Beyond having a great quarterback, few things are more important in the modern NFL than having a shutdown corner.
Last year, the Eagles won an NFC title by having two in James Bradberry and Darius Slay. The duo is a strong reason to believe Philadelphia can get back to Super Sunday once more.
For other teams, their top-end corner will anchor a contender. Think Sauce Gardner with the Jets and the newly acquired Jalen Ramsey for the Dolphins. Good luck to the AFC East quarterbacks facing those two for a quarter of their schedules.
All that said, our top 10 corners heading into 2023:
10Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks
It’s not often a fifth-round rookie out of UT–San Antonio ends up as a Pro Bowler that same year, but Woolen was able to make the leap. A 24-year-old with the Seahawks, Woolen intercepted six passes last season to earn the accolade while finishing third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.
A big part of Seattle’s excellent 2022 class, Woolen projects to become a stalwart in Seattle’s secondary. Of all his traits, speed is his biggest asset, along with ball skills. At the ’22 combine, Woolen ran a 4.26 while measuring 6'4" and 205 pounds.
9Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys
Diggs is a polarizing figure among some evaluators. In his three years with the Cowboys, there have been some lowlights of the former Crimson Tide star being beaten on double moves. However, he’s also been one of the league’s best ballhawks, leading the NFL with 11 interceptions during his first-team All-Pro season in 2021.
Paired with veteran Stephon Gilmore, Diggs gives Dallas one of the league’s elite tandems. Coming off consecutive Pro Bowl campaigns, the 24-year-old is still ascending.
8James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles
Bradberry has moved around some in his career. After spending four years with the Panthers, he signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Giants before being released as a cap casualty after two seasons.
However, Bradberry latched on with the Eagles and, opposite Darius Slay, had arguably his best season, earning second-team All-Pro honors. Although he’s turning 30 years old in August, Bradberry is playing his best ball and could see his second Pro Bowl appearance in 2023.
7Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Ward is entering his sixth year with the Browns and has shown no signs of slowing down. The two-time Pro Bowler is still looking to make his first All-Pro squad, but that could very well be in the near future for the 26-year-old.
In Cleveland, Ward has totaled 13 interceptions and 65 passes defensed, all while missing 16 games over his career. If Ward can stay on the field, there’s little doubt of his talent.
6Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Despite being a first-round pick and a four-time Pro Bowler, Lattimore seems to get overlooked when the discussion turns to the league’s top corners. Playing six seasons with the Saints, Lattimore immediately made his impact felt to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2017.
Since, he’s been both spectacular and consistent, intercepting 14 passes and forcing five fumbles. He’ll be staying in New Orleans for the foreseeable future, having signed a five-year, $97 million deal in September 2021.
5Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
If you’re talking about the best young corners in the game, Alexander ranks near the top. A first-round pick out of Louisville in 2018, Alexander is already a two-time second-team All-Pro, earning a contract extension of four years and $84 million last offseason.
Not only a shutdown corner, Alexander has terrific ball skills, resulting in 58 passes defensed and 10 interceptions. With Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas as Green Bay’s other starting corners, the Packers could have an elite backfield in 2023.
4Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
Slay entered the NFL as a second-round pick by the Lions in 2013. In the decade since, he’s become one of the league’s top corners for both Detroit and Philadelphia, last year being named a Pro Bowler for the fifth time.
At 32 years old, Slay remains atop his game. In 2022, Slay picked off three passes, giving him 26 for his career. He also has a knack for the end zone, scoring four touchdowns in his career.
3Jalen Ramsey, Miami Dolphins
Ramsey has long been the benchmark by which corners of his era have been judged. However, he’s now set to play for his third team before turning 29 years old come November, after being dealt from the Rams to the Dolphins this offseason.
Originally a first-round pick by the Jaguars in 2016, Ramsey has been a stud since the start. He’s authored six Pro Bowl berths and three first-team All-Pro honors, all while helping lead Los Angeles to a win in Super Bowl LVI.
2Sauce Gardner, New York Jets
Perhaps this is premature, but it’s impossible not to consider Gardner already among the very best at his craft. Last year, Gardner came into the NFL with the Jets after being selected fourth in the 2022 draft, and he somehow exceeded the hype.
As a rookie, Gardner intercepted two passes and made 75 tackles, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro accolades. Going into his second season, it’s reasonable to argue the 22-year-old is already the top player at his position.
1Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos
While Surtain hasn’t had the luxury of being in the spotlight recently (due to the Broncos’ poor record over the past two years), he’s deserving of any and all praise. The former Alabama star has been brilliant in Denver, totaling six interceptions and 24 passes defensed despite rarely being tested.
After being snubbed as a rookie, Surtain earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors last season. He enters his third campaign as the standard by which all other corners must be measured.