NFL's top 10 cornerbacks in 2017: A.J. Bouye rules the roost

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The cornerback position is one of the most hotly debated in the NFL on an annual basis. The term "shadow corner" became in vogue when future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis was at the height of his powers. Now, those who follow the game -- and even some of the players themselves -- are constantly engaged in chatter as to who has the best case to inherit his throne. With quarterback play being the sun which the football universe revolves around, the defenders tasked with stopping their throws have found their way into the spotlight.

Using the objective Next Gen Stats tracking data we glean from the chips installed in every player's shoulder pads, we can now quantify exactly how much production each corner gives up in coverage. The chips are able to track which defensive backs were in coverage for each pass-catcher on a given play and then assign the production allowed. Next Gen Stats allow us to track the yards, touchdowns and overall passer rating a player gives up when targeted by opposing quarterbacks. Below you'll find the top 10 cornerbacks in coverage from the 2017 season using some of these advanced metrics.

Here are the qualifiers for these rankings:

» Only cornerbacks who played at least 350 snaps in coverage (34 total players) qualified for this list. This was set to establish a ranking of the top-level cornerbacks who played extensively as starters during the 2017 season.

» The final ranking was established by the cornerbacks who had the best score in the following four categories:

-- Passer rating allowed in coverage.
-- Catch rate (completion percentage allowed in coverage).
-- Yards allowed in coverage on a per-game basis.
-- Interception rate (interceptions divided by total targets).

» A composite score of the best players in all four categories was used, so that the rankings provided a balanced view of how the subjects performed this year. The lowest score signified the top performer. Passer rating allowed was used to break any ties.

1
A.J. Bouye
CB
Jaguars

Passer rating: 33.8 (first)
Catch rate: 46 percent (fifth)
Yards per game: 28.9 (sixth)
Interception rate: 6.9 percent (second)

Score: 14.

This veteran free-agent signing worked out perfectly for the Jaguars, who lured Bouye away from the division-rival Texans. Bouye teamed with 2016 first-round pick Jalen Ramsey to form one of the more dominant cornerback duos the NFL universe has ever seen. At least statistically, Bouye was the best corner in the game last season. He was the only qualifying defender for these rankings to finish in the top 10 in all four coverage stats. Bouye never ceded a touchdown at any point during the 2017 regular season, and quarterbacks posted a 33.8 passer rating when targeting him in coverage. A throwaway pass registers a 39.6 passer rating in the NFL. Essentially, that means throwing the ball into the dirt was a more fruitful endeavor than trying to pick on Bouye last year. It's hard to play the corner position better than this 26-year-old star did in 2017.

2
Chris Harris
CB
Broncos

Passer rating: 64.9 (seventh)
Catch rate: 46.2 percent (sixth)
Yards per game: 26.3 (third)
Interception rate: 3.1 percent (15th)

Score: 31.

While portions of the Denver defense took a step back last season, you can't place any blame at the feet of Harris. The versatile defensive back is one of the few players at the position who has mastered the art of covering receivers inside and outside. He lined up in the slot on over half (62.4 percent) of his passing plays. Harris gave up just 1.9 catches and 26.3 yards per game in 2017, both good for the third-fewest among qualifying cornerbacks. Harris' Pro Bowl snub was inexplicable. The former undrafted free-agent signee still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

3
Marcus Peters
CB
Chiefs

Passer rating: 63.4 (fifth)
Catch rate: 52.7 percent (16th)
Yards per game: 29.2 (seventh)
Interception rate: 6.8 percent (fourth)

Score: 32.

At different points last season, it looked like there was no way Peters would make a list like this. After a red-hot start, the third-year corner went through a stretch where he gave up big plays all too frequently, including Terrelle Pryor's lone score of the season in a prime-time game vs. Washington. He was even suspended by the team following a strange late-game scene against the Jets where he tossed a penalty flag, left the field and later returned from the locker room without socks. Like we said, strange. Yet, following that one-game ban, Peters returned to wrap up an all-around stellar season as a cover corner and ballhawk. Peters snared five interceptions on the year and led the NFL with 137 return yards. He allowed just 409 yards in coverage on the year, the third-fewest among qualifying corners, despite the Chiefs ranking 29th against the pass overall. Kansas City already made a move to try and find Peters some help by securing Kendall Fuller as part of the deal that will send Alex Smith to Washington.

4
Marshon Lattimore
CB
Saints

Passer rating: 48.1 (second)
Catch rate: 50.7 percent (10th)
Yards per game: 37.5 (19th)
Interception rate: 6.8 percent (third)

Score: 34.

The 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year looked the part of a top-tier cornerback the moment he hit an NFL field. Lattimore gave up a 48.1 passer rating in coverage this season, trailing only Bouye among qualifying cornerbacks. His excellence is all the more impressive when you consider the Saints often had him track the top opposing wideout across the field, including two excellent competitors within his division in Mike Evans and Julio Jones. Lattimore also proved a dangerous threat to take the ball away from the quarterbacks who tested him, snaring five picks while giving up just one touchdown in his 13 games played. After witnessing such an impressive rookie debut, Saints fans wait with baited breath to see what the young star has in store for a 2018 encore.

5
Jalen Ramsey
CB
Jaguars

Passer rating: 57.2 (fourth)
Catch rate: 47.5 percent (seventh)
Yards per game: 33.6 (13th)
Interception rate: 4.0 percent (13th)

Score: 37.

Ramsey was one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL during the 2017 season, his second as a pro player. It's hard to overstate what he brings to the table. Ramsey posted an impressive 57.2 passer rating in coverage, bested by only three qualifying corners, including the defender across from him in A.J. Bouye. Opposing teams targeted him on 25.6 percent of his coverage plays, only to be denied repeatedly. Ramsey let just 47.5 percent of the passes sent into his coverage to go down as completions. Even when he does give up a reception, Ramsey is one of the rare corners who isn't the least bit shy about laying the wood on opposing ball carriers. Still just 23 years old, Ramsey is set up to be not just one of the game's defensive cornerstones, but one of the faces of the entire league for years to come.

6
Xavien Howard
CB
Dolphins

Passer rating: 65.3 (eighth)
Catch rate: 51.8 percent (12th)
Yards per game: 29.9 (ninth)
Interception rate: 4.8 percent (10th)

Score: 39.

The Dolphins' 2016 second-round pick burst onto the scene late in the year with a prime-time shutdown performance of Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Howard locked down the speedy wideout over 31 coverage attempts, as Cooks didn't haul in any of the six targets sent his way with Howard in coverage, while the cornerback secured two of them for interceptions. The Next Gen Stats data shows that Howard was a strong player throughout the course of the season, ranking 12th or higher among qualifying cornerbacks in all four of the metrics tested. The 6-foot-1 defensive back looks like the next in an extensive line of lengthy press cornerbacks to take the NFL by storm.

7
Trevor Williams
CB
Chargers

Passer rating: 74.4 (14th)
Catch rate: 45.6 percent (third)
Yards per game: 27.6 (fifth)
Interception rate: 2.9 percent (17th)

Score: 39.

Perhaps not the Chargers cornerback you expected to see on this list ... But it's my pleasure to bring Williams some needed credit for an excellent 2017 season. Playing across from my All-Pro pick at "defensive back" (Casey Hayward), Williams enjoyed a breakout campaign stepping in as a starter for the injured Jason Verrett. The 2016 undrafted free-agent signee allowed just 45.6 percent of the passes sent his way to be completed, routinely blanketing secondary receivers as Hayward tracked down opposing No. 1 threats. The Chargers asked their cornerbacks to play aggressive press-man coverage in Gus Bradley's first year as the defensive coordinator, and Williams proved more than up to the task. He gave up a lowly 68.5 passer rating when targeted in press coverage. With Verrett's future status sadly nothing but a question mark, thanks to multiple injuries, the Chargers can rest easy knowing they stumbled onto an ascending young talent in Williams.

8
Patrick Robinson
CB
Eagles

Passer rating: 70.4 (11th)
Catch rate: 52.2 percent (13th)
Yards per game: 30.7 (11th)
Interception rate: 5.8 percent (fifth)

Score: 40.

When the Eagles signed this eighth-year pro off the free-agent scrap heap to a mere one-year deal worth $775,000, no one would have imagined he'd provide such a bountiful return on investment. Teams didn't find much reward for picking on Robinson, as he allowed just 30.7 yards per game and picked off 5.8 percent of the targets sent into his coverage. Given how many three-receiver sets NFL offenses deploy these days, every team needs to have a nickel defender who inspires confidence. Robinson was one of the best -- if not the best -- slot corners in the game this past season, lining up inside on 70.5 percent of his passing plays. The 30-year-old veteran will now get the pleasure of hitting the open market at peak value coming off a career-year and a Super Bowl win.

9
Patrick Peterson
CB
Cardinals

Passer rating: 77.6 (21st)
Catch rate: 44.4 percent (first)
Yards per game: 22.6 (first)
Interception rate: 1.6 percent (25th)

Score: 48.

In any other year, Peterson would be much higher on this list, but 2017 wasn't the banner year of his illustrious career. Teams dialed up too many big plays against him, and he didn't get enough back for his own squad. Next Gen Stats tracking charged him with four touchdowns allowed in coverage, while he picked off just 1.6 percent of the targets sent his way. However, Peterson is still one of the premier shutdown corners in the game. He allowed just 22.6 yards per game in 2017, the lowest among qualifying cornerbacks. Teams have learned to routinely not even test him in coverage, and opposing passers targeted him on just 14.2 percent of his snaps. Only two other qualifying corners registered lower target rates. Longtime defensive back guru Steve Wilks is now the head coach in Arizona, and he has an enviable piece to build around in Peterson.

10
Tre'Davious White
CB
Bills

Passer rating: 68.5 (ninth)
Catch rate: 52.5 percent (14th)
Yards per game: 37.3 (18th)
Interception rate: 5.0 percent (eighth)

Score: 49.

Marshon Lattimore got more headlines and awards, but he wasn't the only rookie corner to announce his presence to the NFL with authority. The Bills' first-round pick proved to be a key piece in rebuilding Buffalo's secondary under the watch of first-year head coach Sean McDermott. Opposing quarterbacks registered a 68.5 passer rating when testing White in coverage, a top-10 mark among qualifying cornerbacks. White intercepted five percent of the targets sent his way, helping Buffalo rank sixth as a team with 18 picks. The Bills have their own budding shutdown corner in place as they look to give an encore to their long-awaited playoff return from this past season.

BONUS NOTES:

» Three players I view as premier cover corners did not make the list: Xavier Rhodes, Darius Slay and Casey Hayward. Rhodes started off the year white-hot, blotting out No. 1 wideouts on a routine basis. However, he gave up some big games in the back half of the season, notably to Marvin Jones on Thanksgiving, and that contributed to him ranking 21st in yards per game allowed. Slay ranked third in passer rating allowed (52.4) and first in interception rate (7.6 percent) but was weighed down by allowing 43 yards per game (28th). Hayward, for my money the best player of this trio, ranked 11th among qualifying cornerbacks, just narrowly missing the list. Quarterbacks had a 69.7 passer rating when targeting Hayward in coverage.

» William Jackson is an emerging player to watch out for going forward. The Bengals' first-round pick in 2016 played just 301 coverage snaps, so he didn't qualify for the rankings, but he turned in a marvelous 2017 season after missing all of his rookie campaign due to injury. Opposing quarterbacks had a 31.1 passer rating when targeting Jackson in coverage, the lowest among any cornerback in 2017. Jackson did not allow a touchdown all season and just 14 catches total. A player Cincy wasn't counting on to be a starter this past season, Jackson might be the next in line among shutdown NFL corners.

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