Top NFL Cornerbacks Under 25 Years Old: Is Patrick Surtain II or Sauce Gardner the Best?

Young, playmaking defensive backs have never been more valuable than in today's pass-happy league. Who are the best NFL CBs under 25 years old?

Now that most NFL teams pass on more than 50% of their plays, cornerbacks have never been more important. Stopping aerial attacks is essential in today’s NFL, and building a solid corps of talented defensive backs is a must.

Who are the best young cornerbacks in the league? Let’s take a look at the top 10 NFL CBs yet to turn 25 years old.

Top 10 NFL CBs Under 25 Years Old

10) Brian Branch, Detroit Lions

Viewed as a hybrid safety/corner coming out of Alabama, Branch made an immediate impact after being selected in the second round of last year’s draft. Branch picked off Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes on Opening Night of the 2023 campaign, returning his first career interception for a pick-six in the Lions’ Week 1 victory.

Playing primarily in the slot, Branch intercepted two more passes during the regular season while showing off his abilities as a run defender and nickel blitzer. Branch and pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson are the building blocks of an ascending Detroit defense.

9) Deommodore Lenoir, San Francisco 49ers

Lenoir has inside/outside flexibility at corner, and his adaptability was on full display during the 2023 season. He began the year playing on the perimeter opposite Charvarius Ward, but initial 49ers slot CB Isaiah Oliver struggled so much that San Francisco had to change its plans.

Lenoir moved to the slot full-time in Week 10, and the transition proved to be natural. His physicality and quick-twitch movement abilities worked well in the middle of the field, where Lenoir had to be ready to handle option routes, blitz, or stop the run.

8) Riq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks

After breaking out for a dominant rookie season in 2022, Woolen took a step back last year. He more than doubled his missed tackle rate and was briefly benched at midseason, a stunning fall from grace for a defensive back who finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in his debut.

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Woolen gave up three fewer yards per completion and one fewer yard per target in 2023 than he did the year prior, but his passer rating allowed as the nearest defender in coverage increased by more than 30 percentage points. He’s shown high-end play, but Woolen needs to demonstrate more consistency in 2024.

7) Greg Newsome II, Cleveland Browns

While he’s Cleveland’s primary slot corner, Newsome has been praised by the Browns’ coaching staff for his versatility. He played more or equal snaps outside than inside in four games, giving Cleveland ample depth when its boundary CBs were injured.

Newsome dealt with his own injury issues, missing Week 3 with a hyperextended elbow and Week 8 with a groin injury. Assuming he can stay healthy, Newsome — extension-eligible this offseason — should remain a productive part of the Browns’ secondary.

6) Devon Witherspoon, Seattle Seahawks

Witherspoon and Woolen should team up in Seattle’s defensive backfield for the next several seasons. New Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald got the best out of the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary as the club’s DC and will bring his scheme to Seattle in 2024.

The No. 5 pick in last year’s draft, Witherspoon plays with overt physicality whether he’s lined up in the slot or outside. He racked up 16 pass breakups in his rookie campaign, while his 97-yard pick-six against New York Giants QB Daniel Jones in Week 4 was one of the most memorable plays on the MNF slate.

5) Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears

A pending free agent and candidate for the franchise tag, Johnson broke out in 2023, setting career highs in completion rate (55.2%), yards per target (4.8), and yards per completion (8.7). He allowed just a 33.3 passer rating in coverage, the best mark in the NFL.

Chicago’s defense rapidly improved as the season progressed, and Johnson was a critical part of that effort. While the Bears have other defenders like edge rusher Montez Sweat and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds on long-term deals, Johnson is the club’s best piece in the secondary.

4) DaRon Bland, Dallas Cowboys

Bland’s 2023 statistics are almost difficult to believe. The former fifth-round pick intercepted nine passes, taking five to the house for an NFL-record five pick-sixes. Bland, who shifted from the slot to the perimeter following fellow Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs’ season-ending injury, made first-team All-Pro.

Diggs will return in 2024, but Stephon Gilmore is a pending free agent. Dallas needs to determine if Bland will play in the slot or outside next season, but he’s a walking turnover either way.

3) Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs

McDuffie saved his best for last. With Super Bowl LVIII on the line against the San Francisco 49ers, McDuffie perfectly timed his slot blitz against QB Brock Purdy, creating enough pressure for Purdy to dirt a third-down attempt. Kansas City got the ball back, and the rest was history.

Of course, generating pressure is just a tiny part of McDuffie’s game. Like many CBs on this list, he can play outside or inside. McDuffie’s 2024 role will likely be decided by whether the Chiefs re-sign free agent cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

2) Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos

Arguably the most technically proficient cornerback in the league, Surtain was dominant for the third straight season in 2023 while earning his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod.

He routinely shut down opposing wideouts like Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and Amari Cooper. Surtain allowed just three touchdowns all year, while he gave up 100 receiving yards in just a single game (Denver’s 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins).

1) Sauce Gardner, New York Jets

Gardner could hardly have started his NFL career any hotter. The fourth-overall pick in the 2023 draft, Sauce has more than lived up to his draft billing by earning first-team All-Pro nods in each of his first two pro campaigns.

Gardner won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2022 and will be in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year moving forward. While he’s not targeted as much as other corners, Gardner has broken up 31 passes over the past two seasons, third in the NFL during that span. Gardner is the best cornerback in the league.

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