Simon’s Top 10 Cornerbacks Heading Into the 2015 NFL Season
The defensive love continues at Gents HQ this week with a look at one of the toughest positions in football – Cornerback.
Going up against the superstar wideouts every week, cornerbacks need it all – footwork, speed, strength, good hands and, perhaps most important of all, footballing intelligence.
So who are the pick of the bunch? Here’s my Top 10 heading in to the 2015 season:
- Xavier Rhodes
As with many of the Top 10s, the last space on this list could have been handed to a number of players who ultimately don’t feature, but Rhodes sneaks in based on his potential for an impressive 2015.
His second year in the League wasn’t hugely spectacular, but I think there were plenty of signs he has the potential to be a star corner in the League.
He had the highest number of defended passes of anyone on my list and gave up just 2 touchdowns to receivers in his coverage. He’s a big physical corner that can disrupt routes and knows how to tackle, missing only 3 on the season.
He’ll need to cut out some of the penalties in 2015 and improve on his solitary takeaway of last year, but I think the upside for Rhodes is huge, and he could well feature higher in next year’s list.
- Patrick Peterson
Ask Patrick Peterson who the best corner in the game is, and you’ll get a quick answer – Patrick Peterson. Whilst he’s probably the most confident (although certain others yet to feature would contest that as well no doubt!), I’m not entirely in agreement with him when it comes to his ranking.
He’s coming off a disappointing 2014 which saw him give up 8 touchdowns and get called for 13 penalties – both higher than anyone else on this list – and seemed to have lapses in concentration in coverage on a number of occasions I saw him play, often seemingly more interested in laying the big hit than making an effective tackle.
He is without doubt a good corner having been to 4 Pro Bowls already aged only 24 but, off the back of last year’s poor display, it’s hard to know if it is a trend that will continue or just a blip. It’s enough for me to stop him climbing any higher in my Top 10.
- Sean Smith
Most of the plaudits when discussing the Chiefs defense last year understandably went the way of Justin Houston for his 22 sacks, but Sean Smith also had a solid year in his second year in Kansas City. At 6’3”, Smith is capable of matching most number one receivers and that often bought time for Houston and his fellow linemen to get the pressure up front.
Targeted 86 times, Smith allowed just 49 catches and defended a further 9, but perhaps the most impressive stat of all is that he did it without being called for a single penalty all year. For a big man, that’s quite impressive.
Age isn’t on his side but, at 27, he’s not exactly over the hill just yet, so I think we’ll see another strong showing from Smith in 2015 and, perhaps, a little more recognition of his place amongst the best cornerbacks in the League.
- Brandon Flowers
2014 was a little about proving a point for Brandon Flowers, having been released by the Chiefs at the end of an injury plagued 2013 campaign. Signing as a free agent in San Diego, he recovered from his injury woes and rewarded the Chargers with a consistent performance throughout the season.
He allowed just four touchdowns on the year and came away with three interceptions although, in his preferred slot position, he didn’t allow a single touchdown on the year. His 51 tackles with only four missed attempts showed him to be a reliable play stopper, but his size prevents him from being hugely effective against the run.
I think Jason Verrett, who had an excellent Rookie campaign, will push him next year, but Flowers will remain the No.1 and continue to show why he’s a prime example of why size isn’t everything.
- Joe Haden
Much like Sean Smith in KC, Joe Haden is another corner who doesn’t necessarily attract the attention he warrants, unless it is from opposing offensive coordinators, and I think that’s primarily due to him being on the Browns roster. Opposing QBs often have plenty of time to choose their target against Cleveland and, as such, the corners really have to earn their corn.
Despite being targeted 113 times over the course of the year, Haden only gave up 60 receptions and amassed a whopping 71 solo tackles, missing just 4 along the way. His three interceptions and 10 defended passes also highlight his ability in coverage, although he can be found a little wanting against faster receivers, often getting deep.
With a little more consistency he could be among the top 5 corners, but I think his apparent regular lapses of concentration and lack of top end speed prevent him from being exceptional.
5. Jimmy Smith
2014 ended early for Jimmy Smith courtesy of a foot injury in Week 8 spending the second half of the season on IR. Up to that point, however, it had been a good year.
In his shortened season, Smith allowed no touchdowns and just 20 receptions against him, and recorded 28 tackles. Even with an arbitrary doubling of those numbers it would have finished as a very good year but, with him seemingly improving as the season went on, there was the possibility that it could have even been a career year.
With him, the Ravens gave up more than 300 yards just twice, but went on to do so a further 5 times whilst Smith was out injured. Whilst that can’t be solely attributed to his absence, I think it is an indication of his importance to the Ravens defense and a nod to his abilities in coverage.
His recovery from the foot injury is on-going but he is expected to be fully fit for the start of the season. His return will be a boost to a Ravens team with high hopes for 2015, and I think it could be another strong year for Smith.
- Darrelle Revis
There isn’t many a conversation that takes place about cornerbacks that doesn’t feature the name Darrelle Revis. The 29 year old has been amongst the best in the League for a number of years and even a torn ACL in 2013 did little to hamper his performance last year.
On every snap he played in 2014, he was matched up against the best receiver on the opposing offense, yet still only surrendered two touchdowns and 41 receptions in 79 targets. Impressive enough, even without it being against the No.1 receiver on the field at any given moment.
His coverage is as good as any corner in the League today and he can shut down even the very best on a regular basis. Even if the catch is made, its unlikely Revis will let his man get away given his tackling abilities.
The only downside for me coming in this season is his age. He turns 30 this month and there will have to be a drop off at some point. On an impressive looking Jets defense, that might not come just yet, but I can’t help but think 2015 might be the start of the decline.
- Chris Harris Jr.
2014 was an exceptionally good year for Chris Harris Jr. and one that I think allowed him to emerge from teammate Aqib Talib’s shadow to a certain extent.
Targeted 89 times on the year, he gave up just 46 receptions and zero touchdowns under his coverage, allowing a measly 7.7 yards per catch – by far and away the best of anyone on this list.
He also had three interceptions, 49 tackles, hurried the opposing Quarterback 5 times, and recorded a sack. In short, he was everywhere for the Broncos last year.
At just 5’10” he’s not the biggest corner, but his speed and agility mean he’s difficult to beat and doesn’t leave much of a window for the receiver. The longest play he conceded all year was just 22 yards, so he rarely lets his man get over the top of him either.
Harris has evolved from an injury prone, undersized cornerback to one of the best there is. At 26, I think the best is yet to come from him and 2015 will see him put up yet more impressive numbers and generally making a name for himself as one of the elite corners in the NFL.
Davis was again the brightest light in an often-criticized defense in Indianapolis last year, recording something of a career year in his 6th year in the League, this despite missing one game through concussion and playing through injury for parts of the season.
When he was on the field, he had the lowest completion percentage against him of any corner at just 43.7% and didn’t concede a single touchdown on any of his 71 targets. As a result, opposing Quarterbacks achieved just a 38.8 rating when throwing in his direction.
He’s a fast, physical corner who is equally adept at shadowing his receiver or bumping at the line and his strong tackling technique (just 2 missed tackles all year) make him effective in both pass and run situations, and one of the most dominant players in the League.
I considered making him my No.1 for quite some time but, given who ultimately ended up there, and Vontae’s injury issues, he’ll have to settle for the runner-up spot this time around.
Another season like 2014 however, and I think he will rightly be named along with the likes of Revis and Sherman when discussing the NFL’s elite cornerbacks.
- Richard Sherman
Love him or hate him (those of you who follow me on Twitter will know where I stand on that one!); you cannot deny Richard Sherman is probably the best cornerback in the NFL right now.
You could argue that he’s only there because of the rest of the Seahawks secondary, or that playing only on one side of the field makes it easier for Sherman in some way, but the cold hard facts are he gets the job done, pretty much every time.
In 2014 he allowed just 31 receptions against him and had 4 interceptions on 65 targets – that’s a total of 24 interceptions in just 4 years in the NFL – and whilst you can avoid him for the majority of the game (and quite a few offenses are doing just that where possible), when you do come back to throw in his general direction, he will inevitably make the play.
He’s big, he’s quick, and he’s not afraid to drop his shoulder when needed if covering the run, but pretty much everything Sherman does he does as well as any corner in the League.
If there is any criticism to be levelled, it’s that he sometimes gets a little over aggressive with his coverage, leaving him vulnerable to the deep pass over the top, but so few teams dare try take him on, it hasn’t proven to be a big problem so far.
If you look at it by numbers alone, Richard Sherman isn’t the best cornerback in the League. If you actually sit and watch him play, and see the effect he has on the opposing offense however, it is hard to argue that anyone is more effective at the position right now.
Trust me, I tried!