Arguably the most underpaid and underappreciated position in the NFL, cornerbacks are rarely praised yet have one of the most difficult jobs in football: keeping up with wide receivers that are the beneficiaries of the rules that overprotect them. Although speed and agility are essential to being an effective cornerback, it is also equally as important for a pass defenseman to be cerebral and instinctual when anticipating and reading receiving routes. Even then, becoming and maintaining elite cornerback status is tremendously difficult as ticky-tacky pass interference calls are often severely detrimental to the success of these hard working and dynamic athletes. Still, cornerbacks have managed to make the necessary adjustments and have exhibited a degree of elevated professionalism despite the skewed rules in the pros. This year, any of the following cornerbacks could set the market value for a position that should be compensated properly for what they are asked to do on a regular basis.
10. Patrick Robinson
Coming off an impressive season with the Philadelphia Eagles where he tied his career high in interceptions (4), Patrick Robinson is an aging yet highly effective defensive back. Considering he was able to play in all 16 games in 2017, Robinson has the durability and skill set to still be a starting corner in the NFL.
9. Bashaud Breeland
What Bashaud Breeland lacked in total interceptions in 2017 (1) he made up for with his strong abilities as a vicious tackler (50 combined tackles). At 26 years of age, Breeland is still in his prime and could very well hit his peak from a statistical perspective in the coming years.
8. Morris Claiborne
Highly athletic yet somewhat injury prone (has not played a full NFL season since entering the league in 2012), Morris Claiborne has a tremendous amount of potential to be great but has yet to live up to his draft status when he was the 6th overall pick in 2012. Given enough opportunities and provided he can stay healthy, Claiborne is a high risk and high reward player that is worth a one-year contract to prove himself.
7. E.J. Gaines
A capable and vicious tackler in the open field (48 solo tackles), E.J. Gaines is a tenacious defensive playmaker that is only being held back by his wavering health concerns. Forcing three fumbles last year with the Buffalo Bills, Gaines clearly has the mindset and physicality to be an elite cornerback in the NFL.
6. Rashaan Melvin
Although the secondary of the Indianapolis Colts was largely terrible in 2017, Rashaan Melvin was the lone bright spot as he compiled three interceptions and deflected 13 passes (both career highs). On a team that is more functional and strategically adept at getting the most out of their players, Melvin could take the next step in his career and thrive as an opportunistic corner in the NFL.
5. Prince Amukamara
Compiling 45 solo tackles with the Chicago Bears, Prince Amukamara is a highly physical tackling corner that has the hands to pick off an ill-advised pass by the opposition. Provided he can stay healthy, Amukamara is still an effective and fearless defensive back that can bully most of the top receivers in the NFL.
4. Kyle Fuller
Deflecting 22 passes while recording 69 combined tackles (both career highs), Kyle Fuller was a dynamic player for a Chicago Bears defense that flashed moments of greatness in 2017. Considering his heightened awareness in coverage and tackling abilities, Fuller is a great cornerback that has the potential to reach elite status in 2018.
3. Aaron Colvin
Although Aaron Colvin’s numbers were not particularly impressive last year, this has mostly to do with the fact that the young corner was not featured prominently as a starter in the Jacksonville Jaguars secondary. Given an opportunity to start consistently, Colvin has all of the physical tools and instincts to be a reliable defensive back in the NFL.
2. Trumaine Johnson
Whether it was making plays as a tackler, deflecting passes, or picking off errant throws, Trumaine Johnson did it all and then some as a dynamic and deadly defensive playmaker. Assuming the Los Angeles Rams do not retain Johnson for his coveted services, he could very well be due for a lucrative contract on a team that is looking to seriously beef up their secondary.
1. Malcolm Butler
Regardless of how you view Malcolm Butler being benched during the Super Bowl, the veteran cornerback has everything a team could want in a consummate playmaker. Forcing three fumbles in 2017, Butler was rarely content with simply tackling his opponent. Combined with his pass rushing abilities, Malcolm Butler is a versatile defensive back that still has plenty to offer a team that will not take his elite abilities for granted.