The dominance of the modern passing game in the NFL forces teams to invest in cornerbacks and for fans to more closely pay 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.
Who’s the Best Cornerback in the NFL?
The New York Jet’s Sauce Gardner is the best cornerback in the NFL today. It’s difficult to think of many times a rookie cornerback entered the league and immediately became the best player at their position, but Gardner has managed it. Some of this has to do with the dearth of shutdown cornerbacks across the league, but Gardner is playing at an elite level.
His physical talent stands out immediately; it’s not just that players that large should not be able to move with that speed or agility it’s also that he does it with such fluidity and ease that it looks effortless. He’s been sticky in coverage and has been able to take on receivers of every stripe, playing quick players tightly and breaking up passes for contested catch mavens.
Gardner has shown he can win in man coverage, zone coverage, 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.
Rest of Top 10 Cornerbacks Ranked
2) Stephon Gilmore, Indianapolis Colts
The one advantage that Stephon Gilmore has over Gardner is that he shadows players like an old-school shutdown corner. And in that spirit, he’s shutting down his opponents. Gardner may be doing more with his incredible physical skills, but that doesn’t take away from Gilmore’s strength, speed, and savvy. He’s not playing at the level of his DPOY season, but it’s close.
3) Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
Lost in how the Rams’ season has fallen apart is how well their stars are actually playing. Like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey continues to play at an elite level. He’s a fantastic run defender for his position and has been sticky in coverage. While not as consistent as Gilmore or Gardner, he’s still one of the toughest cornerbacks in the NFL to get open against.
4) Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos
Patrick Surtain II has been quite literally living up to his name as an elite cornerback and has helped the Denver Broncos maintain their position as a top-tier defense even after trading away their star edge rusher. Teams are afraid to throw at Surtain, and he has one of the lowest target totals among cornerbacks in the NFL right now. When he is targeted, it often goes badly for quarterbacks.
5) Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
Only allowing one touchdown all year, Slay has been a nightmare for opposing passers, with one of the highest rates of pass breakups in the NFL when targeted. Slay’s length and speed have truly stood out this season in the Eagles’ scheme, and passing windows are tighter than ever.
6) Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
A little more inconsistent than the other cornerbacks on this list, Jaire Alexander’s best is still among the elites. His ability to come up in big moments propels him further up the board than other, more consistent, players. His athletic skill set allows him to play all three cornerback spots and his instincts give him great opportunities to close down on his opponents. The Packers’ defense isn’t playing up to its potential, but Alexander is not the reason why.
7) Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys
Trevon Diggs is playing better at cornerback than he was last year when he earned All-Pro consideration and led the league in interceptions. The reason is that, even though his turnover totals are down, he’s playing more consistently and giving up fewer yards in coverage. Week to week, Diggs is doing 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
Playing opposite slay is James Bradberry, who might be one of the best offseason pickups this year. Bradberry looks like his Carolina self instead of how he looked in New York, and the result has been shutdown play. Like Slay, Bradberry has length and speed and knows how to use it, though his quickness and instincts are just a tick below Slay’s.
9) Charvarius Ward, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have had elite play at all three levels of the defense, so it’s difficult to fully appreciate the great players that play alongside Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, and Talanoa Hufanga. But Ward is one of the critical pieces to the dominant 49ers defense that shut down the explosive Miami Dolphins, embarrassed Tom Brady, ended Seattles’ hopes for a divisional crown, and held Justin Herbert’s Chargers to just 16 points.
10) Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The focus of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been Tom Brady and his level of play, but the defense is incredibly underrated and has been driving their wins when they come. A big part of that comes from their secondary play. And without Carlton Davis or Antoine Winfield at various points throughout the season, it’s been up to Jamel Dean to step up. He has answered the call. Dean is playing high-level football and has been for a little while.
Cornerback Rankings | 11-32
11) Chidobe Awuzie, Cincinnati Bengals
12) A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons
13) Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots
14) Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
15) D.J. Reed, New York Jets
16) Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
17) Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers
18) Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks
19) Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs
20) Jason Verrett, San Francisco 49ers
21) Desmond King II, Houston Texans
22) Kader Kohou, Miami Dolphins
23) Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
24) Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh Steelers
25) L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs
26) Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins
27) Patrick Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
28) Adoree Jackson, Tennessee Titans
29) Mike Hilton, Cincinnati Bengals
30) Kendall Fuller, Washington Commanders
31) Casey Hayward Jr., Atlanta Falcons
32) Rasul Douglas, Green Bay Packers