clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL’s top-5 free agent cornerbacks in 2023, ranked

Here are the top cornerback options in this year’s free agent class

Philadelphia Eagles v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

While in Indianapolis for the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, I had a wonderful conversation with Maddy Glab, one of the team reporters for the Buffalo Bills. During our chat we talked about how the NFL does a tremendous job at keeping fans interested throughout the year.

Free agency is a prime example. Over the next few weeks we will have countless players moving teams, and fans of all 32 teams talking themselves into the idea that the moves their favorite team made will put them over the top next season.

While offensive skill players typically move the needle the most — starting with quarterbacks — teams will be looking for help on the defensive side of the ball as well. That includes cornerback, where a fascinating story will unfold over the next two months. Cornerback is one of the deeper positions in the draft, and according to the current data available at NFL Mock Draft Database, six corners are projected to come off the board in the first round, with two more just on the fringe.

Given the talent in the draft class, how might teams view the free agents at the position?

Teams looking for veteran options, however, would be wise to start here.

1. James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Sure, everyone will point to the holding penalty at the end of Super Bowl LVII, but that one moment should not overshadow what was perhaps the best season of Bradberry’s career. The cornerback allowed an NFL Passer Rating of just 54.2 when targeted this season, the best mark over his seven seasons in the league.

Part of that might have been due to playing across from Darius Slay, and part of that might have been schematic. Bradberry is at his best playing off the receiver, whether in off-man coverage or in zone, where he can keep his eyes on both the WR, and the quarterback. This interception of Daniel Jones is a prime example:

But you can also find examples of him providing solid reps in man coverage, and even in press-man technique. His experience and versatility makes him a solid option in free agency for any number of teams.

2. Jamel Dean, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Teams looking for a physical cornerback who can disrupt receivers off the line would be smart to take a deep dive into Jamel Dean. Dean is physical at the line, and both comfortable — and patient — when playing with press technique.

Plays like this are common from him, where he pins Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore to the sideline from a press alignment, giving Moore and quarterback Sam Darnold almost no room for this vertical route:

This play against the Seattle Seahawks and D.K. Metcalf is an example of that patience. Watch as Dean waits for the receiver to commit to his route, and then gets chest-to-chest, taking away the back-shoulder throw:

Teams looking for a cornerback with some press chops will be wise to reach out to Dean these next few weeks.

3. Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots

This might be the best way to sum up Jonathan Jones.

Over the past few years when the Patriots and Bill Belichick would face Tyreek Hill, first when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs, and this past season with the Miami Dolphins, it would usually be Jones who was tasked with matchup up against the speedy receiver.

2022 was a change-of-pace season for Jones, who spent the early part of his career playing in the slot before kicking outside this year. His ability to play both inside and outside, coupled with the knowledge that Belichick trusted him against Hill regardless of alignment, speaks volumes about what he can bring to a team in 2023.

4. Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Jonathan Jones is not the only cornerback in this free agent class who brings some alignment flexibility to the table, as that is a strength of Cameron Sutton as well. After being used primarily in the slot early in his career, Sutton slid outside starting in 2021, where he saw 764 snaps as a boundary cornerback. That season Sutton allowed an NFL Passer Rating of 97.7 when targeted.

Last season, Sutton remained outside, and quarterbacks posted an NFL Passer Rating of just 69.6 when targeting Sutton. He also broke up eight passes according to charting data from Pro Football Focus, which was a career-high mark for him.

Perhaps a great example of his versatility — and range — from this season comes on this interception of Derek Carr. The Steelers spin into an inverted Cover 2, putting Sutton in a half-field safety role. When Hunter Renfrow splits the two deep defenders, watch Sutton break on the route and beat Renfrow to the football:

A creative defensive coordinator would love to have a player like this.

5. Patrick Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Defense was not a strength in Minnesota this past season, but cornerback Patrick Peterson was a bright spot on that side of the ball. Peterson allowed an NFL Passer Rating of just 66.8 when targeted last season, the third-best mark of his career and his best performance in that metric since 2015, when he was with the Arizona Cardinals.

Peterson was also charted with nine pass breakups, according to PFF, which was a career-high.

His experience is also a huge factor in his evaluation. After his overtime interception of Josh Allen in the red zone sealed a huge win for the Vikings, he broke down his film study and preparation on the All Things Covered podcast, aspects that led to the critical play: