Guys who blanket receivers — the NFL’s shutdown cornerbacks — are among the most invaluable resources in the game today.
We recently dove into the most disruptive pass-rushers in the league, and they tend to get most of the glory on game days. After all, who doesn’t want to see a quarterback get plastered?
But it’s the guys covering the back end who are even more vital to shutting down the passing game. With that in mind, here’s a look at the top-five cover corners in the NFL right now.
As reliable as a Swiss clock, Hayward rarely gets burned. He’s a true technician who smothers his man and rarely gets tested. That probably has to do with the 11 interceptions he tallied in 2016-17 — his first two seasons with the Chargers.
When quarterbacks do go at Hayward, they are rarely successful.
Highest forced incompletion % among CBs 2015-2019— PFF (@PFF) May 29, 2020
1. Gareon Conley 22.5%
2. Marlon Humphrey 21.8%
3. Stephon Gilmore 20.3%
4. Casey Hayward Jr. 20.1% pic.twitter.com/rf8ZbT0fE5
Last season, Hayward was targeted 47 times and allowed only 26 receptions on 512 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
All Ward has done since being selected fourth overall in 2018 is dominate. Still, quarterbacks continue to test the former Ohio State star. Last season, Ward was targeted 77 times. He allowed a reception only 44.9 percent of the time — the best percentage in the NFL.
Morgan Burnett with the INT!— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 15, 2019
(And Denzel Ward with the assist!) pic.twitter.com/rNDtPUXNqy
This kid has phenomenal technique, never gives up on a play and has the athleticism to dominate physically. It shouldn’t be much longer until Ward starts getting the type of treatment typically reserved for the Richard Shermans of the world.
Speaking of which …
The last thing we all remember about Sherman’s 2019 campaign was Sammy Watkins roasting him in Super Bowl LIV to go ahead late in the game. But aside from that, there’s no doubt Sherman is still among the NFL’s elite cover corners.
During the regular season, Sherman allowed one touchdown in 517 coverage snaps. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 46.8 when they threw his way. Sherman also had three interceptions and a pick-six (watch here).
He was absolutely dominant for the 49ers last year.
Here’s a bonkers stat for you: Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 38.9 when they targeted this young star last season. White is just three years into his pro career but is already one of the most feared defensive backs in the league.
Tre'Davious White is pretty, pretty, pretty good pic.twitter.com/IOZqaRHf2W— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 25, 2020
Last season, White drew 84 targets. That type of attention may not continue much longer, because he came up with six interceptions and 17 passes defended. Even more impressive, per Next Gen Stats, White's tight-window percentage was a jaw-dropping 28.6 percent and he earned a 20.2 percent ballhawk rate.
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore, was utterly dominant in 2019.
Stephon Gilmore – punch up through the WR’s hands when they go up towards the catchpoint— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) October 11, 2019
Best CB in football pic.twitter.com/CgYn842B7Z
Gilmore broke up 20 passes (No. 1 in the NFL), had six interceptions (T-1 in the NFL) and forced 15 incompletions (No. 4 in the NFL).
He also did not allow a single touchdown. The dude was a veritable brick wall in coverage. He is clearly the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL at this time.
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An asterisk (*) indicates player last played in 2016. Two asterisks (**) indicates player last played in 2015.