Analysis

Cowboys' Trevon Diggs, Bears' Jaylon Johnson among cornerbacks set for Year 2 breakout in 2021

In this week-long series, NFL Network analysts examine the notable Year 2 players at different position groups who are poised for a breakout campaign in 2021. Today, Gil Brandt spotlights nine cornerbacks.

Here are nine second-year pros ready to take a major step at the cornerback position, ranked according to their likelihood of breaking out in 2021:

Rank
1
Trevon Diggs
Dallas Cowboys

Year 1: 12 games | 3 interceptions | 14 passes defensed | 1 forced fumble | 1 sack | 58 tackles


The Cowboys missed out on corners Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain in the 2021 NFL Draft -- so, after a rookie season in which he showed promise but also missed four games with a foot injury, Diggs will have the chance to prove he can be a CB1. Diggs' interception total (three) was the highest by a Cowboys player since Brandon Carr posted the same number in 2013. The former second-round pick has been flashing in training camp thus far.

Rank
2
Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears

Year 1: 13 games | 15 passes defensed | 44 tackles


Johnson was looking like a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year for a big chunk of 2020, until a shoulder injury cost him the final three games of the regular season, along with the Bears' loss to the Saints in the Wild Card Round. Still, the second-rounder logged 15 passes defensed in 13 games, the most ever by a rookie Chicago corner, and he is in line for the CB1 spot following veteran Kyle Fuller's offseason release.

Rank
3
C.J. Henderson
Jacksonville Jaguars

Year 1: 8 games | 1 interception | 6 passes defensed | 1 forced fumble | 36 tackles


Henderson only played in eight games as a rookie because of a groin injury, but the ninth overall pick showed what he's capable of in his outstanding NFL debut. In the Jags' 2020 season-opener against Indianapolis, Henderson logged three pass breakups, with the last clinching what ended up being Jacksonville's only win of the season. Henderson -- who's been on the reserve/COVID-19 list since the start of camp -- is a better tackler than some give him credit for and will benefit from the offseason addition of free-agent signee Shaquill Griffin.

Rank
4
L'Jarius Sneed
Kansas City Chiefs

Year 1: 9 games | 3 interceptions | 7 passes defensed | 2 sacks | 41 tackles


Sneed spent 2019 as a free safety at Louisiana Tech but returned to his natural position of cornerback in 2020 -- and he proceeded to become a surprise starter in Kansas City, working both in the slot and outside, with only a midseason collarbone injury slowing him down. The fourth-rounder will surely continue to benefit from the tutelage of consummate pro Tyrann Mathieu as he further develops his game. Sneed can also blitz off the edge, as demonstrated by the two sacks he logged during the 2020 playoffs.

Rank
5
A.J. Terrell
Atlanta Falcons

Year 1: 14 games | 1 interception | 7 passes defensed | 3 forced fumbles | 74 tackles


Terrell slid into a role as the replacement for Desmond Trufant as Atlanta's top cornerback, proving himself to be a crucial element in the team's ongoing overhaul in the secondary. The 16th overall pick missed some time (he spent two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list) and dealt with a hamstring injury in 2020. He also couldn't keep the Falcons' beleaguered pass defense from ranking 32nd in the NFL -- but he showed an ability to create turnovers (four total, including three forced fumbles and one pick) while racking up an impressive tackle total (74).

Rank
6
Jeff Okudah
Detroit Lions

Year 1: 9 games | 1 interception | 2 passes defensed | 47 tackles


Transitioning to the pros at cornerback is not easy, especially with regard to understanding opposing offenses. Okudah's rookie season was waylaid by injuries and growing pains -- and he then underwent core muscle surgery. Not that things are going to get much easier for Okudah, who must now prove himself to a coaching staff and front office that did not draft him third overall. Fortunately for him, he appears to be making progress in that area, with head coach Dan Campbell calling him a "bad dude" and praising him for his attitude on Thursday.

Rank
7
Kristian Fulton
Tennessee Titans

Year 1: 6 games | 1 interception | 1 pass defensed | 1 sack | 16 tackles


Coming off a debut season dramatically shortened by a knee injury, Fulton was recently named by head coach Mike Vrabel as one of the Titans who has made "significant progress" since 2020. Projected as the slot corner, with veteran Janoris Jenkins and rookie Caleb Farley starting outside, the 2020 second-rounder could really give Tennessee a boost by stepping up and helping to improve the NFL's worst third-down defense.

Rank
8
Bryce Hall
New York Jets

Year 1: 8 games | 1 interception | 3 passes defensed | 36 tackles


Hall, whose final college campaign was derailed by an ankle injury, ended up missing the first half of his rookie season, but a strong finish to 2020 sets up the fifth-rounder to potentially play a big role in the Jets' defense in 2021. With his long arms (32 1/4 inches), he has the kind of length that will no doubt appeal to new head coach Robert Saleh. Even setting that aside, there should be plenty of opportunities in one of the NFL's youngest and most unproven secondaries.

Rank
9
Tevaughn Campbell
Los Angeles Chargers

Year 1: 14 games | 1 interception | 3 passes defensed | 1 forced fumble | 22 tackles


Campbell was with the Jets in the 2019 preseason and spent portions of that season on the Chargers' practice squad, with brief stays on the active roster. But he didn't appear in a single game that year, so he qualifies here, with 2020 counting as his Year 1 for the purposes of this piece. The undrafted product out of the University of Regina (who also spent time playing professionally in Canada) appears to have the speed and quickness to play cover corner and provide some juice as a blitzer. The 28-year-old plays hard every down.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter.

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