As more and more NFL offenses become pass-first, the cornerback position is becoming one of the most difficult positions to play in all of football. Route runners have become more precise, the traditional route tree has become more complex, and receivers are faster and shiftier than ever before. Today, I'll be ranking the best corners mostly in terms of coverage, but also how well they tackled in the open field and supported in the run game. As long as they played 300 coverage snaps, they'll be eligible to make the cut. With that being said, there are TEN new faces on this list from last season. Let's get down to the nitty gritty and rank the top 12 corners from 2021 in this edition of the NFL PRR!
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12. Darius Slay (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 81.3 (7th)
Big Play Slay had a statement year in Philly, as the veteran corner locked down opposing teams top receiving threats. Through 16 games, he allowed 0.8 yards per coverage snap, 5th lowest on this list, as well as 459 yards allowed overall, 6th lowest on this list. He also scored a whopping three TDs on the season, one of which being a pick six, and the other 2 being scoop and scores. He added 2 other INTs, but wasn't exemplar outside of that. He allowed the 10th highest catch rate on this list at 61.1%, and he had the lowest forced incompletion rate and forced incompletions at 5 and 6.9% (nice) respectively. He also allowed the 3rd highest passer rating allowed on this list at 76.1, which is still great, but in comparison to the rest of the list, doesn't hold the same water as others. The veteran corner has proven time and time again he can still ball out, and hopes to have a few more solid seasons before his retirement.
11. Casey Hayward Jr. (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 76.0 (15th)
The veteran corner had another great season and was the lone bright spot in a mediocre Raiders pass defense. Out of all corners considered, he had the highest average depth of target at 14.7 yards, which could mean that most QBs were looking at him as the second or third corner to attack. He also allowed a catch rate of 54.5% and played 21 coverage snaps for each reception he allowed, 4th lowest and 1st highest among those who made this list respectively. And even though he only had 1 interception, he had a forced incompletion rate of 12.7%, and allowed only 30 receptions and 2 touchdowns. He and AJ Terrell should both do very well next year on a rebuilding Falcon defense.
10. Marshon Lattimore (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 77.3 (12th)
The Saints corner had a bounce back year in a major way. In 16 games, the fifth year corner led the league with 19 forced incompletions and a forced incompletion rate of 20.2%, while also making an impact in the open field leading all corners with 20 stops and a low 3.5% missed tackle rate. On the flipside, out of all players on this list, he allowed the most TDs at 7, the highest passer rating at 99.7, and the second most yards at 862. In terms of playmaking, he caught 3 INTs while dropping 2 others, and he recovered a fumble. Marshon isn't a top 5 corner yet, but he could get their next year if he cuts down on the yardage allowed aspect.
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9. Chidobe Awuzie (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 83.3 (2nd)
The former Dallas corner has found himself as the staple CB1 in Cincinnati for the next few seasons. Although he didn't lead in any key metric among this list, he was 6th in catch rate allowed and forced incompletions at 57.0% and 10 respectively. He also allowed just 9.8 yards per reception and 552 yards total through 14 games. He only recorded 2 INTs and had a forced incompletion rate of 10.8%, but he still did well across the board shadowing the opposing teams top receiver. As the Bengals defense improves throughout next season, watch for Chidobe to be considered as a top corner across the league.
8. Trevon Diggs (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 59.6 (82nd)
Did Trevon let up the 2nd most yards by any player in NFL history? Yes. Did Trevon record the most interceptions since 1981? Also yes. Through 16 games, his passer rating allowed of 71.7 tells one story, but his yards per reception allowed at 18.5 tells another. Trevon is a basic case of high risk, high reward, and that shouldn't diminish or raise his level of play from a statistical standpoint. He had a fantastic year at corner when it mattered, and that's without mentioning 2 pick sixes as well, but was beat multiple times by decent receivers and he committed 11 penalties in coverage, the most on this list. If he can crack down on the mental mistakes, he'll be a top 5 corner in no time.
7. Patrick Surtain II (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 66.1 (T-44th)
One of the few defensive rookies to make a significant impact on their team cracks the top 10 in his first season. In 16 games, he hauled in 4 INTs - one of which went for six, allowed a 69.7 passer rating, and committed only 2 penalties in coverage. He wasn't great in the open field, as he posted a 10.9% missed tackle rate and just 3 stops. If he can clean up his tackling and break up more passes, he'll be an electrifying corner for years to come.
Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
6. Denzel Ward (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 76.9 (14th)
The second best player on the Browns defense had another solid season, and arguably his best to date. Through 15 games, he allowed the 3rd least yards per reception on this list at 9.5, and the top 5 in yards allowed and INT rate 419 and 9.38% respectively. Although he wasn't efficient with forcing incompletions as he only forced 8 of them, he still allowed a 74.8 passer rating despite being targeted once on every 6.9 snaps. He was one of the few corners to not drop a single INT and had the 2nd lowest depth of target at 9.1. This is even more impressive considering he only allowed 161 yards after the catch. Pairing him with Myles Garrett has been a problem for opposing offenses, and looks to become even more fearsome over the unforeseeable future.
5. Adoree' Jackson (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 74.9 (17th)
Adoree'? In the top 5??? Yea, it's my list get over it. Also Adoree' was fantastic for the first time ever in his career, so he more than deserves to be ranked this high. Believe it or not, Adoree' allowed the 2nd least amount of yards and yards per reception in the NFL at 304 and 8.9 respectively, while also being targeted 61 times across 13 games. Even though he only recorded 1 INT, he still forced an 11.5% forced incompletion rate, while allowing a catch rate of 55.7%. He's also the only corner on this list to not get penalized, and he was incredible in the open field as he recorded 19 stops and posted a 6.3% missed tackle rate, both in the top 3 on this list. Whether it was locking down receivers or making tackles on plays that could break open, Adoree' was all over the field, and should be recognized for a great season.
4. Rasul Douglas (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 74.8 (18th)
Another name people didn't expect ends up in the top 5, Rasul Douglas was a monster during Jaire's absence. In 12 games, he locked down his side of the field by allowing the 2nd lowest completion rate at 50.8%, had the 4th highest forced incompletion rate at 14.3%, allowed the least amount of yards per interception at 65.8, and he hauled in 5 INTs to boot. He also allowed just 10.3 yards per reception, ranking 6th out of the corners on this list. Add in only 32 receptions allowed and a passer rating allowed of 43.7, the lowest in the NFL, and it's clear to see why he ranks so high among some other bigger names (not to mention spoiling the Cardinals potential undefeated season). He wasn't fantastic in the open field, but he still recorded 10 stops. It'll be interesting to see if he'll get moved to the slot in favor of young star Eric Stokes next year.
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If I'm being honest, Rasul and Adoree' could have both been ranked above this next guy if they played in as many games as he did at the same production they were playing at all season. Alas, longevity will always give some players the upper hand over others.
3. Jalen Ramsey (Last Season: #3)
PFF Grade - 84.5 (1st)
Ramsey is still the best corner overall in the league, but with Marlon Humphrey and Jaire Alexander returning from injuries next season, and some stellar play by some other corners who haven't been named yet, Ramsey may not be the clear cut #1 CB in the NFL for much longer. Jalen passes the eye test, and his film is really solid. In 16 games, he forced the second most incompletions at 16, and allowed the 5th least yards per reception on this list at 10.1. He also hauled in 4 INTs while also forcing and recovering a fumble a piece. Where his game does take a slide is that he allowed a relatively high reception rate, with his 63.4% being the highest on this list. He also got 9 penalties called against him, which is part of the price the Rams pay for his uber-aggressive play style. He also allowed 252 yards after the catch, which is pretty high for someone to be considered the top shutdown corner in the league. The stats also don't include the abysmal Super Bowl performance he had, but these list don't take playoffs into account, so he gets off scot-free there. We may be seeing the end of a historic stretch of elite cornerback play, but I still wouldn't be shocked if he bounces back big time in a potential repeat title season.
2. JC Jackson (Last Season: #4)
PFF Grade - 82.7 (3rd)
JC's consistently spectacular play over the past few seasons is no mistake, he truly is a top 3 corner in the league year after year, and he finally cracked my own top 3 this season. Besides allowing 635 yards overall and 12.7 yards on a per reception basis, JC tore it up and made plays. He hauled in 8 INTs, and took one to the house, forced a fumble, forced 13 incompletions and a forced incompletion rate of 13.3%, and allowed a passer rating of 47.8, all ranking in the top 3 in the league aside from total forced incompletions. A lot of questions were raised if he could fill Stephon Gilmore's shoes, and he did that, and then some. He should look to have a career year with the Chargers this upcoming season.
1. AJ Terrell (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 82.6 (4th)
In a year where the Falcons played atrocious defense, AJ was there to shut everything that came his way down. In 16 games, he ranked at or near the top of every major metric. He allowed a 43.9% completion rate, by far the best in the league, and he forced 13 incompletions and a forced incompletion rate of 19.7%, both top 3 in the league. He allowed just 15.38 yards per forced incompletion, and 66.67 yards per interception, which is super impressive considering he only record 3 INTs. He also allowed the least amount of receptions, yards, yards after catch, yards per target, and yards per completion, while also posting a 47.5 passer rating against, 2nd lowest in the league. AJ arguably had the greatest 2nd year leap of any player in recent memory, and he hopes to lock it down even more with a competent cornerback in Casey Hayward Jr playing across from him.
Photo: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports
Some cornerbacks who just missed the cut were Tre'Davious White, Kristian Fulton, Rashad Fenton, and Kendall Fuller. All of them had great seasons overall, but didn't rank significantly high enough in key metrics to edge out some of the other names. Tre White has a history of top corner level play, but he only suited up for 11 games. This list will most likely look completely different next season as Jaire Alexander and Marlon Humphrey return from injury, while savvy vets like Stephon Gilmore and Darious Williams look to make major splashes in their new homes.
Join me next time as I cover the best wide receivers of 2021!