NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2019" airs daily at 9 p.m. ET, unveiling a new set of 10 players in each episode. In Episode 8 on Monday night, a pair of cornerbacks -- Jalen Ramsey and Stephon Gilmore -- were revealed at Nos. 27 and 22, respectively. With that in mind, NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl defensive back DeAngelo Hall reveals his own ranking of the league's top 10 cornerbacks.
What do I value in an NFL cornerback? My answer might shock you.
I don't care if a guy gives up touchdowns. After all, the NFL is an offensive league. What I look for is whether the corner can consistently affect plays, despite the ups and downs of a game and season. I also care about turnovers, any which way you can get them -- fumble recoveries, picks and the return yardage on those plays. All of that is taken into account in my list. Oh, and there's nothing better than a cornerback who loves to mix it up and be physical every now and then. With that said, here are my top 10 players at the position heading into the 2019 season:
He sits at the top of my list for all the same reasons he's been voted to eight consecutive Pro Bowls. Peterson, who is dominating much in the same way Darrelle Revis did before him, excels in man coverage and is also great in zone defense. Over the past few seasons, there hasn't been much that offenses (or receivers, for that matter) could do to get the CB1 off his game. And as with all great cornerbacks, he's seeing fewer targets thrown to his side of the field -- but he often makes opponents regret it when they do test him.
However, I can't put Peterson in this spot without addressing the six-game suspension he'll serve for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, which will make him ineligible for this season's Pro Bowl and snap his streak of consecutive selections to the game at eight. ( Side note: The only other player to be selected to each of the last eight Pro Bowls is Tom Brady.) Some may think Peterson should be lower on this list because he's missing six games, but his superb production and incomparable impact keep him at the top.
When I watched Ramsey during his college career at Florida State, I remember thinking, Dang, this kid is going to be a great free safety in the NFL. Man, was I wrong. He's a lockdown corner who is a combination of Champ Bailey and Richard Sherman. (Not bad, right?!) I know Bailey and Sherman are completely different cornerbacks when it comes to playing the position, but Ramsey's ideal mix of length, athleticism and speed allows him to run with any receiver on the field. Ramsey has allowed the third-lowest completion percentage (52.9) and fourth-lowest passer rating (71.6) in coverage among 98 cornerbacks with at least 200 targets since 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this kid: Not only does he call his opponent out before a game, but he backs it up with his play and THEN tells you about it after the game. (And he'll give at least some credit when credit is due, too.) As a former trash talker early in my career, I love Ramsey's confidence and swag. Ramsey, who fell off a bit last season from his dominant play in 2017, showed some signs of maturity over the offseason and said he's going to cut back on the talk. But I know how hard it is to shut up when you love to talk! The Jags star is seeking a new contract, so I'm excited to see what he can do in 2019.
As the years go by, I fall more and more in love with Gilmore's game. He's a big-bodied corner who is fast but doesn't rely solely on his speed. He's rarely flashy -- although that crucial interception in the Super Bowl was pretty spectacular (see the video above). He's more of a smooth technician who is a monster in coverage. The veteran is so good at disrupting the receiver by using his hands and punching the ball out, even when it looks like a sure reception.
Despite playing in just 12 games last season, Howard tied for the league lead in interceptions (seven) and was rewarded with a five-year, $76.5 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL in terms of total value and average value per year. He's one of the best ballhawks in the league right now, and the fact that he allowed a league-low 62.6 passer rating in coverage among CBs targeted at least 50 times speaks volumes about his game. Howard is a leader and tone-setter for a young Dolphins defense looking to improve on last season's No. 29 overall ranking.
It's common to see a player transition from cornerback to safety, but rarely do you see someone transition from safety to cornerback. Jones, who began his career as a corner, returned to the position last season after playing safety in 2016 and '17. The result? He manned the island in Dallas and earned the seventh-highest coverage grade among CBs with 500 or more snaps in 2018, per Pro Football Focus. His physicality and ability to blanket receivers shined. In fact, Jones wasn't targeted at all during the Cowboys' Week 4 win over the Lions -- something that proves you have arrived as a lockdown corner.
The two-time Pro Bowl selectee has great ball skills and loves to compete. A complete cornerback, Slay didn't get close to his 2017 INT mark (eight, tied for the league lead) as teams threw his way less than they did in '17, though he still managed to record three picks and finished fourth in the league in passes defensed with 20. Slay deserves to get the new contract he's seeking based on his performance the last few seasons.
I was a teammate of Vincent Fuller, Kyle's oldest brother, at Virginia Tech, so I have watched all the Fullers grow up and play the game. Kyle has developed into a complete player since entering the league in 2014, something the rival Packers took note of last offseason, when they signed him to an offer sheet after the Bears placed the transition tag on him. Chicago ended up matching Green Bay's offer, and I'd imagine the Bears are happy with that decision, as Fuller was a first-team All-Pro selectee in 2018. He is physical, good in press coverage and has great ball skills. He's a key part of what I believe is the NFL's best secondary and defense.
I should've known this kid could play, given the pedigree of cornerbacks coming out of Ward's school -- Ohio State -- in recent years. I spoke with him at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine and heard in his voice everything I needed to know -- he clearly loves the game and was born to play the position. Like other analysts, I questioned the Browns' decision to take Ward fourth overall in the 2018 draft, but he proved a lot of people wrong by becoming the franchise's first rookie Pro Bowler since Joe Thomas in 2007. Ward plays like a 10-year veteran, with natural hips and smooth transitions in and out of his breaks. And now with a stacked receiving corps in Cleveland, I can't wait to see how much he improves after competing with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. in practice. Ward will be an All-Pro corner real soon.
This dude has made plays for years and was instrumental in Denver's championship run in 2015. Harris has long been known as one of the league's top slot corners, but he's mastered the art of playing both inside and outside. Aging cornerbacks have two choices: adjust your game or retire. Harris, who turned 30 in June, has adjusted well in recent years and was playing some great ball before suffering a broken leg in Week 13 last season, which brought his campaign to an end. He finished 2018 as Pro Football Focus' third-highest graded cornerback.
The Saints' CB1 has been one of the NFL's most productive cornerbacks since entering the league in 2017. He is tied for first in forced fumbles (five) and tied for fourth in both interceptions (seven) and passes defensed (30) among cornerbacks during that span. Lattimore usually shadows the best receiver each time out -- a tough job, especially in the NFC South, with Julio Jones in Atlanta and Mike Evans in Tampa -- and will start the season with a highly anticipated matchup against Houston's DeAndre Hopkins. Lattimore's play so far tells me he'll hold his own.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers; A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars; Quinton Dunbar, Washington Redskins; Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers; Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens; Donte Jackson, Carolina Panthers; Kareem Jackson, Denver Broncos; Trumaine Johnson, New York Jets; Desmond King, Los Angeles Chargers; Josh Norman, Washington Redskins; Marcus Peters, Los Angeles Rams; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings; Aqib Talib, Los Angeles Rams; Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons; Jason Verrett, San Francisco 49ers; Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills.