Cap space management has been a highly debated topic lately. It really caught fire when the “never pay running backs” movement began, but it has since evolved and broken off into subtopics that comb over what the appropriate value is for all positions.
When it comes to where teams should spend most of their money, the biggest agreement typically lands on passers (quarterbacks), pass-rushers (the guys who try to attack the quarterback), and pass protectors (the guys who try to shield the quarterback). But there is another position that carries tons of value at the top.
That is the cornerback position.
With the league getting more and more pass-happy, it has put pressure on teams to go beyond just having one lockdown cornerback and filling in the rest; even the slot cornerback position can no longer just be your third-best cornerback on the roster. In today’s NFL, you have to have at least two solid cornerback options you can rely on, as the bare minimum.
With this truth, we’ve seen some teams put together some studded cornerback duos.
These are my top five cornerback duos going into 2020.
Before we begin, I want to shout out Buffalo Bills’ Tre’Davious White and New Orleans Saints’ Marshon Lattimore, who I thought I would be putting on this list, as they are two of the best in the game, but their partners on the other side just gave me too much concern over the total package duos below.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden & Steven Nelson
A combination of young and old, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson put together very nice performances in their first year together in 2019 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nelson had a quiet first three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He started off as purely a depth player in his first three years, but then developed into a starting cornerback via camp competition, then the team’s No. 1 corner going into his fourth season. The result in that fourth year was four interceptions (the first picks of his career).
After that 2018 season, Nelson signed a three-year deal with the Steelers. Though he didn’t produce the same number of takeaways as the year prior, he forced just a 50 percent completion percentage with no touchdowns thrown on him in 15 games played.
As for Haden, the 30-year-old vet nearly matched his career high in interceptions with five in 2019. Since 2010, he has the most passes broken up with 127 and the second-most interceptions with 27. With 2019 as one of the strongest years in his career, he and Nelson have earned their spot on this list.
4. Miami Dolphins: Xavien Howard & Byron Jones
For years, Xavien Howard was the forgotten man in a 2016 draft class that featured Jalen Ramsey, Eli Apple, Vernon Hargreaves III, William Jackson, and Artie Burns all drafted ahead of him. However, once he got on the field, it didn’t take him long to make an impact.
Even with an early injury in his career, Howard has been one of the Miami Dolphins’ starting cornerbacks since that 2016 season, and has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league at forcing turnovers since then. Howard suffered a knee injury last season and wasn’t having a good year before then, but as we know with the Dolphins, it took them a bit to really get into new head coach Brian Flores’ defense. Expect Howard to bounce back to form.
Next to Howard will be a new face in 2020, free agent acquisition Byron Jones. Jones struggled early on during his time with the Dallas Cowboys Dallas as a safety, but once they moved him to cornerback, the light came on. Jones has forced a completion percentage below 54 percent over the last two seasons. He and Howard should be a tough matchup for opposing offenses.
3. Los Angeles Chargers: Casey Hayward & Chris Harris Jr.
Hello and welcome to the “Chris Harris Jr. Has Been Underrated For Way Too Long” support group. Refreshments and snacks are in the back.
To me, Harris is underrated because he doesn’t shadow a team’s No. 1 wide receiver, as much as he adjusts where he is playing each week to man either inside or out (and does so very well). It takes a special kind of skill set to be successful in the slot in this day and age. For Harris to thrive for so long as such a versatile cornerback speaks volumes. His 2019 season was a step back compared to other seasons, but now surrounded by players like Casey Hayward and Desmond King—as well as Derwin James—he will be put in a position to play his best.
Speaking of Hayward, he, too, doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves. He didn’t see much playing time during his Green Bay days, but since signing with the Chargers in 2016, he’s started all but two games (62 in total). In relation to what was discussed above, Hayward is one of those guys who is asked to cover the top receiver on the other team week-in and week-out, and most of the time he shuts them down.
2. New England Patriots: Stephon Gilmore & Jason McCourty
When your duo starts off with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, you really don’t even have to have much opposite him to be on this list. But the reason Gilmore and his partner Jason McCourty are this high is because McCourty is much more than just an average cornerback on the other side.
Where Gilmore is the more recognized player, who led the NFL in interceptions last season with six, McCourty’s experience perfectly complements what Gilmore can do as a shutdown player clearly still in his prime. McCourty was targeted 99 times in 2018 and allowed just a 52 percent completion percentage, and was targeted 56 in 2019 and yielded an even lower 48 percent completion percentage.
This duo is the true definition of a pairing, playing off each other and the secondary overall to form one of the smartest groups in the league.
1. Baltimore Ravens: Marlon Humphrey & Marcus Peters
The top dogs in the CB duo debate is the Ravens’ pairing of Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey.
Peters has always been a hit-or-miss aggressive style of cornerback, but boy did the Ravens hit on him when they made the move to acquire Peters from the Rams last season. In just nine games as a starter, Peters grabbed three interceptions for Baltimore, which gave him five total on the season counting his two with the Rams.
As for Humphrey, at just 23 years old, he took a big leap into one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL in 2019. As a first-year starter, Humphrey played more than 90 percent of the team’s snaps in all but one game. According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey surrendered a passer rating of 68 when targeted in 2019. He earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors for the first time in his career, and is poised to continue his upward trajectory in 2020.