In honor of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, we're highlighting the best of the best across the NFL. Heading into the 2021 season, who are the premium players in five marquee areas: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, pass rusher and cornerback? Twenty-five analysts individually ranked their top three in each category, and then we tallied all of the votes via this simple formula:
Each first-place vote: 3 points
Each second-place vote: 2 points
Each third-place vote: 1 point
Below, you'll find the cornerback podium -- highlighting the gold, silver and bronze medalists from our accumulated ballots -- as well as additional intel on the position.
THE CORNERBACK PODIUM
Total points: 65 (1st: 19; 2nd: 3; 3rd: 2)
Kyle Brandt: I love that he wants to cover the best wideouts every week. I love that he cares about being the best corner in the game. But my favorite part? I love that he HITS. Go look at Jalen hitting Amari Cooper. And Golden Tate. And Melvin Gordon. The hit list keeps going and going. And he's a corner! Totally fearless. Shutdown corner. Smackdown hitter. Best CB in the sport.
Total points: 44 (1st: 4; 2nd: 14; 3rd: 4)
Jim Trotter: Alexander doesn't get a lot of attention because he doesn't get a lot of interceptions (four total in three NFL seasons). But when it comes to shutting down the opposing receiver, few do it better -- which is why he has the attention of the people who matter most, his opponents. For that reason alone, he belongs on the podium.
Total points: 26 (1st: 2; 2nd: 7; 3rd: 6)
Lance Zierlein: As NFL coaches and general managers will tell you, ball production should never be undersold when it comes to evaluating defensive backs. Howard used his impressive combination of size, strength and ball skills to lead the league in both interceptions (10) and passes defensed (20) in 2020. While they are very different cornerbacks stylistically, Buffalo's Tre'Davious White is right there with Howard in terms of offering a stingy cover corner with the ability to take it away. Ultimately, Howard was a bit stingier and greedier -- and he brings the physicality defensive coordinators love. He's very worthy of his spot on the podium.
INSIGHTS INTO THE CB VOTING
- Six cornerbacks received at least one vote this year -- three fewer than in the 2016 edition of this exercise.
- There isn't a cornerback who made it onto a ballot both this year and when we gave out medals in 2016. The nine CBs who received votes back in '16: Patrick Peterson (gold), Richard Sherman (silver), Darrelle Revis (bronze), Josh Norman, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant and Jason Verrett.
- The average CB age on each voter's ballot this year: 25.9 years old. That's the youngest average age of the five position groups in this series.
- The six corners who received votes this year have combined to earn 15 Pro Bowls invites, seven first-team All-Pro designations and one Defensive Player of the Year award.
- Eleven of the 25 voters had some combination of Jalen Ramsey, Jaire Alexander and Xavien Howard on the ballot.
CB RECORD HOLDERS
FASCINATING CB STATS FROM NFL RESEARCH
- Four of the eight cornerbacks who posted four-plus interceptions in 2020 entered the NFL as undrafted free-agent signees: Malcolm Butler, J.C. Jackson, Kenny Moore II and Darious Williams. The other CBs to log four-plus picks last year: Marcus Peters (first-rounder), Carlton Davis and Xavien Howard (both second-rounders) and Kendall Fuller (third-rounder).
- The 2020 season saw two different cornerbacks nab eight-plus picks: Howard (10) and Jackson (9). That hadn't happened in an NFL campaign since Charles Woodson and Asante Samuel each intercepted nine passes back in 2009.
- Twelve cornerbacks recorded 14-plus passes defensed in 2020. Only one of them (Denzel Ward) was a first-round pick, while four (Butler, Jackson, Williams and Michael Davis) were undrafted.
- Four of the top six corners with the lowest completion percentage allowed in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, were born in or played college football in Florida: Ramsey (50.0 comp pct allowed, played at Florida State), Williams (50.0 comp pct allowed, born and played high school football in Jacksonville), Xavier Rhodes (50.7 comp pct allowed, played at Florida State) and Joe Haden (51.5 comp pct allowed, played at Florida).
- Top speed reached by a cornerback since 2018 (Next Gen Stats): 22.81 mph, Chidobe Awuzie (tracking down Saquon Barkley on a 59-yard run back in Week 1 of 2019)
INDIVIDUAL CB BALLOTS
|Judy Battista||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard||Jaire Alexander|
|Jeremy Bergman||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Marlon Humphrey|
|Ali Bhanpuri||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Marlon Humphrey|
|Tom Blair||Jaire Alexander||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard|
|Gil Brandt||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Xavien Howard|
|Kyle Brandt||Jalen Ramsey||Tre'Davious White||Jaire Alexander|
|Nate Burleson||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard||Stephon Gilmore|
|David Carr||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Stephon Gilmore|
|Brooke Cersosimo||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard||Jaire Alexander|
|Jeffri Chadiha||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard||Stephon Gilmore|
|Gennaro Filice||Jaire Alexander||Jalen Ramsey||Marlon Humphrey|
|Cynthia Frelund||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Marlon Humphrey|
|Chase Goodbread||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Marlon Humphrey|
|Marcas Grant||Jaire Alexander||Jalen Ramsey||Marlon Humphrey|
|Maurice Jones-Drew||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard||Stephon Gilmore|
|Dan Parr||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Xavien Howard|
|Kevin Patra||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Xavien Howard|
|Adam Rank||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Tre'Davious White|
|Marc Ross||Xavien Howard||Jaire Alexander||Marlon Humphrey|
|Marc Sessler||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard||Jaire Alexander|
|Nick Shook||Xavien Howard||Jaire Alexander||Jalen Ramsey|
|Joe Thomas||Jaire Alexander||Xavien Howard||Jalen Ramsey|
|LaDainian Tomlinson||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Xavien Howard|
|Jim Trotter||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Marlon Humphrey|
|Lance Zierlein||Jalen Ramsey||Jaire Alexander||Xavien Howard|