We have seen lists consisting of who people think are the top 5 QBs under 25, as well as top RBs and WRs under 25. There have also been lists of who the top 5 remaining free agents are, as well as top active safeties. Unfortunately, no one has made a list of who they think are the top CBs age 25 and under. So, allow us to enlighten you on who we think are those top candidates.
9. Sean Smith – Kansas City Chiefs
Smith turns 26 in July, so good thing that this is being put out right now. Standing at a towering 6’3”, Smith’s greatest asset is his ability to be physical with the new breed of big, fast, strong WRs. What he lacks is fluidity in the hips, so when he is facing the shorter guys who run crisp routes, he tends to get beat on short-to-intermediate routes and double moves. Great thing about Smith, though is that he is still young, and given the contract he received from KC, they have high hopes for him to compliment Brandon Flowers similarly to how Brandon Carr did, which is kind of a big deal.
8. Morris Claiborne – Dallas Cowboys
Claiborne was often injured in his rookie season last year, but he showed great upside and fortitude when at his best. In his first game as a professional, Claiborne had a difficult task covering Hakeem Nicks the entire game, while Brandon Carr shadowed Victor Cruz, vowing to not allow him to salsa on their defense. In 6 targets, Nicks caught four passes for only 38 yards with the rookie Claiborne defending him. From that moment on, Claiborne set the ceiling high for himself. He also performed well against Torrey Smith, holding him to only two receptions for 24 yards and one score. Expect vast improvements from Claiborne in the near future.
7. Casey Hayward – Green Bay Packers
Hayward was a late first-early second round pick to most spectators covering the 2012 NFL draft. A lot of people were bewildered when he fell to the bottom of the second round. Hayward proved his value early in his rookie year when veteran leader Charles Woodson went down and he was asked to step in immediately. Hayward played on the outside as well as at nickel cornerback, arguably the most difficult position on defense. He managed to pick off 6 balls and force one fumble in his best Charles Woodson impersonation. Hayward might surpass Tramon Williams for the #1 spot on GB’s depth chart for his tackling ability, something Williams is a bit inferior at. The NFC North has arguably the best QBs among all divisions in the NFL, so Green Bay were smart to take Hayward, as he will help out their pass defense significantly.
6. Janoris Jenkins – St. Louis Rams
Ask a group of people which rookie would they have rather had in 2012 out of Jenkins and Hayward and it might be even split. Hayward’s cover skills may be a tad bit better than Jenkins’, but Jenkins’ ball hawk skills sore over Hayward’s. They both spent staccato time at nickel last year, but Jenkins made several key plays on blitzes and in the run game, including returning three interceptions for TDs. Also, his cockiness on the field stands out like a sore thumb. You need confident corners in this passing league, and Jenkins is one of those guys each team would like to have.
5. Devin McCourty – New England Patriots
If I could use one word to define McCourty it would be zealous. When a corner gets beat, he has to have short-term memory. McCourty had a bit of a rough season as a rookie in 2010, but he also recorded seven interceptions and received an invite to the Pro Bowl. In 2012, New England was doomed by injuries in their secondary. McCourty had the heart to perform at cornerback well and switched to safety later in the season, adding another dimension to his game that some might have not known he had.
4. Patrick Peterson – Arizona Cardinals
Some think Peterson should be number one on this list, but I object. His outstanding punt return ability has allowed some people to look over his coverage skills. He is not a bad cover corner, but he has bad days every once in a while like everyone else. But as we spoke earlier about having a short-term memory, that is Peterson down to a tee. His most difficult game was probably his rookie year when Dez Bryant had 8 catches for 86 yards and a TD. But he was in fact one of the best corners in the league last year when Darrelle Revis went down and we were looking for another guy to crown. Peterson had 7 INTs in 2012, and had arguably the best game of his young career against New England, as he was a nuisance for Tom Brady the entire game. Do not be surprised if he is the most impressive cornerback in the NFL in 2013 overall. The kid can ball.
3. Chris Harris – Denver Broncos
Some people still do not even know who this kid is. The undrafted 3rd-year corner from Kansas was the 5th corner on Denver’s depth chart at the start of the season. There was of course the ageless Champ Bailey, Tracy Porter, Tony Carter and Omar Bolden. Porter was injured early in the year and Carter struggled in man coverage. And while Harris was seeing minimal time as a blitzing nickel corner, we started to see him in more coverage calls and being a burden for most WRs he faced. He probably got his most recognition when he returned a 98-yard interception against the Baltimore Ravens while covering Anquan Boldin. Denver recently signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, as well as drafted another corner. But that might be because of the age of Champ Bailey and inexperience of Tony Carter. Harris isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He already is the best nickel corner in the league, and he gets to practice against Wes Welker for the next two years. Scary.
2. Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks
I’ve noticed Sherman’s capabilities since his rookie year, and knew he’d be an elite corner in the NFL soon, but not as soon as he did. The 5th round pick in the 2011 NFL draft painted a mental picture of every cornerback who was drafted ahead of him and used that to fuel the burning fire he has inside on why he was selected so late. Sherman is in the conversation with being the very best corner in the league. He doesn’t back down from any challenge and he backs up everything he has to say. He will try it all, but that can not work in your favor all the time. Sherman is a great corner on the outside, and very knowledgeable at playing off-man coverage, because he loves intercepting balls. That does not discredit him for his play in press coverage. Because the 6’3” hard-hitting corner can perform however he pleases. He and the “Legion of Boon” (Seattle’s secondary) are in for a challenge this season, something they actually like. They talk a lot of game, and have recently backed it up. They had it handed to them in the playoffs against Atlanta, so it will be interesting to see how they rebound after such a dramatic loss. Especially Richard Sherman, who gave up a critical touchdown in the game.
1. Joe Haden – Cleveland Browns
Haden is arguably the second best cornerback in the NFL behind the one and only, Darrelle Revis. Haden has great man-to-man cover skills that go unmatched. A defensive coordinator should feel just as comfortable leaving Haden on an island with a WR as one would with Revis. He can also move inside and play nickel effective (again, a very rare trait), so when a WR is running from him to try to get a mismatch, Haden will follow him and not allow that to happen. With the noise Richard Sherman has caused around the NFL, self-promoting himself as the best cornerback in the NFL, we should expect huge seasons from Darrelle Revis and Joe Haden, in attempt to prove Richard Sherman wrong and state their claim of being better. However, if Sherman has a better campaign in 2013 than the one he had in 2012, it’ll be difficult to dispute his claim. Expect huge things from Joe Haden.
The 2013 rookie class of cornerbacks was very deep. From Dee Milliner, Robert Alford, DJ Hayden, Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks to say the least, don’t be surprised if more than one of those rookies make next years’ list, as there were three guys on this list who were rookies in 2012. And as this is a QB-driven league, a team cannot have too many cornerbacks (just ask Tampa Bay or Oakland). Will be interesting to see how the ratings of this list shapes throughout the 2013 season. Stay tuned.