15. Chris Harris Jr., Los Angeles Chargers
The veteran free-agent addition goes from Denver to Los Angeles and will be moving from his primary nickel role to the outside with the Chargers. Chris Harris has been one of the premier slot cornerbacks in football for nearly a decade, but will now have a full-time opportunity to play on the outside — alongside a strong supporting cast that features Derwin James, Casey Hayward, and Desmond King.
14. Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears
Kyle Fuller has been a model of consistency the past three seasons, starting all 48 games while amassing 55 passes defended and 12 interceptions. The Virginia Tech alum embodies the tough, hard-nosed mentality of the Chicago Bears of old, and has the pieces around him to take his game to the next level. The Bears also added Jaylon Johnson in the draft and Artie Burns in free agency, which should free up Fuller to make more plays this season.
13. Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Denzel Ward is one of my 2020 breakout candidates, and I wanted to put him higher, but I struggled to find a spot. He will move into the top 10 by the end of the season.
Ward, one of the more athletic players at the position, boasts impressive match-and-mirror technique, savvy instincts, eye discipline, and exceptional long speed. The Ohio State product has improved each season, and now has an intriguing young nucleus to grow with on the back end.
12. Byron Jones, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins essentially added two top-tier cornerbacks during the offseason, with Xavien Howard returning from a season-ending knee injury and prized free agent Byron Jones signing a lucrative deal that keeps him in Miami for the next five years. Jones may not have much ball production over the course of his career, but he cuts his teeth on his athleticism, versatility, sound technique, and excellent closing speed. Unlike in Dallas, teams won’t be able to avoid throwing Jones’ way in Miami with Howard on the other side.
11. Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens
Perhaps the most polarizing player on this list, Marcus Peters achieved Pro Bowl and All-Pro success in 2019. Originally a member of the Rams last season, Peters was essentially gifted to the Ravens last October in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick and linebacker Kenny Young. The 27-year old seamlessly gelled with the physical, swarming Ravens defense. The Ravens bolstered the first and second level of the defense in the draft, which should allow the tenacious pairing of Peters and Marlon Humphrey to feast on opposing quarterbacks.
10. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
The four-time All-Pro tumbles a bit further down this list than expected due to the surplus of ascending talent around the league, but make no mistake — the 29-year old is still among the best at his position. Patrick Peterson has the size, speed, and athleticism to match up with receivers of all shapes and sizes, and is still years away from the inevitable regression.
9. Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers
The 32-year old Richard Sherman was terrific in 2019, achieving All-Pro honors for the first time since 2015, and the 49ers gave him a vote of confidence by not actively pursuing his replacement in free agency or the draft. The brash veteran will once again serve as a centerpiece on what many expect to be among the NFL’s most formidable defenses once again.
8. Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
The Dolphins may have signed the best available free agent cornerback in March, but the Philadelphia Eagles ultimately acquired the better player in Darius Slay. Slay not only has the ability to effectively shut down one side of the field, but he also brings the physicality, competitiveness, ball skills, and attitude that has been sorely lacking from Eagles’ cornerbacks for nearly a decade.
7. Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
Earlier, I mentioned Denzel Ward as one of my 2020 breakout cornerback candidates. Jaire Alexander is the other. Alexander is an extremely fluid athlete that gets in and out of his backpedal with little wasted movement and has the innate match-and-mirror ability to stay in the receiver’s hip pocket throughout the entirety of the pattern. Kevin King grew up a bit on the other side last season, which should alleviate some pressure, but look for Alexander to take the next step towards NFL stardom this season.
6. Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers
Casey Hayward has been one of the more underappreciated cover men for a number of years, but his on-field impact has been hard to ignore. He’s been remarkably durable over the past four seasons, starting 62 games, but his true impact isn’t reflected in his stat line. Each week, Hayward draws the monumental task of slowing some of the premier receiving threats in the league. More often than not, he wins his matchups.
5. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Anytime you’re tasked with slowing some of the NFL’s most dominant pass-catchers twice a year — while typically winning a fair share of the battles — you’re going to be mentioned among the league’s best. Marshon Lattimore will be supported in 2020 by a retooled secondary that includes Malcolm Jenkins and Janoris Jenkins.
4. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
Like his teammate that lines up opposite from him on game day, Marlon Humphrey also earned first-team All-Pro honors last season. The 23-year old started 15 games in 2019, racking up 65 tackles, 14 passes defended, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. The six-foot, 197-pound cornerback could very well be poised for greater accolades this season.
3. Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
Tre’Davious White earned a first-team All-Pro distinction following a breakout 2019 campaign in which he accumulated 58 tackles, 17 passes defended, six interceptions, a sack, and two forced fumbles. The 25-year old will play opposite veteran Josh Norman this season but doesn’t figure to see many passes thrown in his direction. Given White’s versatility, I will be interested to see if they choose to move him around in formations.
2. Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
Amid an uneven 2019 campaign, Ramsey demonstrated occasional flashes of brilliance. While Ramsey has a tendency to freelance and appear disinterested at times, there’s no denying his dominance when he is dialed in. The tough, competitive defender has phenomenal ball skills to go along with a high football IQ and will have a full offseason to digest the Rams’ defensive playbook. I anticipate seeing the All-Pro version of Ramsey in 2020.
1. Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
The 29-year old Stephon Gilmore was the 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league in passes defended (20), and tying for the lead in interceptions (six). With Gilmore leading the way, the Patriots finished first in total defense and interceptions last season. The bad news? Gilmore is just entering his prime and will once again team with veteran Jason McCourty and the rapidly developing J.C. Jackson to fortify the secondary.