It’s … complicated. We try to sort out a very tight race as we rank the NFL’s best cornerback tandems ahead of the 2023 season.
2023 NFL Cornerback Duo Rankings
In his introductory news conference with Miami-based reporters Thursday, a reporter asked Ramsey if the Dolphins — who will return Xavien Howard at corner and Javon Holland and Brandon Jones at safety in 2023 — have the best cornerback duo and overall defensive backfield in football.
“I believe so. That’s just the type of energy I bring. That’s the confidence that I always have. On paper, you know, this is the best group that I’ve been a part of, and I feel like I’ve been a part of some good groups.”
Is Ramsey right?
It’s a close call, but we actually give the edge to a rival within the division.
Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed, New York Jets
The Jets are the No. 1 cornerback duo on our list, and it’s because Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed led a suffocating pass defense that dominated without an overwhelming pass rush (the Jets were solid — 10th in win rate at 44% — but not great).
And yet, the Jets ranked first in opponent passer rating (80.5), second in yards allowed per pass (5.8), and fifth in dropback success rate (43.1%).
Gardner had a rookie season for the ages, winning DROY and being named first-team All-Pro. He’s the best cornerback in football, per PFN’s Arif Hasan, and that’s hard to argue after Gardner allowed just 46 completions on 86 pass attempts.
But don’t overlook Reed, who’s 18th on PFN’s cornerback rankings. He allowed a scant 5.8 yards per target in 2022.
Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
If this were 2021, Ramsey and Howard would be the slam-dunk pick.
But Howard showed real slippage in 2022, in large part due to scheme and injuries.
If Howard (the four-time Pro Bowler who is 27th on PFN’s list) gets his fitness back, this could be a dynamite duo. He’s twice led the NFL in interceptions since 2018.
PFN ranks Ramsey second among all cornerbacks, and the only reason he isn’t higher is because he also was short of his best in 2022.
But his less-than-best campaign was still better than all but one player. Ramsey intercepted four passes last year and held quarterbacks to a rating below 85.
Stephon Gilmore and Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys
If the AFC East is Tier 1 for cornerback play, the NFC East is Tier 1B.
And we labored over these next two rankings. They’re that close.
But we’re giving the edge to Gilmore and Diggs as the No. 3 cornerback tandem because they were asked to do more in 2022, which impacted their metrics.
Both Diggs (who has 17 interceptions in his first three NFL seasons) and Gilmore (the five-time Pro Bowler acquired by the Cowboys this week for a fifth-round pick) shadowed the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver in 2022.
That’s obviously not possible now that they’re on the same team, but it certainly gives Dan Quinn endless options.
Darius Slay and James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles
It was a massive coup for Howie Roseman to keep these two together. Both looked gone just days ago.
Yet, both agreed to contracts keeping them in Philly — but not before a bit of drama.
Slay was a prime cut candidate, and it was even reported Wednesday that his release was imminent.
But Roseman worked some magic, and late in the day, Slay sent out this tweet:
“Back like I never left!!! Run it back 🦅”
Good for the Eagles, who, despite entering the offseason with a million free agents on defense, are in prime position to get back to the Super Bowl.
Pat Surtain II and Damarri Mathis, Denver Broncos
Surtain and Mathis are without question the best cornerback tandem under the age of 25.
They’re just pups and should be even better this year than they were last.
That should be scary for the rest of the AFC West because they were quite good in 2022.
Surtain, No. 4 on PFN’s list, held opposing passers to a 58.4% completion rate and 6.1 yards per target.
But Mathis was no slouch either, surrendering one touchdown on 81 targets in 2022.
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