10 most targeted NFL cornerbacks
The life of a corner is typically driven by two things: How good a team thinks you are, and how good you actually are. If teams decide you need to be tested, they will go after you relentlessly, and you have to stand up to a thorough examination. Fight back to ensure teams show you more respect moving forwards.
After three weeks the range of targets for starting corners goes from 33 targets for Stephon Gilmore to five targets for Cary Williams, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say that Gilmore being targeted 11 times as much as Williams is a statement of how good either corner is.
So with three weeks in the book let’s take a look at the 10 most targeted cornerbacks in the NFL and how they are holding up under this thorough examination.
1. Stephon Gilmore, Bills (33 targets, +1.9 coverage)
Consistently pegged as a breakout player since being a top-10 selection in 2012, Gilmore has frustrated by showing signs every season of what he is capable of but failing to back it up on a consistent basis. So far this season Gilmore has allowed 17 catches for 231 yards, but his four passes defensed show his ability to counter a lot of targets. Overall, his production continues to fall short of being the top-tier corner many think he can be.
2. Marcus Peters, Chiefs (31 targets, +1.5 coverage)
Even in a Chiefs secondary that has been beset by injury, opposing offenses have still played the game of pick-on-the-rookie with Peters in the first three weeks. Peters’ four targets against the Packers were a season-low, but he did surrender another touchdown (taking his season total for four) at Lambeau Field. If he can continue to prove his ability to play the ball in the red zone (2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed), he should see his target numbers start continue to fall in the coming weeks.
3. Ronald Darby, Bills (29 targets, +3.9 coverage)
Thrust into a starting role as a rookie in a defensive scheme that asks a lot of its cornerbacks, it should be no surprise to see Darby so high on this list. What is noteworthy is how well Darby has performed so far this season, surrendering around 50 yards per game with only one reception of 20 yards or more. Darby’s coverage grade is tied for sixth-best in the league at this early stage of the season.
T-4. Jimmy Smith, Ravens (28 targets,-1.5 coverage)
The Ravens’ No. 1 corner seemed prime to launch himself into the NFL’s top tier at the position after an impressive but injury-curtailed 2014 season, the start of the season has not continued that momentum however. After a strong showing against the Broncos in Week 1, Smith has allowed 215 yards and two touchdowns in the last two weeks, struggling in both games and giving up chunk plays to Amari Cooper and A.J. Green in the process.
T-4. Bené Benwikere, Panthers (28 targets, -2.5 coverage)
He impressed as a slot corner and when elevated into a starting role as a rookie, but Benwikere has yet to replicate that form in 2015. His four missed tackles (tied for third-most among cornerbacks) have been a problem for him early in the season. Benwikere has yet to surrender a play longer than 16 yards this season, so if he can shore up his tackling, a return to his rookie form may not be far away.
6. Josh Norman, Panthers (27 targets, +5.3 coverage)
Another product of the unlikely football factory that is Coastal Carolina, Norman has been on a steady rise since Week 5 last year. He ended the 2014 season particularly strong, surrendering only 13 catches on 33 targets over his final seven starts. Norman has carried that form into 2015, as he is yet to allow 50 receiving yards in a game and is our second-highest-graded corner in coverage after Week 3.
T-7. Johnathan Joseph, Texans (26 targets, +0.2 coverage)
The Texans’ veteran corner has produced a pair of Jekyll and Hyde performances over the last two weeks, which account for 21 of his 26 targets this season. Against the Panthers he surrendered five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown while missing a tackle. A week later against Jameis Winston and the Bucs, he allowed only two catches on 12 targets, breaking up three passes en route to his highest coverage grade since Week 9 2009.
T-7. D.J. Hayden, Raiders (26 targets, -6.7 coverage)
The Raiders’ 2013 first-round pick has struggled to find the field in the last three seasons, and when he has played he has been consistent. So far this season he has yet to find the good to balance the subpar. Hayden has allowed a 20-plus-yard catch in two of his three games, surrendered a pair of touchdowns and has missed four tackles — taking his career total to 18 in 21 games.
T-7. Rashean Mathis, Lions (26 targets, +1.7 coverage)
It seems that everybody is always just waiting for veteran corners to fall off a cliff in terms of performance when their physical skills desert them. The Lions look like being the beneficiaries of showing patience once again with Mathis, after a strong showing against the Broncos on Sunday night. Mathis is allowing a little over seven yards per completion this season, which his tied for fifth-best among corners.
10. Byron Maxwell, Eagles (25 targets, -6.0 coverage)
Maxwell’s tenure as Philadelphia’s No. 1 corner did not start well for him against Atlanta in Week 1, and while things have not been that bad in the two weeks since, they haven’t been good, either. Maxwell has earned a negative coverage grade for three straight weeks for only the second time since he became a starter, and is on pace to surpass his yards allowed total for the entire 2014 season (679, including the playoffs) by the end of Week 7.