The NFLs top 12 outside cornerbacks

    There are countless things to do in sports that are difficult.

    hitting a baseball is definitely one of them, as I’ve been reminding my players all summer.

    Reading: Who’s the best cornerback in the nfl

    another? playing cornerback in the nfl. you have some of the best athletes in the world running towards you, trying to take your shoes off. and is expected to match them step by step? of course. and heaven forbid you have any contact with them, otherwise you’ll see more yellow than heinz field during a pittsburgh steelers game.

    despite the odds, there are some amazing cornerbacks in the game today. Here’s a look at the best outside cornerbacks in the NFL today, and our other position lists to date.

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    top 12 nfl slot defenders

    12. trevon diggs, dallas cowboys

    (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

    Thanks to 45 years on this rock we call earth, and time spent as a lawyer, coach, husband, and father, I’ve found that it’s often best to have the tough conversations early on.

    so we start with trevon diggs.

    There will be some who will wonder why diggs doesn’t rank higher on this list, and those people will point to his league-leading 11 interceptions last season, as well as the 11 “forced misses” recorded by pro football focus, who placed 11th in the league among cornerbacks. The 11 interceptions Diggs caught in 2021 were the most by an NFL cornerback since another Dallas defender, Everson Wall in 1981.

    (if 11 is your favorite number then today is your lucky day…)

    However, others will point to the 1,068 receiving yards he gave up last season, which was the most of any cornerback in the nfl, and diggs was the only cb to give up more than 1,000 receiving yards a year ago. plus, diggs was flagged 11 times (that number again), which also led cornerbacks a season ago.

    When he wasn’t taking interceptions, he was beaten in coverage.

    There’s a lot of discussion about “risk versus reward” with diggs, which is something to look into at a later date. its inclusion here is done with a look to the future. While one might expect those interception numbers to drop, given the haphazard nature of turnovers, there’s also promise that Diggs steps up and reduces errors in the year ahead. with that promise, it slips into this list.

    for now.

    because while there are examples of him making impressive plays in coverage, like this interception against the washington commanders where he matches terry mclaurin step by step:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    There are also moments like this, where a.j.’s double move bites. green and gives a big gain in passing game:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    if diggs looks more like the defender in next season’s first clip, and not the second, then you can expect to see him move up this list next summer.

    11. patrick surtain ii, denver broncos

    (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    It may seem almost a little presumptuous to place Patrick Surtain II on a roster like this after only one season in the NFL, but his play during his rookie campaign is worthy of a selection. Surtain started 15 of his 16 games for the Denver Broncos last season, posting four interceptions, including a pick-six of his own.

    surtain also held opposing quarterbacks to an nfl passer rating of just 69.7 on target, ranking him ninth in the nfl among qualified cornerbacks.

    surtain awareness in coverage and ability to get to the point of capture stand out among the many traits that made him a first-round pick. He first takes this play against the Washington Commanders, where playing from a lineup out of the zone, he drives to the capture point and breaks a pitch on an exit path:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    In this snapshot, the Broncos are in men’s coverage with Surtain again playing Keinan Allen. watch how he remains patient while allen works on his route, before closing the ball and preventing it from completing:

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    after just one season, surtain has ranked among the best cornerbacks in the nfl. how high it rises remains to be seen.

    10. marlon humphrey, baltimore ravens

    (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

    baltimore ravens cornerback marlon humphrey is another member of this list who can point to his versatility as a reason for his inclusion. Humphrey stands out both for the demarcation and for the work he does in the groove.

    Humphrey’s physical playstyle, as well as his recovery abilities, make him a solid option for the Ravens along the edge. on this play against mike williams of the los angeles chargers, humphrey starts in press lineup and works his way back to the ball on this hook path, preventing the finish:

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    then you can see his change of direction skills on plays like this one against the minnesota vikings, when he breaks a pitch down an inning route, after moving his hips to the sideline first:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    humphrey might also be suitable for inclusion in the list of slot defenders, but since he has spent more time abroad recently, he is listed here for the work he has done abroad.

    9. denzel ward, cleveland browns

    Denzel Ward Browns (Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

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    denzel ward has been a consistent performer in the nfl since the cleveland browns selected him fourth overall in the 2018 nfl draft. as a rookie in 2018, he started 12 of the 13 games he played for the browns, scoring three interceptions and earning a pro bowl selection. That consistent level of play he has continued during each of his four years in the league.

    Last year, Ward earned another pro bowl selection, as he caught three more interceptions and returned one for a 99-yard touchdown.

    like other notable cornerbacks, ward is another versatile coverage cornerback in the nfl. Although he predominantly plays on the outside for Cleveland (745 of his 904 snaps were on the outside for the Browns), Ward has also seen time in the slot, in the box and even up front for the Cleveland defense.

    Perhaps the best example of his coverage skills is that 99-yard pick-six against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he faces Ja’marr Chase in the low red zone:

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    chase slow plays a pivot route here, bursting inside before finally launching itself onto the plane. Ward doesn’t take the bait and beats the rookie to the capture point and steps in front of him for the interception, before heading the other direction for six.

    8. white tre’davious, buffalo spikes

    one of the many reasons analysts are high on buffalo’s bills for the 2022 season is their secondary, and the return of talented cornerback tre’davious white after a knee injury put an end to your 2021 campaign ahead of time.

    When healthy, White is one of the most covered man cornerbacks in the entire league. according to pro football benchmark data, he was targeted in coverage 58 times last season, allowing just 31 receptions for 305 yards and not a single touchdown. White also allowed 9.8 receiving yards and a meager NFL passer rating of 61.4 when he was coached.

    White’s ability to move his hips and take out separately is one of the reasons he’s so adept at covering men. this play against jaylen waddle is a great example as it closes on the exit path and doesn’t give her a chance to complete this pass :

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    With a healthy white backing for 2022, the Bills’ secondary could be one of the most imposing units in all of football.

    7. marshon lattimore, new orleans saints

    (Getty Images)

    By some metrics, the 2021 season was a step backwards for New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The CB allowed 16 receiving yards, the most of his five-year NFL career. he also allowed 862 yards on the season, against the most since he entered the league.

    but his ability at the capture point, marked by the 18 pass breakups he posted a year ago, also a career-high number, sees him drop down this list. His closing speed and reaction time set him apart in the league and he showed himself all season long. if it was this break from a pass intended for terry mclaurin recently paid on a vertical route:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    or this break from a backhanded throw attempt in the direction of stefon diggs:

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    or this very physical interception by tom brady at the end of the season:

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    Lattimore’s physical style of play and his ability to drive to the ball make him a dangerous cornerback to target in the passing game. yes, there is a “boom and bust” nature to his game, but his willingness to attack the ball makes him one of the best cornerbacks in the league from where I sit.

    6. darius slay, philadelphia eagles

    (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

    Finding the right scheme for a player is a critical component of roster building. while that tends to be a big point of contention when it comes to the quarterback position, it’s less often an issue on the defensive end of football.

    That doesn’t make it any less important.

    darius slay is a prime example of this when it comes to the corner position. Moving to the Philadelphia defense and Jonathan Gannon, Slay found himself playing more out of the box than he had in years past, a lineup that suited his ability to read and react.

    the result? one of the best seasons of his career. Slay was targeted 72 times last season, allowing 44 receptions for 459 yards. He also had four pass breakups, three interceptions and an NFL passer rating of just 76.1 when he was attacked.

    this pick-six against new orleans is a great example of slay’s ability to play out of cover and break the ball:

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    The cornerback reads this perfectly and gets to the capture point once he sees the receiver pick up speed and start working toward the sideline. slay steps forward from the pitch and goes the distance for an eagles touchdown.

    5. xavien howard, miami dolphins

    (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

    for the past several seasons, xavien howard has been among the best male coverage cornerbacks in the entire nfl. His 2020 campaign put him in contention for Defensive Player of the Year honors, as he finished third behind Aaron Donald and T.J. watt. the reason? Howard recorded a league-leading ten interceptions.

    although he didn’t produce at the same level a season ago, howard remained a blocking option in men’s coverage for the miami dolphins. he recorded five interceptions a year ago, along with 16 passes defensed.

    When you think of a man’s coverage skills, one of the phrases that comes to mind is a cornerback’s “route-running ability for the receiver.” If you want to see a good example of that trait, check out this interception from last season against the Carolina Panthers:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    while his hobby is covering men, howard also produced when tasked with zone coverage responsibilities. do you want to see a cornerback trick a qb into diving into the cover-2? check out this mac jones interception from the season finale:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    This pick-six starts before the snap. Howard shows Jones’ zone leverage before the play, with his hips open to midfield and his eyes on the QB. but right on the snap, howard fires into the receiver to block it, before sinking with the vertical route.

    or so jones thinks.

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    howard breaks off the vertical and catches the receiver’s path out of the slot, putting himself in front of jakobi meyers and generating the fumble. a perfect play and a touchdown for the defense.

    4. a.j. terrell, atlanta falcons

    (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

    It wasn’t the best of seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, who limped to a 7-10 record under first-year head coach Arthur Smith. but one of the few bright spots was the rise of a.j. Terrell as a top-tier option abroad. More than a few heads turned when the Falcons selected Terrell in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft, but that might have had more to do with recency bias than anything else.

    terrell’s struggles against lsu in the national championship overshadowed what was a solid high school career at clemson. After posting just one interception as a rookie, Terrell posted three interceptions along with 16 passes defensed last season, earning him a second-team pro selection.

    his ability at the capture point shone last season and was evident in plays like this against tom brady and the tampa bay buccaneers:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    Playing off-the-man coverage against this stopping route, Terrell breaks downhill and manages to get a hand on the ball while avoiding contact with the receiver. this is an almost textbook cornerback technique.

    On this play against the New Orleans Saints, Terrell starts off lined up with the press and lands a solid jam at receiver, but then evens the route with impressive turnaround skills:

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    It may have come as a surprise that Terrell came off the board when he did, but after last season, any doubts should be dispelled.

    3. jc jackson, los angeles chargers

    (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

    For the past two seasons, j.c. Jackson has been one of the most productive cornerbacks in the NFL, notching nine interceptions during the 2020 campaign and another eight a year ago. His 23 passes defensed last season also led the entire league.

    During his time with the New England Patriots, Jackson demonstrated the ability to handle both man coverage and zone coverage responsibilities at a very high level. his performance last season offers examples of both realms. In this Joe Flacco interception, you can see his man coverage skills as he mirrors the route and beats the receiver to the ball :

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    but now look at your awareness in zone coverage. justin herbert and the los angeles chargers are trying to get to this throwback post to keinan allen, and hoping jackson stays on mike williams route and doesn’t take off to help safety. but jackson reads this perfectly and gets to the capture point along with the ball, helping to avoid the big play:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    Fortunately for Herbert, the young quarterback will only have Jackson to worry about during training camp as the cornerback heads into the charged AFC West. His presence in the secondary, along with some of the other additions the Chargers made this offseason, has many excited about what might be in store for the Chargers in the coming year.

    2. jaire alexander, green bay packers

    (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

    Just as Jalen Ramsey topped this list for the second year in a row, he also topped Jaire Alexander for the second season in a row.

    Injuries limited Alexander to just 231 snaps last season, as the Green Bay Packers cornerback suffered a right shoulder injury earlier in the season that landed him on injured reserve after the week. 4. He was able to return for the Green Bay playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, but saw just eight plays in the divisional round loss.

    still, before his injury, fans got to see what alexander brings to the field, which is a combination of man coverage skills, approach speed, and awareness that make him one of the best cornerbacks in the nfl . That was on full display in Green Bay’s Week 3 win over the San Francisco 49ers. in this play, alexander clicks and drives on the route, preventing deebo samuel from a complete on the curl route:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d %5b/video%5d

    then in this work you see consciousness. As a back cornerback in a quarter coverage scheme, Alexander shifts from the dig route to deep and moves into the middle of the field, tracking down a shot intended for George Kittle on the deep post route:

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    With a fully healthy season in 2022, Packers fans can expect Alexander to be high on this list next summer as well.

    1. jalen ramsey, rams of the angels

    (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

    For the second straight season, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey tops the NFL’s top outside cornerbacks wire touchdown list. Just like last season, Ramsey’s versatility and skill set are a big reason he tops the list.

    last season, ramsey again played all over the field for the rams when they won the franchise’s second lombardi trophy. According to chart data from Pro Football Focus, Ramsey saw 544 plays at outside cornerback, 325 plays in the slot, another 131 plays in the box, and even 30 plays along the defensive front.

    then there’s his versatility in the type of players he can cover. you might see him covering deebo samuel in a week, t.j. hockenson a second week and danny amendola a third. In a matchup-based league, a defender who can be responsible for taking on so many different threats is a great asset to a defense.

    Regardless of where he lined up or who he covered, he excelled. He takes this interception against the Detroit Lions, where he lines up out of cover in a huddle formation and breaks under Hokenson for the interception:

    [video width=”960″ height=”540″ mp4=”″%5d%5b /video%5d

    or this play from the super bowl, when he breaks up a pass intended for tee higgins and nearly made the interception:

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    with his versatility and skill set, ramsey is a huge weapon on the defensive side of the ball for the rams. And for the second year in a row, that propels it to the top of our list.

    honorable mentions

    (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

    As with any list like this, talented players get left out. We can start with the tandem in Tampa Bay, as both the Buccaneers’ Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean are players to watch next season to see if they can crack this roster next summer. Veterans like Marcus Peters and Stephon Gilmore have put in some impressive seasons, and as long as they can stay healthy, both the Indianapolis Ravens and Colts can count on them to be key players in their secondary.

    See also: Why do soccer players walk out with a child

    another player who just got lost? chidobe awuzie of the cincinnati flares. After struggling in Dallas, Awuzie joined the Bengals and put together the best season of his career, allowing an NFL passer rating of 74.8 when he was attacked.

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