NFL Position Ranking Roulette: The Top 12 Cornerbacks Following the 2020 Season
Updated: Apr 7
Welcome back to the NFL PRR! In this series, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, I will be ranking the top 12 players at each position for the previous season. This is not where I believe they will rank at the end of 2021, just where they stand now. Because of this, incoming rookies will be exempt from the "Following the 2020 Season" blogs. After the draft, leading up to the 2021 NFL season, I will be ranking where I believe each player will rank after the 2021 season, including incoming rookies.
There are some guidelines in order to make this list and how players are ranked:
Saw at least 3 targets a game and played in at least 10 games
If they played outside or in the slot
If they followed #1 WRs or stayed on one side of the field
Passer rating allowed
QBs and WRs they faced
These lists will be controversial, they will raise some eyebrows, but, most importantly, they will open some eyes towards who is actually dominating in the NFL today. Without further ado, here are my top 12 cornerbacks for the 2020 season:
Photo: USA Today
12. Stephon Gilmore
The best cornerback of 2019 took a step back in 2020. With a mix of injuries and inconsistent play, we didn't see the same Gilmore this season. He still was, however, one of the best lockdown corners in the game. In 11 games, Gilmore was targeted 49 times and allowed 28 catches for 346 yards and 1 TD. He also allowed a 75.7 passer rating against him, 11th amongst cornerbacks who were targeted more than 3 times a game. He snagged 1 INT and posted 3 pass deflections. Seeing that Gilmore faced #1 WRs on the majority of snaps he played, he is more than deserving to make this list, despite missing 5 games.
11. Joe Haden
The savvy veteran out of Pittsburgh has quietly been one of the best corners in the league over the past several years. In 14 games, Haden was targeted 79 times, allowing 40 catches for 559 yards and 3 TDs. He hauled in 2 INTs and recorded 12 pass deflections while allowing a passer rating of 75.9. He saw more targets and made more plays on the ball than Gilmore, giving him an edge at the #11 spot.
10. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
Although he is listed at safety, he played most of his snaps out of the nickel back position (79.6% from all corner positions, 71.4% from nickel per PFF). In 15 games, CJGJ saw 94 targets, allowing 54 catches for 442 yards and 2 TDs. He recorded 1 INT and 13 pass deflections while allowing a 72.2 passer rating and forcing 1 fumble. Seeing that playing nickel is arguably harder than playing out wide, especially since more #1 receivers are moving into the slot, CJGJ earned his spot in the top 10 this season.
9. Tre'Davious White
After an All-Pro season in 2019, Tre had another great season where he faced tough receivers all year long. In 14 games, Tre saw 65 passes, allowing 37 receptions for 454 yards and 4 TDs. Tre hauled in 3 interceptions and batted down 11 passes, and allowed a passer rating of 79.9 while forcing 1 fumble. Some of the receivers White faced were Robert Woods & Cooper Kupp, AJ Brown & Corey Davis, Tyreek Hill & Sammy Watkins, DK Metcalf & Tyler Lockett, DeAndre Hopkins, and Keenan Allen. That's a tall order for any defensive back to the face, and he did so effortlessly.
8. Darious Williams
Just watch the first 10 seconds of this clip from the Wild Card Round:
Video: Los Angeles Rams
That's the impact Darious Williams brings. That's hours upon hours of film study, working technique, and taking risks in practice, all coming together for one play on game day that ended up shifting momentum for the rest of the contest. On the season, Darious was targeted 72 times and he allowed 39 catches for 380 yards and 2 TDs. He also picked off 4 passes and tallied 14 pass deflections, as well as allowing a 61.1 passer rating against him. He made his way up the depth chart and ended up starting on the opposite side of Jalen Ramsey throughout the second half of the season.
7. Bryce Callahan
A foot injury sidelined Bryce for the last quarter of 2020, but he still put up a very solid season. Splitting time between nickel back and cornerback (28.7% and 62.4% of snaps respectively), Callahan was targeted 57 times, allowing 31 catches for 205 yards and 0 TDs. He also racked up 2 INTs and 5 pass deflections, while holding opposing QBs to a 47.8 passer rating, the lowest mark in the NFL. Over a 16 game season, Callahan would have seen 91 targets and allowed around 50 catches for 328 yards, as well as intercepting 3 or 4 passes and deflecting 10 passes. This is absolute domination and would have put him in the top 3 for this year's list, especially with his passer rating allowed.
6. Marlon Humphrey
Marlon is the most underrated corner in the league. He constantly faces top-notch receivers, like OBJ & Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Sammy Watkins & Tyreek Hill, Terry McLaurin, AJ Brown & Corey Davis, Amari Cooper & CeeDee Lamb, and TY Hilton. He also saw the third-most targets this season with 106, while allowing 65 catches for 651 yards and 3 TDs. He hauled in only 1 INT and deflected 11 passes while allowing an 84.3 passer rating against him, the highest among this list. So why is he ranked so high? His physicality. Not only did he record 2.5 sacks and 4 TFLs, but he also forced an NFL-leading 8 fumbles!!! He is the first cornerback to force at least 8 fumbles since Charles "Peanut" Tillman in 2012 when he forced 10. Based on tough matchups and high-level play, Marlon finds himself at the #6 spot.
5. James Bradberry IV
Arguably the most improved corner on this list is James Bradberry. After starting his career in Carolina, Bradberry found his way to New York and immediately put his name into the shutdown corner conversation. He faced studs like Cooper Kupp & Robert Woods, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans & Chris Godwin, Tyler Lockett & DK Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins, as well as Terry McLaurin and Amari Cooper & CeeDee Lamb twice. With some of the hardest matchups of his career, Bradberry saw 91 targets, allowing 56 catches for 580 yards and 4 TDs. He also intercepted opposing QBs 3 times and deflected 18 passes, while allowing a passer rating of 80.8 and forcing 2 fumbles. This is a very good product for a cornerback that not a lot of people know about. He played lights out in 2020 and looks to further his name into the top cornerback conversation in 2021.
Photo: Associated Press
4. JC Jackson
This guy stepped up in big ways in 2020. JC Jackson took over for Stephon Gilmore when he was injured, and JC found himself rotating against #1 receivers throughout the remainder of the season when Gilmore returned. On 84 targets, JC allowed 49 catches for 691 yards and 5 TDs. Although these numbers don't look great, they are backed up by 9 interceptions, 14 pass deflections, and a passer rating of 66.5 against him. He looks to be the next big name at cornerback for the New England Patriots, and may very well be Gilmore's replacement in the next year or so.
3. Jalen Ramsey
The argument can always be made that Ramsey is the best corner in the league. He constantly shuts down big-name receivers and is one of the best tacklers at the position. On 71 targets, Ramsey allowed 36 catches for 345 yards and 2 TDs, while snagging 1 INT and deflecting 9 passes, all while posting a 68.1 passer rating against him. He was one of the main reasons the Rams defense ranked in the top 3 this year, and he will continue to be a huge piece to their production.
2. Jaire Alexander
When Jaire was drafted in 2018, I had no idea how he slipped to the Packers. He has been one of the biggest steals of the draft and has put himself in the top cornerback conversation. On 80 targets, he allowed 41 catches for 375 yards and 2 TDs. He hauled in 1 INT and deflected 13 passes, as well as allowing a 67.4 passer rating when targeted and 1 forced fumble. He faced tough opponents week after weeks, such as Adam Thielen & Justin Jefferson, Kenny Golladay & Marvin Jones, Allen Robinson (all 5 of the previous receivers twice a season), Julio Jones & Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans & Chris Godwin, Will Fuller, TY Hilton, DJ Moore & Robby Anderson, and AJ Brown & Corey Davis. To only allow a season passer rating of 67.4 while facing this level of talent every single week just goes to show how incredible Jaire really is. Pair this with PFF's highest grade for the cornerback position (90.7), Jaire is more than deserving of the #2 spot on this list.
Photo: The Athletic
1. Xavien Howard
You all saw this coming. Xavien was not only the best corner of 2020 but also one of the best defenders in the league; he even received votes for DPOY. On 101 targets, he allowed 52 catches for 719 yards and 4 TDs. He posted a league-leading 10 interceptions - the most since Antonio Cromartie in 2007 - 20 pass deflections and allowed the second-lowest passer rating of 48.3, as well as 1 forced fumble. He faced star receivers like Stefon Diggs & Cole Beasley twice, Tyler Lockett & DK Metcalf, Robert Woods & Cooper Kupp, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Jerry Jeudy, and Tyreek Hill & Sammy Watkins. This season wasn't a fluke either, as he posted 8 INTs in 2018, and 4 in 2017 (he only played 5 games in 2019). He also posted the second-highest PFF coverage grade with an 89.6. He's constantly been one of the top names in the NFL and put up a career year in 2020.
Photo: Associated Press
Sources: Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Football Database
Some names that didn't make the list were Jimmy Smith, Brian Poole, L'Jarius Sneed, and Jason Verrett. These four were all great in 2020, but either didn't play enough games, didn't see hard enough competition, or weren't productive when it came to INTs and pass deflections. L'Jarius will be a household name in the future, as he recorded 3 INTs in 9 games while allowing a passer rating of 54.2.
Join me next time as I cover the top 12 wide receivers of 2020!