2015 Top Free Agents: Cornerbacks
Kevin Connaghan reviews the top segment of the 2015 cornerbacks that will hit free agency shortly as the NFL transitions to a new season.
2015 Top Free Agents: Cornerbacks
You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
The latest in our series breaking down the 2015 top free agents looks at the cornerbacks. This year’s crop may lack an elite talent, but there are a number of talented individuals available to fit a variety of roles.
1. Brandon Flowers – Re-signed with San Diego
2014 Grade: +8.2
2014 Snaps: 831
After experiencing a rocky rookie season in 2008, Flowers went four straight seasons as a Top 8 cover corner in our rankings, and was our second ranked overall corner in 2010. However, a coaching change in Kansas City left Flowers a poor fit in a press-heavy scheme. As a result he was jettisoned by the Chiefs in June 2014 after one poor season. Flowers found himself on a one year deal in San Diego, and rebounded well with a +7.1 coverage grade.
At 5-foot-9 Flowers lacks the length that seems to be en vogue in the NFL, but he possesses the mobility and cover skills to stick with his man, and is savvy enough to make a play on the ball. Flowers was at his best when covering the slot for the Chargers, allowing just seven catches for 115 yards and holding passers to a 45.1 QB rating. Of those who played 100+ snaps covering the slot, only Kam Chancellor and Darrelle Revis did better. The Chargers may want to keep him, but Flowers should find he has many more suitors than he did 10 months ago.
2. Kareem Jackson – Re-signed with Houston
2014 Grade: +9.5
2014 Snaps: 785
Drafted by the Texans with the 20th overall pick in 2010, Jackson hasn’t always lived up to that first round billing. His first two seasons were marred by inconsistency, which meant he had a difficult time cementing himself in the line-up. However that all changed in 2012 when Jackson’s propensity for making plays on the ball (four picks and 15 batted passes) helped him earn a +13.4 coverage grade, sixth-best in the league, and become an almost constant presence in the Texans secondary. Jackson’s form took a large step back in 2013, but he was close to his best again in 2014.
While he had generally played on the outside in his first four seasons, Jackson saw much more time covering the slot in 2014, taking 68.8% of his coverage snaps there. Aside from allowing a few big plays, he generally held his own. However he still did his best work on the outside, allowing just nine completions for 44 yards on 21 targets. Jackson had zero touchdowns conceded along with three picks and, if he hits the open market, it’s in that role he should draw most interest.
3. Byron Maxwell – Signed with Philadelphia
2014 Grade: -3.0
2014 Snaps: 864
At 6-foot-1 with 33.5 inch long arms, Maxwell possesses the combination of size, length, physicality and speed that is currently coveted by many teams at the corner position in the NFL. For those teams Maxwell should be the most attractive free agent available. Playing opposite Richard Sherman, Maxwell found himself the targeted once for every 5.8 cover snaps, as opposing quarterbacks preferred test his coverage rather than Sherman’s. Despite this attention Maxwell held up well, allowing just one touchdown and holding passers to a 78.5 QB rating. That mark was bettered by only three corners who were targeted as often, and played a similar number of snaps.
Maxwell looked even better when he stepped into the starting role midway through the 2013 season. He finished that campaign with a +10.4 coverage grade and holding passers to a 57.8 QB rating. Maxwell won’t lack for suitors.
4. Tramon Williams – Signed with Cleveland
2014 Grade: +1.2
2014 Snaps: 1,158
Turning 32 in March, Williams probably won’t give teams the same long-term option that those above him on this list do, but his experience and skill set should ensure he still generates interest.
Including playoff games, Williams has started 89 of a possible 90 games for the Green Bay Packers in the past five seasons, demonstrating terrific durability. During that stretch he made 22 picks and allowed a 55.7% completion rate, both of which are impressive numbers. However of the 24 touchdowns conceded in those five seasons, 10 came in 2014, along with his highest completion percentage allowed (63.6%). Worrying signs perhaps, but Williams was targeted heavily throughout the season and still graded out positively. There is no reason to believe he can’t do the same again in 2015.
5. Chris Culliver – Signed with Washington
2014 Grade: +8.5
2014 Snaps: 839
A third round selection in 2011, the former Gamecock saw plenty of action as a backup corner in his first two seasons and generally impressed, though he struggled as a starter during the 49ers playoff run in 2012. A knee injury forced Culliver to miss the entire of the 2013 season, and that may have been responsible for some of the rust he showed early in 2014. However, he soon shook off that rust and finished the season as one of our Top 15 cornerbacks, allowing just 37 receptions on 73 targets (50.7%), and holding passers to a 66.5 QB rating.
Culliver is tall enough and fast enough to match up with most receivers, and should draw plenty of attention. He is less proven than some of the others on this list, and there may be some durability concerns (missed two games in 2014 as well as the entire of 2013), but his performances in 2014 make him an intriguing free agent.
6. Antonio Cromartie – Signed with New York Jets
2014 Grade: -1.9
2014 Snaps: 1,091
Antonio Cromartie remains one of the most naturally talented cover corners in the game. He has the size and speed to cover most opponents, and the instincts and ball skills to change a game, as his 34 career interceptions (including playoffs) can attest.
Cromartie hasn’t always been able to consistently play up to his talent level, and 2014 was a perfect illustration of that. With a +11.2 coverage grade Cromartie was our third-best corner through the first 10 weeks of the season. Yet his form, like that of the Cardinals, slowly slipped away, leaving him with a -1.5 coverage grade for the year. He still allowed just two touchdowns all season (to four picks) and finished with a passer rating of 74.9. He has plenty to offer wherever he ends up in 2015, but expect some bumps in the road.
7. Rashean Mathis – Re-signed with Detroit
2014 Grade: +10.5
2014 Snaps: 1,073
A 12 year veteran, Mathis will be 35 when the 2015 season rolls around. However, he’s shown precious few signs of succumbing to the usual rigors of age. He can still cover receivers downfield, and has missed just one game during his time in Detroit. Two years in which he’s posted a cumulative +16.5 coverage grade, proving that he still has what it takes to play at a high level.
His tenure in Detroit has been nothing short of remarkable for a player who appeared to be on the scrapheap two years ago. Deemed surplus to requirements in Jacksonville, Mathis was forced to wait until August before finally signing with the Lions. There may not be any long term deals in the offing for Mathis, but it’s unlikely that he will have to wait so long this time around.
8. Sterling Moore – Signed with Tampa Bay
2014 Grade: +4.0
2014 Snaps: 827
Moore went undrafted in 2011 and like many such players, he’s had to battle hard for playing time. He bounced on and off practice squads for a while, and had to be patient as the Cowboys tried out a number of more fancied players, before finally giving him an extend run this season. Despite that uphill battle, Moore has generally impressed when given the chance. After injuries created an opening, he helped the Patriots to the Super Bowl as a rookie, knocking the ball away from Lee Evans at the death in the AFC Championship game. Then this season he was involved early and played relatively well throughout, particularly on the outside. He conceded just one touchdown all season, unfortunately for him that came at Green Bay in the playoffs.
Moore lacks the body of work to convince teams to part with a big contract, but will be a more affordable option than the bigger names above. Whether he stays in Dallas, or goes elsewhere, he should have the opportunity to stake his claim to a number two role next season.
9. Perrish Cox – Signed with Tennessee
2014 Grade: +1.2
2014 Snaps: 965
Cox has always been a beguiling talent. He’s long enough, athletic enough and skilled enough to be one of the better corners in the league, but has struggled to convert that natural talent into playing time and production. Of his five seasons as a pro, Cox has been a significant contributor for just two of them, the first as a rookie with the Broncos in 2010, and then this past year in San Francisco. Between those two seasons, Cox bounced between teams and made little impact.
Cox began 2014 in good form, he was our seventh ranked cover corner after nine weeks, allowing a 48.9% completion rate, and holding passers to a 42.3 QB rating. However he struggled down the stretch, with those figures rising to 61.5% and 78.0, respectively. He’s shown enough to merit starting somewhere in 2015, but not enough to warrant a true starters contract.
10. Bradley Fletcher – Signed with New England
2014 Grade: -8.4
2014 Snaps: 1094
No player wants to enter free agency after a down year, yet that is exactly the situation that Fletcher finds himself in. In 2013, his first season in Philadelphia, things went well enough. He finished that year allowing a 57.8% completion rate and holding passers to a 77.2 QB rating, respectable marks for a starter. However this season Fletcher has been exposed, as opponents sensed a weakness and went after him relentlessly. He allowed just a 53.0% completion rate, which is good, but conceded nine touchdowns and a 107.6 QB rating to opponents.
As the Eagles No. 1 corner, Fletcher found himself matched up against a talented array of receivers and was found wanting, however he still possesses the skill set that earned him that opportunity and should cope better as a secondary option.