The amount of top-level play from NFL cornerbacks is astonishing. It’s challenging to rank these guys with the multitude of schematic differences and responsibilities. Obviously, this is a subjective endeavor, and we could argue for days about the names that are too high or too low. However, I prefer to look at this exercise as a nod of respect toward the top cornerbacks in the NFL heading into the 2021 season.
Top 32 cornerbacks in the NFL for the 2021 season | 1-10
In a pass-heavy league, the cornerback position has grown into one of the most important positions on the football field. So, who is the best heading into the 2021 NFL season?
1. Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
Jalen Ramsey doesn’t have any official nicknames when Googled, but everyone in my circle has affectionately coined him “Sass God.” His calm and dismissive demeanor is a deterrent for opposing receivers.
Ramsey is as physical and technical as they come in coverage. Despite being right there with the best in the league as a coverage cornerback, his presence as a run defender and tackler, in general, make him such a versatile defensive weapon. He’ll be a darned good safety when he transitions there late in his career.
2. Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
Xavien Howard has always been an outstanding blend of consistency and aggression. However, Miami’s cornerback really blossomed in 2020, intercepting a league-high 10 passes. He’ll still give up a big play here and there, as his yards per reception against shows, but so is the nature of being an aggressive cornerback.
Now, he has a contractual situation he enjoys and a team that should compete in the AFC. If things go similarly to 2020, Howard will find himself high on this list once again.
3. Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
Jaire Alexander is responsible for my favorite troll of all time on a football field. After a broken-up pass against Wake Forest in 2016, he pranced behind the unsuspecting receiver in a manner I’ve never witnessed.
Alexander has always been our CB1. He had the attitude for the title, and he certainly had the play. He’s really shown up since his rookie season, rounding into quite possibly the stickiest cornerback in the league. The ball production of Howard and the overall game of Ramsey put them ahead, but Alexander could reach the peak after another incredible season.
4. Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
Tre’Davious White has been one of the top cornerbacks in the league since the minute he stepped on an NFL field. His on-field and sideline hijinx make it look like he legitimately loves every second of playing football. White does a fantastic job of toeing the line between aggressive and reckless. He gets his hands on passes left and right without getting himself so out of position that he’s unable to recover.
5. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
Marlon Humphrey has been one of the top cornerbacks from Day 1 as a rookie, and he still is in 2021. He ranked 43rd on PFN’s Top 100 list, and with another All-Pro-caliber season, could fight for a top-25 spot in 2022.
I’d personally argue he’s already there, but many don’t look past the paltry INT numbers to his league-high 8 forced fumbles. Humphrey impacts the games in all the ways you want him to. He’s one of the few that’ll travel anywhere on the defense to cover an offense’s best weapon. Heck, he played more snaps in the slot in 2020 than he did on the outside!
6. Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
Stephon Gilmore had a down season in 2020. However, after what felt like the entire front seven of the Patriots opted out, his sustained success was probably at least a bit in jeopardy. He was still outstanding, but now, he has to face a ton of different names in a talented AFC East.
7. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Marshon Lattimore had somewhat of a down season in 2020, but given his superb physical attributes, look for a strong comeback as one of the top cornerbacks in 2021.
Lattimore possesses everything you could want in a cornerback. He’s an intelligent defender with ideal size and athleticism. It just wasn’t all there for him in 2020. Still, the Saints’ defense was great last season and should continue on that trajectory in 2021. Lattimore is one of the most talented players in the league, and that should show alongside Marcus Williams.
8. Byron Jones, Miami Dolphins
Byron Jones wasn’t nearly as bad as he was given credit for during 2020. He’s partially the reason why Xavien Howard had the opportunity to intercept 10 passes. Jones is one of the best pure cover corners in the league. His explosiveness paired with his size makes things difficult for opposing receivers. He should continue to be tested this season and could land in the top-five discussion if he gets back to his Dallas Cowboys form.
9. James Bradberry, New York Giants
James Bradberry was excellent for the Giants in 2020. He got his hands on 21 footballs and added 2 forced fumbles as well. He could easily have placed higher on this list if it were simply based on 2020. There’s a good chance Bradberry had a top-three CB season. Yet, he hasn’t consistently put together top-10 seasons. If he continues his dominance in 2021, he could easily land in the top five next season.
10. Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Denzel Ward, in my opinion, is another year away from being a potential top-five cornerback in the league. In truth, he could be there already. That is how much top-end cornerback play there is in the NFL.
Ward was one of the first to fit the new modern mold of NFL cornerback. Receivers started getting smaller and more shifty. It was only natural that the prototype for cornerback shifted as well. With modern NFL rules, it’s a disadvantage not to have the type of foot speed Ward possesses.
With the defense surrounding the young cornerback, he could easily be higher on the list heading into next season. There is no shortage of defensive weapons on Cleveland’s roster.
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Top 32 cornerbacks in the NFL for the 2021 season | 11-32
11. Kenny Moore II, Indianapolis Colts
12. Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens
13. J.C. Jackson, New England Patriots
14. Xavier Rhodes, Indianapolis Colts
15. Kyle Fuller, Denver Broncos
16. Darious Williams, Los Angeles Rams
17. Mike Hilton, Cincinnati Bengals
18. William Jackson III, Washington Football Team
19. Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
20. L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs
21. Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
22. Kendall Fuller, Washington Football Team
23. Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh Steelers
24. Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
25. Adoree’ Jackson, New York Giants
26. Steven Nelson, Philadelphia Eagles
27. Jason Verrett, San Francisco 49ers
28. Shaquill Griffin, Jacksonville Jaguars
29. Ronald Darby, Denver Broncos
30. Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
31. Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers
32. Jimmy Smith, Baltimore Ravens