Ranking NFL’s top 10 cornerbacks of 2023: There’s a new No. 1 as Jets’ Sauce Gardner takes the top spot

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By Webdesk

The NFL is and likely will be a passing league for the foreseeable future. Because it is, cornerbacks have arguably never been more important. They have the primary covering job on the league’s top pass catchers and thus arguably have the most responsibility for disrupting an opponent’s passing play.

The secondary system is usually a weak link system where the whole can be better or worse than the sum of its parts, but having a top player in position makes it easier for everyone else on the field. In the space below, we’re going to walk through the top 10 players in this key spot for the 2023 season.

Just missed (alphabetical order): AJ Terrell, Falcons; Carlton Davis, Buccaneers; Charvarius Ward, 49ers; Denzel Ward, Browns; Jamel Dean, Buccaneers; James Bradberry, eagles; Marshon Lattimore, Saints; Tariq Woolen, Seahawks; Tre’Davious White, Accounts; Xavien Howard, Dolphins

Gilmore may be heading into his 33-year season, and he’s clearly no longer at his Defensive Player of the Year peak. But in the past two seasons, he has returned to near peak form and is one of only four players in the entire league to rank in the top 15 Pro Football Focus scores in both 2021 and 2022. (So ​​are the other three on this list.) Heading to Dallas to play for Dan Quinn and opposite Trevon Diggs (more on him in a minute), Gilmore should be able to shine even as he approaches his mid-thirties.

Horn has been a bit overshadowed by another star corner picked after him in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he put on a great sophomore campaign and should only get better. Last season, he allowed just 28 completions and 310 yards in coverage, with zero touchdowns against three interceptions and three pass breakups, according to PFF. Its ability to go into the slot and set up in the box also makes it more versatile than your typical perimeter angler.

8. Trevon Diggs, Cowboys

Diggs made the All-Pro First Team in 2021 when he led the league with 11 interceptions…but he was a better player in 2022 despite the turnover number dropping to just three. He has the best ball skills of any cornerback in the league, and if you can make big plays like him, you can excuse yourself for getting beaten on a double move every once in a while. With Gilmore playing opposite him, DaRon Bland in the slot machine and a trio of safeties moving around the field, Diggs is poised for success once again heading into 2023.

Given the chance to play indoors, Humphrey was the league’s leading slotsman and again played mostly on the perimeter in 2022, but nevertheless had his best cover season in a few years, with only a passer rating of 74.5 with zero touchdowns and three picks. He can do pretty much anything in Mike McDonald’s defense, and the Ravens are sure to ask him to do just that.

Yes really. Reed is another one of the aforementioned four players to rank in the top 15 PFF coverage numbers in each of the past two seasons, ninth and 11th respectively. He plays opposite Sauce Gardner (you’ll see him later) in New York, but after allowing passer ratings of 76.2, 66.0 and 75.7 on throws in his direction over the past three seasons and only a year ago 9.9 meters per reception allowed, Reed has proven on a few occasions that his lack of size (he is 5 feet 11 inches) doesn’t hinder him that much in coverage. In defense of Robert Saleh, the Jets have a closed corner to work each side of the field.

Alexander grabbed five passes and landed eight more last season, nearly matching his elite performance of 2020 by putting up a pass score of just 66.2 for throws in his direction. (It was 54.3 a few years ago.) He proved he’s healthy again after missing a ton of time in 2021 due to injury, and with his combination of size, speed and physicality, few players are in the league that are covers have versatility on the outside.

Slay has returned to outright superstardom in the last two years, rebounding after a poor debut season in Philadelphia. You can easily make the argument that he was on the All-Pro team last year given how consistently excellent he was – especially in the second half of the year. After allowing 85 yards of coverage against Washington in Week 10, Slay allowed no more than 48 yards in a game the rest of the way and only allowed 55 total on Philadelphia’s three playoff games. He will turn 32 next season, but he shows no signs of slowing down.

Ramsey was beaten for a career-high seven touchdowns last year as the Rams’ defense collapsed around him, but he was still insanely good at coverage most of the year. His ability to play in the slot or box and play near the line of scrimmage is unparalleled among cornerbacks and playing for Vic Fangio – the creator of the plan that has taken his game to another level since moving to LA. – should only help him reach new heights when he reaches the last part of his prime.

Surtain is actually the prototype of what you want a corner to look like these days. He’s in the 95th percentile or higher in height, weight, wingspan, arm length, and hand size, and it shows when he’s on the field. He doesn’t have top speed in short distances, but he makes up for it with excellent agility, jumping ability and timing during his breaks. He is able to cover even the best No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis, and he only gets better as he matures physically and learns more about the game.

1. Sauce Gardner, Jets

Gardner was probably the best cornerback in the league as a rookie. He allowed only 45.9% of passes thrown in his path to be completed, for a rating of 53.9. He led the league in forced unfinished percentages and pass breakups, allowing cover shots only once in 18—the best mark in the NFL. At six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, he’s built to handle any game at any time, and he plays in a system that allows him to take advantage of his outrageous physical gifts.

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