LB | S | K

Who’s the Best Cornerback in the NFL?

Jalen Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL. It feels good to be able to say that again after his injury.

He has done a little bit of everything for the Rams over the past few seasons in adverse conditions. But there’s not a more well-rounded CB in the NFL. Nobody can blend coverage skills and the ability to defend the run like Ramsey. It’s why some teams viewed him as a safety in the NFL Draft.

His start with the Dolphins was delayed by an injury, but he’s been magnificent since his return. Ramsey has been a ball magnet since his return, making a few incredible interceptions for the Miami defense. But he’s also down toward the bottom of completion percentage, and his QB rating against after Week 13 was 4.6.

Cornerback Rankings 2-10

2) Sauce Gardner, New York Jets

Sauce Gardner passed every test he’s taken dating back to when he was playing Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Like Patrick Surtain II, we thought his long speed may be a question, but it was only because he hadn’t needed to show it.

The positional leverage he maintains, in tandem with his outstanding route recognition skills, ease of movement, and length, make Gardner a weapon in zone coverage. That same fluidity and length allow him to lock receivers down in man, in addition to the technical prowess he possesses at the line of scrimmage.

3) Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos

The difference between Patrick Surtain and Gardner is negligible. The only real difference is the production against them, which will likely ebb and flow throughout their careers.

Surtain is similarly impressive from a technical and athletic perspective. However, he also has more density than Gardner and is slightly more physical overall.

4) Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers

The ultimate cornerback. Nobody has a greater CB attitude in the modern NFL than Jaire Alexander.

Surtain is quiet. Gardner is a Gen Z gamer. Ramsey has sass, but he’s not a massive on-field talker. Alexander trolls opposing receivers like that’s what he’s paid to do. He’s a gnat in coverage, and he annoys wide receivers the same way a gnat does humans.

“Man, ain’t nobody, first of all, ain’t nobody tough that I feel is tough, because if a receiver beat me, it’s probably something I did,” Alexander said to the cameras during his NFL Top 100 interview.

5) Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles

Darius Slay was cooked — until he wasn’t. When he came to Philadelphia from Detroit in 2020, he was looking as lost as a millennial without a GPS signal in the car.

MORE: Top CBs in the 2024 NFL Draft

But Slay had a career resurgence after turning 30 and only got better at 31. His length and ball skills make him one of the most dangerous defenders to target in the NFL.

6) Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints

There have been a few low points for Marshon Lattimore over the last few seasons despite possessing some of the greatest physical gifts we’ve seen at the position in a while. But such is the life of a cornerback.

With a 9.99 Relative Athletic Score, Lattimore has consistently been able to meld ferocious athleticism with an uncanny ability to make incredible plays in coverage. His mental trigger in Cover 3 is unbelievable.

There’s no delay in reaction to finding his new responsibility when his receiver drives underneath. He communicates and looks to delete the backside post or drive on a dig.

7) Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

Trevon Diggs was playing better at cornerback than he was last year when he earned All-Pro consideration and led the league in interceptions. He was playing more consistently in 2023 and gave up fewer big plays in coverage. The only disappointing part about Diggs’ season was the missed opportunities to make plays on the ball.

Diggs was playing at an incredibly high level before his season-ending injury.

8) Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Together, Denzel Ward and Alexander ushered in a new era of NFL cornerbacks. One that was not beholden to arbitrary height standards. They proved tall enough to ride this ride.

Everything on the back end was a disaster for Cleveland a season ago. Jim Schwartz, though, is taking things back to the basics and allowing an incredibly talented group to shine doing what they do best — cover men as closely as possible and cover space to disallow big plays.

9) Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens

Marlon Humphrey has consistently been one of the great cornerbacks in the NFL despite the difficulty presented by playing in Wink Martindale’s defense for almost the entire time. Asked to move mountains and play everywhere on defense, Humphrey has been a playmaker since Day 1.

Then he showed what he could look like in a more modern coverage-based defense. Humphrey was far less volatile in Mike Macdonald’s defense in 2022. His alignment versatility makes him a defensive weapon.

10) D.J. Reed, New York Jets

Size doesn’t matter in 99% of cases, and D.J. Reed is living proof of that. Reed’s coverage intelligence has always been off the charts, and his natural fluidity allows him to transition from depth straight into the hip pocket of opposing receivers. The 5’8″ CB produced his best ball production ever in 2022 in Robert Saleh’s defense.

11) DaRon Bland, Dallas Cowboys

DaRon Bland has been an incredible development for the Cowboys. Since starting his career a season ago, no cornerback in the NFL has intercepted more passes. But Bland is much more than just an interception merchant.

MORE: Why DaRon Bland’s Second-Year Jump Continues To Impress Those Around Him

The second-year CB is outstanding in coverage. He’s allowing fewer than half his targets to be caught and has allowed just a single touchdown on the season, despite being forced out on the slot and to the outside by Trevon Diggs’ injury.

12) Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks

Rookie cornerbacks usually have a lot to learn before becoming the player we believe they could be at the NFL level. But that has changed over the past few seasons, and Devon Witherspoon is the next iteration.

Witherspoon was a menace at the college level, and that hasn’t changed in the NFL. He’s become primarily a slot defender for Seattle. Only Martin Emerson is allowing a lower reception rate, and Witherspoon has been put in consistently difficult positions.

13) L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs

L’Jarius Sneed doesn’t get enough credit for the freedom he allows defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on the back end. The uber-athlete plays outside, in the slot, and in the box, depending on the situation.

Last season, Sneed even got into the action on the defensive line as a blitzer. In three seasons, he’s allowed 10 touchdowns while notching eight interceptions and 14 passes defensed. Sneed’s also been a run-defending menace since Day 1.

14) Charvarius Ward, San Francisco 49ers

It’s not easy to climb a list like this as an undrafted free agent. Charvarius Ward began his career in Dallas but was traded to Kansas City that same August. He was thrust into action in Year 2 and took his lumps, but the long and explosive CB kept improving.

By the time San Francisco came calling when his rookie deal ended, Ward was ready to take another step. The 49ers have survived with a front-to-back-built defense. But adding a legitimate talent showed exactly how conducive that environment is to success.

15) Stephon Gilmore, Dallas Cowboys

Stephon Gilmore kicks off the first of the “you actually can teach an old dog new tricks” candidates. After injury-riddled seasons with the Patriots and Colts, Gilmore was back to his old self in good health with Indianapolis.

Gilmore is still outstanding, but he hasn’t been playing at the All-Pro, lockdown level that he once did. He still has a knack for big plays and has been a bright spot in Dallas’ defense since Diggs’ injury.

16) Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

Draft analysts were pitted against one another with Georgia cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes. After Stokes took an early advantage playing well as a rookie, those who preferred Campbell’s upside were forced to sit back, relax, and remain patient.

That patience paid off.

After being picked on as a rookie, there weren’t many outside cornerbacks who could boast a cleaner season than the second-year player. The best news for Jaguars fans is that Campbell seemed to be improving weekly in 2022. This evolution has been clear in 2023 playing opposite Darious Williams.

17) Darious Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars

After looking like a top-20 CB for a few seasons in Los Angeles playing on the outside, Williams came back to earth a bit in Jacksonville. A move back inside was supposed to unlock the 5’9″ cornerback, but he was clearly more comfortable on the boundary.

He’s slipped a bit of late but is still legitimately a problem for offenses and boasts strong ball production.

18) Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs

It’s still too early to claim the Chiefs hit a home run on Trent McDuffie, but it may not be too early to get the champagne ready. He allowed fewer than 10 yards per reception as a rookie while also maintaining a completion rate of under 60%.

But this shouldn’t be a shock. The Washington Huskies somewhat famously have their defensive backs about as close to their ceiling as can be as they leave campus for the NFL Draft.

19) Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins

No cornerback in the past decade has proven the see-sawing nature of the position quite like Xavien Howard. The aggressive outside cornerback has maintained outrageous ball production throughout his time in the league, but Howard’s also allowed big play after big play in that time because of his gambling nature.

MORE: Xavien Howard Is Quietly Having an Excellent Year

Vic Fangio’s defense has changed things. His passive nature may have felt like a clash with Howard’s nature, but it’s been a positive for the veteran CB, who is playing some of his most consistent football in Year 8.

20) Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears

The Bears CB asked for a trade before the deadline, but he remains in Chicago for the time being. Jaylon Johnson is one of the most well-rounded cornerbacks in the league. Although he doesn’t possess elite foot speed or explosiveness, he has more than enough of both.

Additionally, Johnson is a fantastic processor in zone coverage, but he’s versatile enough to be entirely scheme-independent.

21) Martin Emerson, Cleveland Browns

Martin Emerson was outstanding on the outside for the Browns as a rookie. He possesses prototypical CB size, and although he’s not as explosive as most Day 1 players, his physicality and fluidity bode well on the outside.

Emerson has been outrageously productive in one of the most aggressive coverage schemes in the NFL.

22) A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons

A.J. Terrell flourished in a bad defense in 2021. Without adequate help opposite him, teams decided they’d rather not test him at all. He allowed just 200 total yards on the season. That production dropped off in 2022, but he was still a fantastic player.

Although he hasn’t reproduced his 2021 season, Terrell’s still been a bright spot in Atlanta’s secondary. Jessie Bates has been the best player in the unit, but Terrell has fit well into Ryan Nielsen’s defense, which does a good job complementing his skill set.

23) James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles

James Bradberry is proof that playing cornerback in the NFL is very hard. He went from looking like a top-10 CB in 2020 to needing to find a job as a free agent after 2021. Although that was partially because of the salary cap ramifications, Bradberry clearly fell off.

But Jonathan Gannon’s defense in Philadelphia welcomed him. In turn, he made them incredibly happy with their decision. He’s shown signs of age in 2023, but Bradberry is still a high-end coverage cornerback.

24) Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks

Tariq Woolen was a menace in his rookie season. Witherspoon’s addition, however, has made it so that he is targeted even more in 2023, which could either be seen as a good or bad thing for the young player. His six INTs last year were undeniably impressive, but so was the fact he allowed just a 55% completion rate against nearly 70 targets.

25) Michael Carter II, New York Jets

Maybe Saleh’s defense is so good that anybody can perform at a high level in it. But that shouldn’t be held against his defensive backfield.

Michael Carter II has been magnificent for two seasons now in New York. With Gardner and Reed, there is no doubt which NFL unit has the best cornerback duo or trio in the NFL.

26) Greg Newsome, Cleveland Browns

Because the position mimics the dangers of homemade explosive projects, it’s important to simply look at the talent a player possesses as they enter an NFL season. If things continue to look ugly, we must drop them from the list.

With Emerson taking over the outside CB duties opposite Ward, Greg Newsome slid into the slot. But Newsome’s unbelievable reactive athleticism lends itself well to an interior role fraught with uncertainty over the direction an opponent may go.

Despite playing in a league that has learned to abuse the slot, Newsome was targeted less often on a per-snap basis than Ward or Emerson. After initially refusing to play the slot again in February, the young CB changed his tune as April rolled around.

27) Cameron Sutton, Detroit Lions

It took years for Cameron Sutton to latch onto a starting role for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he hasn’t given it up since. A season ago, he allowed a fraction over 50% of the 70+ targets thrown his way to be completed.

MORE: NFL Head Coach Rankings 2023

Now, the longtime Steeler has a new environment in Detroit and has been a bright spot in the Lions’ secondary that never got off the ground with Emmanuel Moseley in 2023.

28) Mike Hilton, Cincinnati Bengals

Speaking of slots, Mike Hilton is one of the best true slot performers in the NFL. With over 3,000 NFL snaps in the slot compared to only 100 on the outside, Hilton has been one of the league’s specialists in this particularly tough arena.

Hilton’s consistency both in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati has bordered on unbelievable. As a slot defender, a CB is more often responsible for a gap in the run game. Hilton takes pride in the ability to defend the run. But aside from his consistency, he seems to have a flair for the dramatic — making big plays in the biggest moments.

29) Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills

Injuries have taken a bonafide top-10 CB away from us for the better part of the last two seasons. But we all saw what Tre’Davious White was capable of from 2017-2020.

White was good in 2023, but a tragic Achilles injury ended his season early. Unfortunately for the talented coverage player, this injury will be nearly impossible to return from at a similar form, given his already extensive injury history.

30) Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although Jamel Dean had a superior season compared to his teammate on the opposite side, Carlton Davis is the more physically gifted player with a more significant track record of success.

And although every contract discussion and season has different trends, the Buccaneers guaranteed Davis $30 million in his three-year deal compared to just $24 million in Dean’s four-year deal.

2023 hasn’t been particularly pretty for Davis or Dean, but we should believe in the former’s track record and talent.

31) Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers

A torn Achilles tendon is often a proverbial death blow to NFL players. At a position so dependent on reactionary athleticism, it’s particularly tough on cornerbacks. Horn returned from his injury to play over 800 awesome snaps in 2022.

MORE: Remaining NFL Strength of Schedule 2023

Unfortunately, the Panther once again lost Horn in 2023 to a “freak” hamstring injury. He returned in Week 13 against the Buccaneers, and we’ll see how he plays as the season fades away.

32) Taron Johnson, Buffalo Bills

Taron Johnson makes it nearly impossible to throw the ball against Buffalo, which makes it all the more frustrating for Bills fans that the team is still toying with the CB2 spot.

Although his production in 2022 was unimpressive compared to his earlier work, Johnson remains one of the league’s premier slot players.

Want to predict the rest of the 2023 season with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? Looking for the most up-to-date NFL standings? What about a breakdown of team depth charts or the NFL schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with that and more! 

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