Over the next several months, the rosters of all 32 teams will begin to take shape for the 2020 season. In this series, NFL.com writers and analysts look at the best players available via free agency or the NFL draft at the following positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback, pass rusher. Today, DeAngelo Hall looks at the top 10 cornerbacks worth pursuing.
1) Chris Harris Jr., free agent
Harris has been one of the most consistent corners over the last half-decade, most notably when lining up in the slot. He has the second-lowest passer rating allowed (74.5) in coverage when aligned in the slot since 2015, per Pro Football Focus. In Vic Fangio’s first season in Denver, Harris lined up as a slot corner on just 3.3 percent of snaps (his lowest since 2016, 38.9%) and allowed a 109.4 passer rating in coverage last season. The impact the four-time Pro Bowler has on a unit going forward will largely depend on how he’s used — he said scheme would factor into where he might go while discussing the likelihood that he’s headed out of Denver. That said, his experience and production make him the headliner of the players available in this exercise.
2) Bradley Roby, free agent
I was thisclose to putting Roby at No. 1, but he isn’t as consistent as his former Broncos teammate. Roby bet on himself last season by signing a one-year contract with the Houston Texans, and it paid off for both parties. The 27-year-old cornerback, who I expect will get a long-term deal this offseason, is an asset on the perimeter or in the slot. He’s a versatile corner who can make an immediate impact for the team that signs him.
3) Byron Jones, free agent
For the record, Byron Jones will be the highest-paid cornerback on the market this offseason, but for the sake of this article, I still believe Harris and Roby offer more on the field. Now that that’s settled, we can continue. I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical when I saw Byron Jones make the transition from safety to cornerback ahead of the 2018 season. But he handled his business as an athletic defender who can hold his own against big receivers on the perimeter. And although he had a down year in 2019 — six passes defensed, one forced fumble and 46 tackles — he is constantly forcing quarterbacks to thread the needle. According to Next Gen Stats, Jones forced tight-window throws on 44.1 percent of targets as the nearest defender since 2018 (highest percentage with a minimum of 100 targets). I’m not sure where the disconnect was in Dallas this year, but this season felt like an anomaly, because Jones has the potential to regain his 2018 form.
4) Logan Ryan, free agent
Ryan is a smart, competitive cornerback who isn’t exceptional at one thing but does everything well. There’s nothing better than an all-around corner who can come up with big plays in press or off coverage, and that’s exactly what the 29-year-old was for the Tennessee Titans last season. He ranked in the top five in the league in most categories among defensive backs, finishing with 113 tackles (fourth), 4.5 sacks (second), four forced fumbles (tied for first) and 18 passes defensed (third).
5) James Bradberry, free agent
Reminiscent of Josh Norman, who left Carolina when his own rookie contract ran out four years ago, Bradberry has great instincts and is a solid cornerback who’s been readily available since entering the league as a second-round pick by the Panthers in 2016. The unrestricted free agent is coming off one of his best seasons (career-high three INTs) and has totaled the third-most tackles (220) among NFL cornerbacks since 2017. A corner with a willingness to tackle is very valuable in a day and age when receivers are accruing YAC like it’s nobody’s business.
6) Levi Wallace, free agent
Wallace, who just finished his second NFL season, started all 16 games as the Buffalo Bills‘ CB2 opposite Tre’Davious White in 2019, allowing an opposing passer rating of 85.5. He recently had surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered midway through last season but is expected to be ready to go this fall. I know there is almost zero chance Wallace, as an exclusive rights free agent, will end up with any team but the Bills. But I wanted to keep him here because, in my opinion, he’s one of the best man CBs on this list.
7) Jimmy Smith, free agent
Even at 31 years old, Smith continues to be a versatile playmaker who can cover a wide variety of pass catchers, from speed receivers to tight ends. His most important attribute at this point in his career is that he’s still on his game mentally — the toughest aspect of playing the cornerback position, especially as you get older. That said, Smith, who’s been with the Ravens his entire nine-year career, missed six games last season with a groin injury and hasn’t played a full regular-season slate since 2015, which could really limit the size of his next contract.
8) Jeff Okudah, draft prospect
Ohio State is, in part, known for putting out exceptional talent at the cornerback position, having 10 cornerbacks selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 1999 (no other school has had more than five first-round CBs in that span). There’s a ton of buzz around Okudah, who could be the best CB to ever come out of the Buckeye program. He is a top-five talent who has a chance to be selected higher than fourth overall, where another highly touted OSU corner, Denzel Ward, was drafted in 2018. Okudah has the intangibles to be great at the next level but still has room to improve.
9) Kendall Fuller, free agent
Entering his fifth NFL season, Fuller is a savvy defensive back who just won the Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs and received a 93.7 grade for his Super Bowl performance from PFF — the highest among all players in that game. Fuller will give suitors a solid nickel corner and provide teams the most bang for their buck.
10) Ronald Darby, free agent
Darby’s body of work is a mixed bag. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. But that’s just it … Darby has missed 20 games in the last three seasons due to injury. In 2019, he missed time with a hamstring injury, then landed on injured reserve by Week 16 with a hip flexor injury. But in the 11 games in which he did play last season, Darby had 11 passes defensed, two picks and 37 total tackles. There’s no doubt that he will be a valuable asset on any team, but thanks to his injury-riddled past, there’s a good chance Darby could sign another prove-it deal this offseason after inking a one-year pact with Philly last March.
Follow DeAngelo Hall on Twitter @DeAngeloHall23.