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Best cornerbacks from 2019 feature some unfamiliar names and up-and-coming stars

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Cornerback is a notoriously tricky position to evaluate with statistics. We use our analytics index to identify the best players from last season, a list that includes some names you’ll know and some you might have missed.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Richard Sherman still belongs among the game’s elite at the cornerback position.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

This offseason, Acme Packing Company is exploring the value of the most important positions, which teams have the best players at those spots, and which have the best groups overall. For an explanation of the methodology, please check out our earlier work:
QB, WR,

Interceptions used to be the only way anyone seemed to measure cornerbacks. Lead the league in picks to prove your worth. But too many DeAngelo Halls would rack up turnovers while giving up big plays and touchdowns, just like the Packers’ 2019 team leader in interceptions, Kevin King. Luckily, the metrics improve by the day, with resources like Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions charting cornerback play. The days of relying on counting stats are mercifully over. So who was best last season? Some names will come as no surprise, while others might make you break out Google.

To evaluate corners, we used Pro Football Focus’ grades, coverage grades, snaps per reception, and rating when targeted. We added in Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value and Sports Info Solutions’ Total Points to put together a full picture with quantitative and qualitative evaluations.

Here’s how the group made out in 2019.

2019 Cornerback Index

Name Index PFF Grade PFF Coverage Grade Snaps Per Reception Rating When Targeted Approximate Value Total Points
Name Index PFF Grade PFF Coverage Grade Snaps Per Reception Rating When Targeted Approximate Value Total Points
Stephon Gilmore 52.57 9.31 9.51 6.44 9.14 10 8.17
Richard Sherman 51.91 10 10 10 9.19 5.71 7
Tre'davious White 50.99 8.5 8.35 6.34 9.23 8.57 10
Marcus Peters 48.07 9.36 9.49 6.91 7.05 8.1 7.17
Casey Hayward 44.84 9.34 9.21 9.95 4.99 2.86 8.5
Joe Haden 44.01 7.91 7.91 7.17 7.28 5.24 8.5
Marlon Humphrey 43.82 7.93 8.47 5.39 6.83 6.19 9
Steven Nelson 42.26 9.06 8.91 8.43 7.01 2.86 6
J.C. Jackson 42.26 7.57 7.59 7.38 10 2.38 7.33
Quinton Dunbar 40.67 9.85 9.93 6.28 8.36 1.9 4.33
Jaire Alexander 39.29 8.13 8.51 5.81 5.81 2.86 8.17
Janoris Jenkins 39.26 7.74 7.69 6.39 7.25 2.86 7.33
Brian Poole 38.7 8.89 8.88 7.38 7.15 1.9 4.5
Tramon Williams 38.44 8.45 9.12 7.17 6.13 1.9 5.67
D.J. Hayden 38.36 8.65 8.65 7.43 6.93 1.43 4.33
Byron Jones 38.24 8.56 8.3 9.37 5.29 2.38 4.33
Shaq Griffin 37.79 8.66 8.44 7.43 5.11 3.81 4.33
K'Wuan Williams 37.59 8.68 8.4 4.29 6.64 1.9 7.67
Troy Hill 37.43 8.59 8.07 7.75 8.54 1.9 3.5
Jason McCourty 37.24 8.37 8.83 5.65 7.83 2.38 4.17
Denzel Ward 36.76 7.86 8.07 7.02 8.27 2.38 3.17
Carlton Davis 36.4 7.92 8 5.81 5.62 2.38 6.67
Kenny Moore II 35.67 8.49 7.9 4.61 6.09 1.9 6.67
Charvarious Ward 35.35 7.82 7.28 8.27 7.5 2.38 2
Emmanuel Mosely 35.09 7.87 7.55 6.02 5.91 1.9 5.83
Chidobe Awuzie 35.01 8.12 7.82 5.65 5.27 3.81 4.33
Adoree Jackson 34.87 8.57 8.35 7.07 5.48 1.9 3.5
Marshon Lattimore 34.53 7.66 7.62 6.6 5.98 3.33 3.33
Levi Wallace 33.79 7.72 7.58 4.29 5.37 3.33 5.5
Ross Cockrell 33.68 6.47 6.8 6.23 7.44 1.9 4.83
Logan Ryan 33.6 7.3 6.73 4.08 4.99 3.33 7.17
Eric Rowe 32.97 6.63 6.68 7.43 6.32 1.9 4
Rock Ya-Sin 32.41 7.35 6.9 7.59 4.69 2.38 3.5
Prince Amukamara 32.37 7.58 7.72 7.59 4.62 2.86 2
Bashaud Breeland 32.19 5.43 4.87 9.53 6.67 2.86 2.83
Kevin King 31.76 7.03 6.91 5.29 6 2.86 3.67
Jalen Ramsey 31.52 8.04 7.62 5.6 5.1 3.81 1.33
Damontae Kazee 31.42 6.84 6.45 9.95 4.63 2.38 1.17
Eli Apple 30.89 7.18 6.56 7.23 4.19 1.9 3.83
Chris Harris Jr. 30.65 7.86 7.41 6.65 4.03 2.86 1.83
Kyle Fuller 30.53 7.03 6.51 4.87 5.36 4.76 2
Darius Slay 30.11 6.34 6.32 5.24 5.89 3.33 3
Tre Flowers 28.77 6.06 5.89 5.55 6.24 2.86 2.17
Xavier Rhodes 21.72 5.22 4.96 4.19 2.51 3.33 1.5

For the Packers, this list shows promise. Alexander endeared himself to fans with his brash on-field demeanor, playmaking, and heart. He’s not an enormous player, but the cliche about playing bigger than his size may not apply more appropriately for another player in the league.

Alexander excels in the Total Points and PFF metrics because of his stellar overall play and his willingness to tackle, not his splash plays. Since he came into the league, the former first-round pick has been among NFL leaders in contested passes. Teams may complete balls on him, but he’s always going to compete at the catch point. If he can get his hands on a couple more passes in 2020 and beyond, he’s going to rocket up this list.

It’s not hard to imagine him being a top-10 cornerback this year, and he could even get into that 5-8 range if the players around him stay healthy.

And speaking of the guys around him, Kevin King showing up on this list may be surprising to some, but he did lead the team in picks and his versatility with his size provides the Packers defense with a blend of athleticism and length every team covets. King didn’t come in at the top of the list, but finishing in the mid-30’s as a No. 2 corner isn’t going to hurt on defense, not to mention he came in ahead of purported top end No. 1’s like Jalen Ramsey (who was bad last year), Kyle Fuller, Darius Slay, and Xavier Rhodes.

This data also suggests the Packers would be wise to bring back Tramon Williams, who produced like one of the 15 best cornerbacks in football. Brian Gutekunst faces decisions on the future of Kevin King and Josh Jackson. Getting them on the field is the best way to find out which direction to go, but Williams represents a safer bet in 2020 to help them win games than experimenting with young players who very well might turn out to be good.

Plenty of the names on the list will be familiar to most fans, but surely guys like Brian Poole and Troy Hill were not on the radar for the casual NFL observer. Stephon Gilmore wins Defensive Player of the Year, everyone credits Bill Belichick for being a genius (which he is), and we miss how incredible J.C. Jackson played for the Patriots, who had three corners wind up in the top-20.

D.J. Hayden’s blossoming in Jacksonville went largely unnoticed in a forgettable season for the Jaguars, and these players personify why it’s so difficult to evaluate cornerback play based solely on counting stats.

If cornerbacks aren’t targeted, they can’t accumulate PBUs and interceptions. Avoiding being targeted, though, is a positive trait for defensive back as it tends to suggest they’re playing their responsibilities. Not hearing a corner’s name called all game tends to be a good thing, which is why the stellar play of these lesser known defenders so often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated.

Hopefully as some of these statistics become mainstream, that will start to change and they’ll receive the credit they deserve.

We’re starting to whittle down the list of teams who qualify with the best group of priority position plays in the league. After 22 quarterbacks made it as top-16 in at least one category, just 13 also had a receiver hit the necessary marks. Add in cornerback and we take the list down to 11.

For now, the Saints lead with Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, and Marshon Lattimore. They’re the favorites to come away with the top spot, but the Chiefs are hot on their heels and a handful of teams including the Seahawks, Cowboys, Titans, Bucs, and Packers follow behind. Don’t expect them all to be standing by the time we get to the end of this exercise.

So far, the Packers haven’t had an elite position player by these metrics — a no-doubt top-5 player — but we know Adams and Rodgers have played to that level and Alexander can. Plus, the Packers just might have the best OT/EDGE combination in football. They are looking good to be finalists on this list.