Top 10 Power-5 cornerbacks this season
With changes in offensive philosophy over the seasons, defenses have had to react accordingly, forcing teams to play in nickel and dime packages on a more consistent basis. With that, a higher premium has been placed on the cornerback position, as teams now need at least three to four dependable players to help shut down these passing attacks week in and week out.
So, with only one week left in the regular season, we dig through the PFF data and take a look at which cornerbacks have performed at the highest level this year.
(Editor’s note: only Power-5 players were considered in this ranking.)
1. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
The hype train for Jourdan Lewis began early this season, and it hasn’t slowed down yet. Lewis remains atop PFF’s cornerback rankings with a +21.1 overall grade through 12 weeks, owning a +18.9 coverage grade. Lewis leads the nation in passes defensed (14) and has only allowed one touchdown in his coverage this season. Most impressive of all, though: he has been targeted a whopping 80 times (once every 4.6 snaps), but has allowed only 36.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught.
2. Nick VanHoose, Northwestern
Northwestern’s Nick VanHoose has had a stellar year, grading out positively in every game but one (Week 7 versus Iowa), and currently is tied for the second-highest overall grade among Power-5 cornerbacks (+17.3). He’s been just okay at defending the run, (+1.0) but has more than made up for it by earning the second-highest coverage grade for any cornerback in the nation (+15.7). VanHoose also ranks fourth in the country with 10 passes defensed so far this season.
3. M.J. Stewart, North Carolina
M.J. Stewart didn’t finish his freshman season in 2014 on a particularly high note, posting his lowest grade of the year in UNC’s bowl game vs Rutgers, but things have only gotten better from there. Stewart is currently tied for second with VanHoose in PFF’s overall rankings, and comes in at third in coverage grade (+14.1). Through 12 weeks, he has allowed just one touchdown, intercepted four passes, and ranks fourth in the nation in total passes defensed. Opposing quarterbacks have a 34.6 NFL rating when throwing Stewart’s direction, which is the eighth lowest in the nation.
4. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Jalen Ramsey has done it all this year for the Seminoles, excelling in both pass coverage and run defense. His coverage grade of +9.6 ranks him seventh nationally, but his specialty has been versus the run, where he owns the top run grade in the nation among Power-5 cornerbacks (+8.6). In 293 run snaps this season, Ramsey has missed only one tackle and has an impressive run stop percentage of +3.4. His balanced game makes him the only cornerback in the nation to rank in the top 10 defending both the run and the pass.
5. Desmond King, Iowa
Desmond King of Iowa comes in at No. 5 on our list, with an overall grade of +12.4 this season. King has been making plays on the ball all year, currently leading college football with eight interceptions. He has allowed an NFL rating of only 52.6 on his 68 targets, and has tallied nine pass breakups as well—fifth-most in the country. King has been solid defending the run (+5.6) and only has one missed tackle through 11 games.
6. Jalen Tabor, Florida
Of all the players on this list, Jalen Tabor has struggled most at defending the run, but that is easily forgiven when you look at his coverage numbers this season. The Gators’ top cornerback, Tabor has picked off four passes this year and ranks second in the nation with 12 pass break ups. For every snap he’s in coverage, he has given up an average of only 0.60 yards, one of the best rates in the country. Opposing quarterbacks should plan on throwing the ball away from Tabor as much as possible, as he leads the nation while allowing an average QB rating of 16.7 on passes thrown his direction.
7. Matthew Harris, Northwestern
Our second Northwestern Wildcat on the list, Matthew Harris partners with VanHoose to solidify one of the top secondaries in the country. Harris is putting together a strong finish to the season, grading out as the second-best cornerback in the nation over the last three games (+7.2). For the year, he has the fourth-highest coverage grade (+13.8) and has intercepted three passes, refusing to give up a single touchdown in the nine games he’s played.
8. Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
Another balanced player in his own right, Chidobe Awuzie has been a standout for Colorado this season. He currently holds the fifth-highest overall grade in the nation, but has really shined when asked to get after the quarterback. Awuzie is by far the best pass rushing cornerback in the country, leading the nation in both total pressures (18) and pass rushing productivity (19.5). If that weren’t enough, his coverage grade of +9.4 is the eighth-highest in the nation, and he’s tied for the lead in tackles among all cornerbacks this year.
9. Jalen Myrick, Minnesota
Jalen Myrick has not allowed much to be completed in his direction this year. With one week left in the regular season, Myrick has yet to allow a touchdown when in coverage. Adding to his impressive resume, he has picked off three passes, and opposing quarterbacks have a rating of only 33.2 when targeting him. His coverage grade of +9.3 ranks ninth nationally.
10. De’Vante Harris, Texas A&M
De’Vante Harris has had a productive final year at Texas A&M and rounds out our list of the top cornerbacks in the country. The senior cornerback and leader of the Aggies secondary, Harris currently has PFF’s sixth-highest coverage grade in the nation (+10.4) and has surrendered just one touchdown this season on 42 targets. He has broken up six passes through 11 games and has only allowed an NFL rating of 61.1 by opposing quarterbacks. Though he has a smaller frame, Harris has shown he has the physicality needed at the position, missing just one tackle in pass coverage this season.