Ranking The Top Cornerback Duos In The NFL

The Patriots decision to hang on to Malcolm Butler this offseason gives them arguable their best cornerback duo of the Belichick era.

With the addition of Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots now have a tandem that not only performs at a high level individually, but also fits together as a pairing nicely.

So where do Butler and Gilmore rank among the league’s best cornerback duos?

5. Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett (Chargers): Hayward was somewhat of a surprise Pro Bowl selection last season for those that didn’t watch much Chargers football, but it was well deserved, and the new team in LA have Ted Thompson and the Packers kicking themselves for letting him walk in free agency. His seven interceptions led the NFL in 2016 and ranked second-best with a 53.9 passer rating allowed in coverage (min. 75 targets). Verrett only played in four games for the Chargers last season due to a torn ACL, but he was off to good start and primed for a big year. The statistics (105.7 rating allowed, 63.6 PFF grade) don’t match perception with Verrett, but his overall play continues to trend upward. If Verrett delivers like he did in his first two seasons, and Hayward plays on a similar level, the Chargers top two cornerbacks will be a force to be reckoned with.

4. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars): Bouye was the top cornerback on the free agent market this offseason, and the Jaguars decided to combine him with one of the best young talents in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey. Bouye was an unknown commodity prior to the 2016 season, but broke out with the Texans as one of the best coverage corners in the league. Bouye ranked third in PFF’s grading system among CBs last season, while allowing just 43 completions into his coverage (5th-best, min. 75 targets). Ramsey is the real “X” factor here, as the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft played at a Pro Bowl level down the stretch last season. Over the last six weeks or so, Ramsey really began to figure things out as you saw his natural talent start to take over, and he became a top tier CB. Ramsey is going to be one of the top corners in the league in the not so distant future, and as long as Bouye’s 2016 wasn’t a fluke, the Jaguars have a fierce CB tandem.

3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins (Giants): After a busy offseason on the defensive side of the ball the Giants and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo were one of the league’s stingiest defenses in 2016. This combo ranked in the top 10 of PFF’s grading (DRC 5th, Jenkins 8th) and in passer rating allowed (DRC 1st, Jenkins 5th, min. 75 targets) last season.The free agent addition of Janoris Jenkins to the Giants secondary was a major part of their defensive turnaround. Jenkins is one of a handful of corners that can cover the other teams #1 option at a high level for an entire game. Although Jenkins stole the headlines, DRC was no slouch either last season. Rodgers-Cromartie was second in the NFL in pass breakups (21) to go along with his league-leading 51.4 passer rating allowed when targeted. The NFL veteran has been up and down over the years, but over the last four seasons he’s been a good to possible elite corner. Here are his PFF grades over the last four seasons (out of 100): 87.1, 81.1, 83.2, 90.7.

2. Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore (Patriots): Gilmore joining the Pats makes an already good secondary even better, and he joins a fellow Pro Bowl corner in Malcolm Butler. We haven’t seen this duo on the same team yet, but in many ways they are similar to the duo ranked ahead of them. Gilmore is a long, athletic outside CB that has a similar playing style as Aqib Talib. With him in the picture, one would expect Butler to take on a role that would emulate Chris Harris’ in Denver. Butler put together another impressive season in 2016 after his breakout campaign the year before, leading the team in both passer rating allowed (87.4) and passes defensed (17). Gilmore took a step back with the Bills last season, but if he can return to his 2015 form where he broke up 18 passes and graded out much better in coverage, this duo has a chance to be at the top of this list by seasons end.

1. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib (Broncos): Until further notice these two are going to be at the top. Harris and Talib are arguable the two best man-coverage cornerbacks in the NFL and they are on the same team. Over the years, it’s hard to summarize just how dominate Chris Harris has been for the Broncos. According to PFF, he’s allowed the fewest yards per coverage snap (0.79) of any cornerback in the NFL over the last five seasons (min. 100 snaps). As good as Harris has been, Talib has been right there with him. Talib allowed a passer rating of 58.9 on passes into his coverage in 2016, which ranked third-best in the NFL among players with a minimum of 50 targets. What makes this duo so potent is how well their skills offset one another. Harris predominantly plays in the slot while also tracking wide receivers of a certain ilk. Talib handles the outside responsibilities and bigger, more physical receivers. PFF had these two ranked first (Harris) and second (Talib) in their cornerback grades last season, and there are no signs of them slowing down.