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Best Zone Coverage Cornerbacks

author
David Lawrence
• Sunday, 27 December, 2020
• 7 min read

In the 2019 NFL season, defenses dealt with a total of 17,854 passing attempts. That 56.1% rate is fairly representative of the NFL over the last few years, but there are wild deviations in the amount of zone coverage teams will play.

football zone coverage pass types coverages underneath five cover2 under xsosfootball
(Source: www.xsosfootball.com)

Contents

And within that construct, here are the corner backs who played zone coverages at the very highest levels in the 2019 season. In the 2019 NFL season, defenses dealt with a total of 17,854 passing attempts.

In the 2019 NFL season, defenses dealt with a total of 17,854 passing attempts. That 56.1% rate is fairly representative of the NFL over the last few years, but there are wild deviations in the amount of zone coverage teams will play.

When you have one team playing twice as much zone coverage as another in the same league at the same time, it's a fascinating construct. And within that construct, here are the corner backs who played zone coverages at the very highest levels in the 2019 season.

When you have corner backs Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr., and safeties Darwin James and Nair Adderley, that's a potential nightmare for any enemy quarterback. Davis, an drafted free agent from BYU who joined the team in 2017, can do everything from taking speed receivers up the chute, to breaking up screens, to deflecting quick slants and drags over the middle.

That pick-six which took New England out of the playoffs was emblematic of how well Tennessee's defensive backs worked in concert in 2019, but Ryan will be suiting up for another team in 2020 and beyond. Word is, he wants more than $10 million per season, which is likely the only reason some zone -happy team hasn't picked him up already.

coverage route each football nfl cornerbacks versus type types pff
(Source: www.profootballfocus.com)

Last season, Ryan gave up 25 catches on 39 targets for 280 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, and a Positive Play Rate of 48.7%. As good as the 49ers' defense was in 2019 (and it was arguably the second- best in the NFL behind New England's), one wonders how great it would have been had defensive coordinator Robert Sale and his staff put Moseley out there as Richard Sherman's bookend instead of Hello Witherspoon, who wound up getting sidelined more than once with injuries and poor performance.

In those schematic instances, Moseley allowed 16 catches on 32 targets for 137 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and a Positive Play Rate of 40.6%. Wade Phillips was not extended for whatever reason, to be replaced by the inexperienced Brandon Stanley.

Galen Ramsey leads the corner back group, but he's on the last year of his current deal, and it's worth remembering that the Rams gave up two first-round picks for him. That's where there's some good news, as Troy Hill really stepped up when the team played zone coverage in 2019, which they did 57% of the time.

As a man- coverage corner back for Washington in 2019, Dunbar allowed 14 catches on 29 targets for 222 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a Positive Play Rate of 44.8%. As a zone corner back in 2019, Dunbar gave up 14 receptions on 25 targets for 138 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a Positive Play Rate of 48.

No matter the situation, Dunbar has firmly established himself as one of the league's most reliable corner backs. Alexander's second NFL season saw him ascend to a status as one of the league's prime zone defenders, as he allowed 23 receptions on 55 targets for 290 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a league- the best Positive Play Rate of 29.1%.

madden peterson patrick nfl rating cardinals cornerbacks releases coverage
(Source: www.sportsgamersonline.com)

The Panthers' second-round pick out of Stamford in the 2016 draft, Brad berry was a bit underrated as Josh Norman's successor, and Carolina's top corner back. But the Giants had no trouble discerning his value, as they threw him a three-year, $45 million contract this off season.

In 2019, he allowed just 27 receptions on 52 targets for 387 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, and a Positive Play Rate of 44.2%. Were you to extend that to the best guy overall and in any kind of coverage, it's hard to top Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Last December, the Giants released Jenkins despite the fact that he was the only corner back on the team who could cover anybody at a credible level. His social media flareup with a fan didn't help, and his public frustration with how he was being utilized on the field by defensive coordinator James Better most likely sealed his fate.

Sherman was the best corner back in the NFL in Seattle's Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and… Then, Sherman allowed 22 receptions on 38 targets for 202 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, and a Positive Play Rate of 50%.

He showed this with his first interception against the Steelers, covering speed receiver James Washington downfield. If you want to draw up a zone corner back and all that is required from the position, White is as close to the paradigm as you’ll find in the league today.

coverage route types football pff
(Source: www.profootballfocus.com)

White allowed 25 receptions on 43 targets for 325 yards, no touchdowns, five interceptions, and a Positive Play Rate of 48.8. Through the NFL's eras, the ability to play man coverage at a high level has separated the best defenders from the rank and file in the minds of many.

Dan Sanders' ability to erase his section of the field without boundary help allowed his defensive coordinators to take all kinds of risks in other areas. When you have NFL offenses relying more and more on quick-game passes, one-step drops, and RPO's, playing quality man coverage, especially at the short and intermediate levels of the defense, it just as important as it's ever been, albeit for new and challenging reasons.

Based on tape study and metrics from Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Focus, here are the league's most efficient defenders when it comes to this highly valuable skill. In 2019, he allowed 29 catches on 39 man coverage targets for 349 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, three more dropped picks, and an opposing KBR of 56.14.

Though he struggled with injuries in the second half of the season, An outstanding boundary corner back who was negatively affected at times by some perplexing safety “help” looks, Jackson seemed more comfortable when he could just erase his target on his own. Last season, Jackson did allow one touchdown in man coverage (which the Bengals used on just 33% of their snaps), but aside from that, he gave up just 10 catches on 28 targets for 159 yards, and a Positive Play Rate of 32.1% -- good for fourth- best in the league.

2019 marked Rob's first season in Houston after five years in Denver, and while Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Channel's decisions to play a high rate of man coverage occasionally came at the worst possible time (such as the divisional playoff game against the Chiefs, when Houston blew a 24-0 lead and got scalded by Patrick Mahomes), Rob proved to be a prefect fit for a defense that played man on 37% of their snaps, seventh-highest in the league. In man coverage situations, Rob gave up 15 receptions on 32 targets for 218 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and an opposing KBR of 53.9.

rank cbs cooper face caught his
(Source: www.dallascowboys.com)

One of the few recent intelligent decisions made by Houston's front office (read: Bill O'Brien) was the three-year, $36 million contract given to Rob in March. It's unknown what will happen to Dunbar as a result of his legal issues at this time, but when the Seahawks traded a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Redskins for his services in March, it sure looked like a great deal.

Last season, Dunbar allowed the ninth- best opposing quarterback rating in the NFL at 56.9, and that excellence worked in his ability to play man coverage, as well. In those instances (the Redskins played man coverage on 34% of their snaps), Dunbar allowed 14 catches on 29 targets for 222 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and an opponent KBR of 46.1 -- eighth- best in the league.

Pittsburgh's coverage abilities improved exponentially as the 2019 season went along, and a prior glaring weakness became an obvious strength. The most important move the Steelers made was trading their 2020 first-round pick to the Dolphins for defensive back Mink ah Fitzpatrick and turning him into one of the league's best deep safeties, but Steven Nelson's maturation as a coverage star helped, as well.

Last December, I did a tape study of the two corner backs I consider to be the NFL's best at this time -- New England's Stephen Gilmore and Buffalo's TRE'Devious White. There are legal complications at this point, but the fifth-round trade with the Redskins this off season for corner back Quinton Dunbar could be another amazing deal under the right circumstances.

Last season in man coverage, Flowers allowed 14 catches on 25 targets for 138 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opposing KBR of 38.4. In any kind of man coverage, Gilmore allowed 28 catches on 62 targets for 424 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions, and an opposing KBR of 34.1.

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(Source: www.profootballfocus.com)

The 11-year veteran still has the trail speed and quickness in short areas to make life difficult for receivers, and he's learned to perfectly time his aggressive defenses as the ball arrives. He was a real eraser in man coverage, allowing 15 catches on 33 targets for 191 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opposing KBR of 26.2.

When an entire positional unit is historically great, as the 2019 Patriots' corner back group was, you might wonder if a guy like Jackson, an drafted free agent out of Maryland who New England picked up in 2018, is more of a beneficiary than an instigator. Jackson's man coverage metrics were absolutely preposterous -- 19 catches allowed on 46 targets for 181 yards, no touchdowns, a league- best five interceptions, a league- best opposing KBR of 13.3, a league- the best EPA of -27.8, and only Pittsburgh's Steven Nelson had a lower Positive Play Rate in man coverage than Jackson's 28.3%.

No matter how you slice it, no corner back was better in man coverage in 2019, and given Jackson's ascent as a player, we could be writing the same thing after the 2020 season. When you have corner backs Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr., and safeties Darwin James and Nair Adderley, that’s a potential nightmare for any enemy quarterback.

Davis, an drafted free agent from BYU who joined the team in 2017, can do everything from taking speed receivers up the chute, to breaking up screens, to deflecting quick slants and drags over the middle. Davis, the drafted free agent out of BYU, has been overshadowed by premiere defensive backs the past couple of seasons.

But he has still managed to play at a high level in 21 starts, notching 89 tackles, 17 passes defensed and two interceptions. Davis’ play has been scrutinized due to inconsistency in coverage and as a tackler, but Farrah’s breakdown and the coaching staff’s confidence in him in the starting role suggests otherwise.

bryce hall cowboys players draft hickey cornerback heading dallas three into pete guerriero nfl michael getty
(Source: sportdfw.com)

Los Angeles has the opportunity to boast one of the league’s best defenses in 2020, and Davis will be a critical piece in a secondary that features Hayward, Chris Harris Jr., Desmond King, Darwin James, Nair Adderley and Rashawn Jenkins.

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