The NFL is a passing league and the value on defenders that can stop the pass has never been greater. This offseason, record-setting contracts were handed out to cornerbacks Darius Slay and Byron Jones, who are both set to earn an average annual salary of more than $16.5 million dollars.
While Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is primed to reset the cornerback market in the near future, a star-studded crop of corners that were picked in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft are also closing in on big paydays. It won’t be long before the deals Slay and Jones recently inked look like bargains given the wave of cornerbacks that have performed at a high level and are positioned to land massive new deals.
The 2017 draft saw five corners selected in the first round, several of which are now among the best in the game.
Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
The AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017, Marshon Lattimore has earned two Pro Bowl nods in his first three seasons in the NFL. An impressive blend of size, athleticism, and coverage instincts, Lattimore immediately became the No. 1 cornerback for the Saints in a division full of top wide receivers. With Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, and Chris Godwin among the NFC South’s best receivers, Lattimore’s role on the Saints’ defense is a critical one for New Orleans to remain at the top of the division. At the moment, New Orleans lacks ideal cap flexibility to extend Lattimore but things clear up after the 2021 season, right when Lattimore will be done playing the final year of his rookie contract.
Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
Since Wink Martindale took over as the defensive coordinator in 2018, the Baltimore Ravens are the most blitz-heavy defense in the NFL. While it’s an aggressive strategy, the results cannot be argued with. In each of his two seasons coordinating Baltimore’s defense, the Ravens have finished in the top four of the NFL in both points and yards allowed. A big reason why the defense has been so successful is the play of cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Humphrey thrives in press coverage, disrupting receivers at the line of scrimmage and taking them off the menu for the quarterback. Between Humphrey’s ability to erase wide receivers and the heavy doses of blitzing, considerable stress is placed on opposing quarterbacks to make quick and good decisions with the football. Humphrey has developed into a top cornerback and he’s part of the engine that makes the Ravens defense work.
Adoree’ Jackson, Tennessee Titans
Adoree’ Jackson doesn’t quite measure up to the impact Lattimore, Humphrey, and Tre’Davious White have made to this point, but he’s enjoyed a stellar start to his NFL career. Tennessee has become known for its “disguise defense” and Jackson’s interchangeability between playing wide corner and in the slot helps that come to fruition. While he’s primarily been an outside corner, Jackson does shift inside on occasion and is part of the scheme multiplicity that Tennessee loves to deploy. Jackson has quick feet, fluid hips and his click and close ability to drive forward on routes makes him pesky in coverage. Jackson should be considered a core piece of the Titans’ defense and a fixture for the long haul.
Gareon Conley, Houston Texans
Of the five cornerbacks drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Gareon Conley was the only one to not have his fifth-year option picked up. He’s also the only one not playing for his original team as the Raiders traded him to Houston before the trade deadline in 2019. After the trade, Conley played in eight games for Houston and started six in what was arguably the best stretch of play for Conley so far in his young career. From a physical skill standpoint, Conley isn’t lacking and he has the makeup of a top corner in the NFL and Houston needs that to happen given how poor the defense performed as a unit last season. The Texans should enjoy contributions in 2020 from a motivated Conley in what has the makings to be a breakout season. If that happens, Conley should be paid handsomely next offseason.
Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
White was the first player drafted under Sean McDermott’s tenure and he’s proven to be an immediate difference-maker. It’s not just that White has been a lockdown corner, it’s his ability to create takeaways that already places him among the game's elite corners. Leading all 2017 draft picks with 12 interceptions so far in his career, White has proven to be a clutch playmaker who has repeatedly made critical plays late in football games that directly lead to Bills wins. White is fresh off his best season in the NFL and was the only cornerback in the NFL to be targeted at least 50 times in coverage and not allow a single touchdown reception. He led the NFL with six interceptions and is the only player since 2006 to lead the NFL in interceptions without allowing a single touchdown. A first-team All-Pro selection in 2019, White may have been the last corner drafted in the first round back in 2017, but he’s arguably been the best.
- Dec 01, 2022
- Nov 30, 2022