With the prolific passing attacks across today's NFL, quality cornerback play has never been more important. Just look at the transactional activity we've seen over the past few weeks ...
Richard Sherman signed a four-year, $56 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks, Joe Haden inked a five-year, $68 million pact with the Cleveland Browns, and Patrick Peterson might be in line for an even more lucrative deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, five cornerbacks went in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Yes, everybody's looking to shore up this vital position. Who has been most effective in this undertaking? Which NFL team boasts the best cornerback tandem heading into the 2014 campaign?
Patriots suddenly feature the game's best duoI think New England has done the best job of improving its CB position this offseason. In fact, I believe the Patriots will feature the best tandem in the NFL in 2014. Two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery, Darrelle Revis should hit his stride again and reestablish himself as a true shutdown corner. Brandon Browner, of course, is suspended for the first four games of the season. But assuming the former Pro Bowler regains his pre-ban form, the Pats will field a fearsome twosome.
Another team that significantly improved at the CB position over the last few months: the Broncos. Aqib Talib, whom Denver snatched away from New England, is very good at press technique -- though durability has become a concern. Bradley Roby is a promising draft pick, but he must improve his technique and discipline.
Chicago gets unparalleled production from Jennings and TillmanI know my selection of the Chicago Bears' duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman will take some observers by surprise, but there isn't a more productive or effective CB tandem in pro football. Jennings and Tillman are outstanding players placed in a scheme that accentuates their collective strengths as ballhawks. Since Jennings joined Chicago as a free agent in 2010, the duo has combined for 30 interceptions, 25 forced fumbles and eight defensive touchdowns. While other tandems might offer better athleticism or overall cover skills, it's hard to match that kind of production -- particularly in today's NFL with rules restricting contact on the perimeter. Thus, I'm willing to anoint the Bears' dynamic duo as the top cornerback pairing in football.
Oh, yeah -- and Chicago just added another enticing CB specimen in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft: Kyle Fuller. A nice influx of youth to the position group, the Virginia Tech product certainly has a couple of fine mentors to learn from.
With Cromartie joining Peterson, Cardinals' tandem reigns supremeUntil otherwise notified, the NFL's best secondary lives in the same city as the Lombardi Trophy (which is Seattle, in case you missed last season). Thanks to free agency and the draft, the Saints have the bones for one of the league's very best back ends. The Browns, Patriots, Broncos, Bears and Packers all made significant upgrades to the third level, as well. But, of course, this isn't a question of who has the best secondary ...
The NFL's best pair of corners is Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are, no doubt, already aware of Peterson's dominance in Arizona. In 2014, they'll find throwing to the other side of the field significantly more difficult, thanks to the presence of Cromartie, whose best seasons came when he was paired with the league's former (and future?) shutdown champ, Darrelle Revis. Throw in Tyrann Mathieu covering slot receivers, and throwing against the home team will be tough in the Valley of the Sun this season.
Revis is an absolute game-changer in FoxboroughRichard Sherman got paid. So did Joe Haden. Patrick Peterson isn't far behind. We hear this, and that means Darrelle Revis hears it, too. The former Greatest Cornerback Alive has spent the offseason training for his debut with the Patriots and gaining more distance from knee surgery. It's hard to imagine better motivation for Revis than being pushed to the background while contemporaries he believes to be inferior get the headlines -- and the money.
A hyper-motivated Revis has to be a terrifying thought for offensive coordinators across the league. If he returns to form this season, he'll make the entire Patriots defense better. That's especially true for Alfonzo Dennard, a troubled but promising player who stands much to gain from his close proximity to Revis Island. As does Brandon Browner, when he returns from suspension in Week 5.
Arizona boasts a wealth of talent at the positionEasy choice. Give me those Cards: Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and some valuable flexibility in Tyrann Mathieu, who can play some free safety or walk down and cover the slot.
Peterson is Peterson, and although people need to hold off on fitting him for a gold jacket just yet, his potential is off the charts. Cromartie might be a hair older, but he can still run and always has had dimensions to lock up with the Y2K wideout. Although I'm kind of cheating here by bringing a third guy into play, Mathieu is too good to just ignore. Yes, he's recovering from a serious knee surgery, but Cardinals GM Steve Keim just said the Honey Badger could be back for the opener. If he can indeed return to good health, Mathieu gives Arizona extraordinary depth in the coverage department.