Ranking the NFL’s top cornerback duos

  • ESPN staff writer
  • Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
  • University of Florida graduate

NFL offenses have exploded in 2020. Nineteen NFL teams are averaging at least 25 points a game, compared to 10 a year ago. Six teams average at least 400 total yards per game.

With minimal time to prepare this offseason due to COVID-19, defenses have spent the first seven weeks of the year trying to match the intensity — and employing zone coverages. Thirteen NFL teams are dropping into a variation of zone coverage at least 55% of the time, compared to six teams at that same clip a year ago.

All this puts good cornerback play at a premium. Many of the league’s best defenses have solid duos on the back end.

After tweeting about Baltimore having the league’s premier duo a few weeks back, I heard from plenty of Patriots fans — for good reason.

So I asked some personnel people, did some research and came up with rankings. Complicating matters: Having two good ones is fairly rare. Plenty of top-shelf corners might play in a good system or defensive backfield but don’t have enough support on the other side. But there’s enough talent on this list to make quarterbacks hesitate from the pocket.


1. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens

A good tandem has balance and versatility, which is what makes Baltimore’s duo great.

“Baltimore is way above everybody,” one AFC exec said. “Those two guys might be top five right now.”

Humphrey is the steady corner who does everything, from playing over the top to covering in the slot and tackling at the line of scrimmage.

Peters is the ultimate gambler, which sometimes gets him into trouble, but it’s hard to argue with 29 interceptions in five-plus seasons, more than many Pro Bowl corners get in a decade of play. Some evaluators consider him the best true ball hawk in the game.

One veteran NFL quarterback told me Peters scares him more than any other corner because of his unpredictability. He’s determined to get the ball, for better or worse.

Both corners have combined for 10 pass deflections in six games. Save the ugly 34-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, when Andy Reid caught the Ravens in too many blitz-and-man-coverage combos, Baltimore is allowing one touchdown pass per game this season.

Humphrey’s new $98.75 million contract is justified, one NFC exec says, because “he can do everything. And he plays his ass off every play.”

And vet Jimmy Smith deserves a shout-out as a Ravens staple who used to give Antonio Brown and others problems, now serving as a steady No. 3.

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