Top 8 cornerbacks about to hit free agency
The cornerback position will be a priority for many teams this offseason as they try to improve the back end of their defenses.
Below are PFF’s top eight cornerback free agents entering the 2016 NFL offseason.
(Editor’s note: This list was updated on March 2, 2016, removing Josh Norman and Trumaine Johnson, previously No. 1 and No. 5, respectively.)
1. Sean Smith
2015 team: Kansas City Chiefs
Since joining the Chiefs in 2013, Smith has earned positive coverage and overall grades in each of his three seasons. His 2014 campaign was his most impressive, as he earned the second-highest coverage grade among cornerbacks while he also avoided being penalized a single time all season—a remarkable feat these days, given how often flags are thrown for coverage penalties. Smith is not an elite corner, but he has proven over the last two seasons that he is a solid No. 1 cornerback.
2. Casey Hayward
2015 team: Green Bay Packers
Hayward’s best season came as a rookie in 2012, as he earned the third-highest coverage grade for cornerbacks that season and won our Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He was injured most of the following years, and he hasn’t quite reached that same level of play since, but has still played well over the last couple years He has earned above-average coverage grades in each of his four seasons, ranking 14th and 21st at the position the last two seasons. He has proven capable of playing on the outside now, but he is still at his best when playing in the slot.
3. Adam Jones
2015 team: Cincinnati Bengals
Jones has been a solid player in the Bengals’ secondary since signing with the team in 2011. He has never finished with a below-average coverage grade in the PFF-era. He’s coming off his second-highest coverage grade over that time, and allowed a passer rating of 60.0 when targeted by opposing quarterbacks. One weakness for Jones, though, is his propensity for missed tackles, with 35 over the last three seasons. Jones turns 33 years old in September, and would really only be a short-term solution, but he could certainly help tighten up a secondary as an outside corner.
4. Janoris Jenkins
2015 team: St. Louis Rams
We’ve come to expect big plays when quarterbacks target Janoris Jenkins, but those could be either good plays made by Jenkins, or big plays that he has allowed. Over his four-year career, Jenkins has allowed five or more touchdowns in every season (22 total), and missed 56 tackles in 60 games. However, Jenkins has also had 13 or more combined interceptions and pass defenses in three of his four seasons. He has improved over time, and is coming off his highest-graded season in coverage, where he ranked 30th among cornerbacks. Jenkins will make some impactful plays on defense, but he has shown over the last few years that he is susceptible to giving them up, as well.
5. Prince Amukamara
2015 team: New York Giants
Amukamara hasn’t quite lived up to his selection in the first-round of the 2011 draft, but injuries have had a lot to do with that. He missed multiple games in four of his five seasons as a pro, and might have been higher on this list if not for the perpetual injuries. When he is on the field, he has shown he is a capable starter. He doesn’t make the big, splashy plays often, but he has consistently graded above average over the last four seasons.
6. Patrick Robinson
2015 team: San Diego Chargers
Robinson is set to hit free agency for the second year in a row after signing a one-year deal with the Chargers last offseason. After having his ups and downs in New Orleans, the former first-round pick put together one of the better seasons of his short career. Robinson allowed 30 or more yards receiving just once all season, and ranked in the top third of cornerbacks in coverage grade. But his inconsistency prior to his San Diego stint is still a bit concerning.
7. Leon Hall
2015 team: Cincinnati Bengals
There was a time when Hall was among some of the best cover corners in the league, particularly in the slot. He was on his way to a potential career-year in 2013 before a second Achilles injury cut his season short. Even though he is not quite the same player he used to be, he has earned above-average coverage grades in each of his nine seasons in the league. Hall is best when playing in the slot, a position that not every cornerback can play. With the abundance of spread looks in the NFL, Hall can make a large contribution even if he’s not a starter.
8. Brandon Boykin
2015 team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Just a few seasons ago in 2013, Boykin was among our highest-graded cornerbacks in coverage. After being traded to Pittsburgh for a late-round draft pick prior to the start of this season, he hardly saw the field for much of the season. The Steelers finally gave him more playing in Week 13, and he played well. He had one interception, two pass defenses, and allowed a passer rating of 65.0 over the final five weeks of the regular season.