Recently, as the NFL has evolved into a more high flying passing league, there has been a premium on corner backs who can effectively stop opposing receivers/offenses. Playing corner back takes great athletic ability, outstanding mental ability, and the ability to make split decisions sometimes in less than a second. So it’s not often that you’re able to find a guy who doesn’t just play the position, but dominates it.
So here are the five corner backs who dominate the ever changing position better that anyone else.
5. Janoris Jenkins
The Giants defense was one of the biggest surprises last season and Jenkins was a giant factor in this. After signing with the Giants on a five year $62.5 million dollar contract, Jenkins completely changed the perception that many people had on him. Throughout the beginning of his career Jenkins was a very frustrating corner to watch because he had the ability to make a game changing play but he was just as likely to blow a coverage and give up a long TD.
In his first year in New York, Jenkins was much more disciplined and along with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, they were able to form one of the most dynamic pairs of corners in the NFL. Don’t be fooled though, Jenkins was the real star, the Giants gave Jenkins a lot of responsibility in his first year and he lived up to it. Shadowing top receivers like Dez Bryant and staying with them inch for inch throughout the entirety of the game.
While Jenkins is capable of doing a lot of different things in coverage, his strong suit is playing a physical brand of football. Jenkins is great at getting a good jam on the line and pushing receivers around in man to man coverage. Although Jenkins isn’t the biggest guy out there at 5’10” 190lbs, that doesn’t stop him from laying on big hits to shake up the offense when needed.
Watching Jenkins play since he entered the league, it was quite clear that he possessed the athletic and raw ability. However it was his lack of discipline that was the major concern for many. But now that Jenkins has seemed to get that under control he’s making waves around the NFL corner charts.
4. Xavier Rhodes
Entering his fourth season in the NFL people were beginning to wonder when Rhodes was going to sprout into a form. Luckily for Vikings fans, their wish came true: the former first rounder took massive strides in his development this past season.
It took some time for Rhodes to develop the ability to handle the faster and sharper routes that NFL receivers run, but it seemed as if he finally was able to handle them this year as less and less often Rhodes was caught flat footed or out of place. Rhodes is a very long and lanky corner at 6’1″ and 210. He likes to establish a physical presence early and often with receivers. Rhodes is brilliant at getting his hands onto the receivers and pushing them the way he wants them to go, even when he can’t get a solid jam on receivers he can run deep routes with anyone in the league.
Despite all these stats that show Rhodes slow development, nothing is more eye opening than opposing quarterbacks passer ratings. Rhodes held quarterbacks to a 39.2 passer rating which is something you’d expect to see in a video game. This is even more outstanding considering that Mike Zimmer allowed Rhodes to go head to head with opposing teams’ number one receivers as the season went on.
Not many corners can shut down top receivers and make major impacts in the run game, but Rhodes is slowly turning into something truly special.
3. Marcus Peters
Since being drafted by the Chiefs in 2015, Peters has developed into the number one ball hawk in the league. His 14 interceptions lead the NFL throughout that time and continues the trend that he set in his college years. It’s very surprising to say the least to see Peters make such an impact so quickly. It tends to take most corners at least 1-2 years to adjust to the faster and sharper routes that NFL receivers run.
Peters on the other hand has had no issue and been a great force for the Chiefs. Don’t be fooled though Peters is capable of doing much more than purely picking off passes. His 6 foot 197 lb frame allows him to play an intense physical football or use his speed and agility to keep pace with smaller slot receivers. Peters allowed a 63.5 opponents passer rating last season mainly due to his ability to close off on players and break up plays that many other corners wouldn’t come close too.
The main question about Peters coming out of college was his character as he has been in a few disagreements with the coaching staff, but he has seemed to get that under wraps and focus on becoming an elite NFL corner.
2. Richard Sherman
Before last year I was starting to sour on Sherman’s play a little like many were. However, Sherman established himself once again as the best corner in the game due to his ability to shut down every receiver he faces week in and week out.
Sherman’s strength is definitely covering the boundaries. He is easily the best in the game at trailing receivers and pushing them off their go and fade routes. Granted the scheme set up by the Seahawks certainly allows Sherman to play these routes the way he does, but Sherman is still the man making the plays happen.
Although it can be one of his major flaws at some points, Sherman’s aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage allows him to bump receivers off their route and make them go the direction he wants them to go. Few receivers in the came can match the snarl and relentless effort that Sherman plays with and this allows him to both physically and mentally wear down his opponents.
The main thing that separates Sherman from other top cornerbacks is his ability to throw off the timing between the receivers and the quarterbacks. It’s a subtle hand push or redirect but it’s extremely effective, especially on vertical routes. Also his ability to tackle is really eye popping. Sherman is the best pure tackler at the corner position and it allows him to play a key role on outside runs and limits the running games.
Sherman did look like he was a half a step slower last year which made him less effective breaking on deep routes, but that can be credited to the MCL injury that he sustained during the season. The Sherman we saw from 2013 and 2014 is a thing of the past, however he is still an elite corner and possess the leadership qualities and on the field stability to lead a defense. As long as Sherman doesn’t let his trash talk and competitiveness take over to much of his game than once again this year he should be a top three corner in the NFL.
1. Chris Harris Jr.
In the modern day NFL, some corners are able to shut down outside receivers and some are able to shut down slot receivers. Chris Harris Jr. is the only cornerback to shut down both over the past half a decade and he’s done it at a pro bowl level consistently. That makes him the best corner in the league because no matter what the Broncos need, he can do it at an extraordinary level.
Harris has worked his way up starting as an undrafted free agent and quickly established himself as the best corner in the league. Over the span of three years opposing quarterbacks who threw at Harris in the slot had zero touchdowns and six interceptions! He recently moved outside this year more and now paired up with Talib, there isn’t a more dominate corner pair in the NFL. Via pro football focus in 2016 Talib and Harris allowed a total of 681 yards, two TDS on 141 targets. Those numbers are other worldly and Harris is the key that makes it run.
Harris is able to dominate the slot due to his great acceleration and short field awareness. Along with his ability quarterbacks off snap and his fantastic body control he is able to shift inside and outside with hesitation. Even on the few times that Harris gets caught flat footed on a route he is able to make up for it with his tremendous open field speed.
Ever since the Broncos entrusted Harris with playing starting corner he has been the best in the league. The value that his versatility provides can’t be stressed enough and now the rest of the NFL is realizing the great talent that Harris is.
1. Patrick Peterson
Watching Peterson is amazing yet frustrating at the same time. His ability to absolutely take top receivers in the game completely out of their game is fantastic. However it’s way too inconsistent, just as often as we see Peterson shut down receivers we see him make a foolish bite on a play-action fake or see him let up on deep routes that lead to huge plays.
That taking nothing away from the fact that Peterson is a master of technique and has great athletic ability. Peterson has just mesmerizing body control which allows him to stay stride for stride with the fastest and most evasive receivers in the game. He’s also established that any ball thrown at him is equally to him as it is to the receiver, and this has payed great dividends throughout his career, allowing him to make huge plays at key moments for his team.
But because of the great talent that Peterson possesses, there really is no excuse for him being beat consistently on vertical routes straight up the field. Peterson also is way too slow to react to routes sometimes because he gets caught watching the backfield instead of his own receiver. That’s something you’d expect from a first year player, not a top corner in the game.
Peterson is a great talent but his inability to be a consistent shut down corner cost him a top five spot.
2. Aqib Talib
Talib was an absolute force this season when he was out on the field, however he wasn’t on the field enough to cement himself as a top five corner last season. Talib missed three weeks in the middle of the season and that has been the story of his career. While Talib can absolutely dominate receivers he just can’t seem to stay healthy when for a full season.
When Talib was able to stay on the field last year he was a force. Last season Talib allowed 36 catches on 73 targets for 372 yards, zero TDs, three INTs, 53.3 passer rating against. Before Talib suffered his back injury he had 11 defended passes and 3 interceptions. Also he was one of the least thrown at corners in the league which took practically half of the field away from opposing quarterbacks each week.
Talib’s competitive drive and nastiness sets a tempo for the game and often shakes receivers. His ability to get into the heads of top receivers is such a weapon as it can quickly get them to play the type of aggressive football that he wants to play. So while Talib is a force for the Broncos he’s just not reliable enough as he’s never started all 16 games in a season.
Featured image via Sporting News