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Free agency primer: Ranking the cornerbacks

Around the League's positional free-agent previews are ranked according to the players we would want -- not the players who will make the most money. We've covered top pass rushers, interior linemen, running backs, wide receivers and the top-85 players overall. Now our series continues with available cornerbacks. We listed each player with the team they played for in 2012. Here goes:

Solid starters

Notes: Let's start with Smith. He's been widely touted as the top corner on the market, but I can't get past his inconsistent play. Smith is big and physical and will draw interest, but whatever team lands him must find a way to pull more steady week-to-week play out of the four-year pro. Grimes was lost to an Achilles' injury in the season opener, but Falcons coach Mike Smith said his recovery has been "outstanding." With Atlanta hoping to re-sign safety William Moore, Grimes might escape on the open market. Possible fit? How about the Patriots. They don't overspend on free agents and Grimes looms as a bargain post-injury. The prospect of grabbing this legitimate starting corner on the cheap makes him my No. 1.

New England must decide what to do with Talib, who was uneven last season. Pro Football Focus points out Talib allowed a whopping 775 yards on 592 snaps. Still, when he was lost to injury against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, the Patriots suffered. Lewis matured last season in Pittsburgh. He led the NFL with 16 passes defended and improved in coverage as the campaign progressed. In this group, only Smith played more snaps (1,068) than Lewis (943).

Released by the Vikings, Winfield is extremely versatile. He's a year-to-year player, but remains a quality starter.

Starters with questions

  1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia Eagles (UPDATE: Rodgers-Cromartie and the Denver Broncos agreed to a one-year deal on Wednesday night, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
  2. Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles
  3. Bradley Fletcher, St. Louis Rams (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles)
  4. Derek Cox, Jacksonville Jaguars (UPDATE: Cox agreed to a four-year congtract with the San Diego Chargers late Wednesday, U-T San Diego reported).
  5. Cary Williams, Baltimore Ravens (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles)
  6. Dunta Robinson, Atlanta Falcons (UPDATE: Signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)
  7. Greg Toler, Arizona Cardinals (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Indianapolis Colts)

Notes: Rodgers-Cromartie might be the most naturally talented of the bunch, but his play was downright baffling at times in 2012. His physical gifts are abundant, but Rodgers-Cromartie struggled against the run in Philly's confused secondary. He'll find work, but at 26, DRC's already been dumped by two teams. Fletcher is a potential bargain for the right team, but a handful of strong outings were diminished by a devastating penalties and durability issues in 2012.

The Jaguars reportedly wanted Derek Cox back next season, but injuries have prevented him from playing a full 16 games since 2009. He's been a reliable corner when healthy. Williams won't re-sign with the Ravens. The Colts make sense as a potential suitor considering Chuck Pagano knows Williams well. He'll likely be overpaid for a corner who was burned too often in Baltimore. Toler is intriguing. He doesn't have many starts, but his aggressive play turned heads. The Cardinals have shown interest in bringing him back.

Productive in right system

  1. Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
  2. DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins
  3. E.J. Biggers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  4. Antoine Cason, San Diego Chargers
  5. Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots
  6. Mike Jenkins, Dallas Cowboys
  7. Tracy Porter, Denver Broncos

Notes: Jones pumped out a strong season in Cincinnati. The corner-formerly-known-as-Pacman played in all 16 games for the first time in his career, but I'd be wary of him going elsewhere. Mike Zimmer made the most of him and the Bengals are a candidate to re-sign him. Biggers started 12 games for Tampa. After the Giants dismantled Biggers in Week 2, he ultimately took Talib's place in the lineup and improved down the stretch. The 6-foot-1 Cason is a bigger corner who started 16 games for the Chargers last season and is seen as a potential option for coordinator Todd Bowles in Arizona.

After an NFL-leading seven picks in 2011, Arrington was a productive slot corner in 2012. He isn't the top priority in New England, but Arrington's agent reportedly talked shop with the Patriots at the combine. Jenkins is an often-baffling performer who lost his starting role in Dallas. The former first-round pick is now just another name destined for dime coverage. Porter was a disappointment in Denver, starting just four games after suffering a seizure in August. Once healthy, he had trouble winning playing time.

Supporting cast

Notes: Powers has underwhelmed as a starter, but might loom as an option for coordinator John Pagano in San Diego, where Jammer -- at 33 -- has played his last game. You'd think the Panthers would like Munnerlyn back, but the cap-strapped franchise might not be able to re-sign him. McKelvin brings value in the return game and Bills general manager Buddy Nix expressed interest last month in re-signing him. McKelvin might bolt because wants to play more defense in 2013. Routt is a former second-round pick who was cut by the Chiefs last season, wound up in Houston and might be running out of chances.

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Sheldon Brown is on the wrong side of 30, but was a mostly reliable presence for Cleveland, but he won't beat out younger, more athletic corners. Tampa might be a fit. Like Adam Jones, Newman put in good work for the Bengals last season, but this aging corner doesn't have much of a market. Hanson is essentially a slot corner.

Position Overview

There's no grand prize here, but that changes if Darrelle Revis is ultimately shopped by the Jets.

This group is deep. No shutdown corners, but plenty of younger, 20-somethings ready to contribute. Teams should avoid overpaying for the top of the list, where there's not enough to distinguish one player from the next. Someone's going to make Sean Smith rich. Cary Williams, too. But the better value addition might be a younger player like Toler.

Expect a handful of these guys to test the market before re-signing with their current teams. You can't have enough corners in this league. With three- and four-wideout sets becoming the norm, reserve defensive backs have never been more important.

Teams with a need

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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