With training camp right around the corner, teams will be finalizing their roster, eventually slimming down to 53 players. These franchises must conduct an honest assessment of the talent on their roster and improve weaker position groups. The cornerback position will be the focus below, highlighting which teams could use an upgrade at the position via trade or free agency.
Players currently available include A.J. Bouye, Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, and Xavier Rhodes, among others. More established cornerbacks could be surprise cuts, too, as teams whittle down their roster. Kyle Wilson, a cornerback taken in the 2010 NFL Draft in the first round by the New York Jets, believes these veterans can add value to a team who signs them. “They understand their role. [They] might not be starting but could start, [and are those] who understand the big picture and will be selfless,” Wilson said.
Let’s take a look at five cornerback rooms that could use an upgrade:
Last season, the Texans finished with the third-lowest PFF coverage grade and the seventh-worst coverage EPA/play, both specific to the cornerback position. Additionally, the team saw its corners concede the highest percentage of plays with open targets and the fourth-most yards per pass play.
A clear need for Houston, Nick Caserio selected Derek Stingley Jr. with the third pick in the draft. Some were surprised he was the corner chosen over Sauce Gardner since Stingley Jr. played his best college season as a freshman in 2019. The former LSU Tiger had surgery in October for a Lisfranc injury, and 33rd Team’s Dr. Jess Flynn has seen players with this injury “play and start fewer games in their career.”
Another starting cornerback for the Texans will be Desmond King II, allowing the most passing yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards per coverage snap, and finishing with the lowest PFF coverage grade during his five-year career.
A third player primed to contribute in Houston’s secondary is Jalen Pitre, a rookie from Baylor. The 2022 second-round draft selection marked the second player taken at the position of the Texans’ first three picks.
These rookies could find difficulties transitioning to the league, and this is where having veterans would aid this process. Adding an experienced player will “teach [rookies] how to be a pro,” says Kyle Wilson. By taking a cornerback in the top-three draft selections, the team should “want to put [Stingley Jr.] in the best situation.”
New York Giants
The Giants had a serviceable year from a cornerback perspective, ranking around the NFL average or better in many metrics. However, losing James Bradberry, their top corner in 2021, will leave a hole in their position room. Elevated to the number one option now is Adoree’ Jackson, who had a strong season playing alongside Bradberry last year.
Across from him on the outside is projected to be Jarren Williams, who has recorded more than 20 coverage snaps in just two career games. The University of Albany product is unproven in the NFL thus far, playing in coverage in only five total games.
In the slot is expected to be Maurice Canady, but he has played in coverage for just six games since Week 17 of the 2019 season. After being drafted in 2016, Canady has appeared in coverage for more than half of the season just once, highlighting durability concerns. New York lacks top-end talent at the cornerback position, and its depth is similarly questionable.
The 2021 season was a rough one for Arizona’s cornerbacks, as they allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage in coverage and the most touchdowns. The position group also forced the fewest incompletions and had the second-lowest forced incompletion percentage in the league.
Marco Wilson should start on the outside for the Cardinals in his second year in the NFL. He played relatively well as a rookie in 2021, but a lack of experience is again seen here.
Breon Borders is expected to start on the opposite side of the field from Wilson, but Borders has a similar level of NFL game action. Since being an undrafted free agent in 2017, Borders has recorded coverage snaps in just 19 games throughout these five seasons.
Byron Murphy Jr. will start at the slot cornerback position, and he has shown to be a valuable player. Still, many of the Arizona cornerback snaps will come from those who are relatively inexperienced.
In such a cornerback room, Wilson adds that “Those guys [may] be lacking in technique and have to really accept the coaching.” Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph should be up for the task, especially given his approach that “pressure is a privilege.”
Tennessee had a turbulent year from their cornerbacks, seeing the position group allow the fifth-most receiving yards. The Titans had trouble slowing down opposing teams’ aerial attacks as a whole, conceding the eighth-most total passing yards. Focusing on the corners, injuries plagued the team throughout the 2021 campaign, beginning with Caleb Farley.
The 2021 first-round draft selection was on the field for just 34 coverage snaps spread across three games. The former Virginia Tech Hokie has dealt with his fair share of injuries, specifically with his back, shoulder, and knee in the past year.
Kristian Fulton, Farley’s outside cornerback counterpart, has faced a similar hurdle during his NFL career. Fulton has played in just over half of Tennessee’s games during his two years in the league, dealing with multiple injuries throughout the span. Each of the defensive backs in this duo are each 23 years old, and youth is a trend among the position group.
The Titans sport Elijah Molden, Roger McCreary, Chris Jackson, Chris Williamson, and Theo Jackson as other contributors in their cornerback room, and each was drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft or more recently. Having the majority of one position consist of players who are youthful and inexperienced could be problematic as the season progresses.
Similar to the team listed above, Wilson’s thoughts are that “When you teach schemes and then you focus them on the technique, you get your results from the room, not necessarily the player.” For the Titans to match their 2021 record of 12-5, the team will likely have to find success in such a way.
Seattle didn’t have a great 2021 campaign, as their cornerbacks finished with the ninth-worst coverage EPA/play. Projected starter Artie Burns hasn’t recorded a coverage snap in more than half of a season since 2017, showing a durability concern. The former 2016 first-round pick played well in Chicago last season, but he only played coverage snaps in six games, his first since Week 10 of the 2019 season.
On the outside with him will be Sidney Jones, and he too has injury qualms. Since being drafted, Jones has played an average of fewer than eight games per year, some of which can be tied to an Achilles rupture at his Pro Day. He played well as last season went on, but he conceded 270 passing yards through his first two games.
The Seahawks allowed the second-most passing yards and the most passing first downs in 2021, highlighting a deficiency in their personnel that should be addressed.
All information provided by PFF and Pro-Football-Reference, unless otherwise noted
Isaiah Wingfield contributed to this story