Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
AFC: Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots; Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans; Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos; Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
How good has Stephon Gilmore been for the New England Patriots? Head coach Bill Belichick compared his top cover corner to Ty Law and Aqib Talib, according to NESN’s Doug Kyed. In the last four weeks, Gilmore has faced the Kansas City Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins, Chicago Bears’ Allen Robinson II, Buffalo Bills’ Kelvin Benjamin and Green Bay Packers’ Davante Adams; the cornerback allowed six receptions in that span, per CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar.
A little position ambiguity exists with Kareem Jackson listed as a cornerback. He started the year at safety only to find his way back to his more familiar spot. Jackson has been outstanding in coverage with 10 defended passes and two interceptions. He may not be a true corner, but his continued excellence deserves recognition at one position.
Chris Harris Jr. is no longer flanked by Aqib Talib, but he remains among the league’s best. This may be considered a step down from his previous performance since an argument could have been made two or three years ago that he rivaled any corner in the game. He continues to cover outside and the slot equally well.
Cleveland’s acquisition of Denzel Ward with this year’s fourth overall pick has gone from being panned to praised due to the rookie’s play. The first-year defensive back, who is dealing with a hip injury, ranks first among rookies with nine defended passes to go with three interceptions. More importantly, Ward is already shadowing opposing offenses’ top receivers.
NFC: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals; Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys; Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
Patrick Peterson is the standard which every other cornerback hopes to achieve. Even during a down year in the desert, Peterson continues to do his job, i.e. shutting down one side of the field. As a result, his numbers are rather pedestrian even though nothing has changed regarding Peterson’s level of play.
Byron Jones finally found where he fits in the Dallas Cowboys defense, and it’s completely changed his approach. Jones isn’t bouncing between safety and corner anymore. He’s the perfect fit at corner in Kris Richard’s scheme. This allowed him to finally realize his potential. Jones graded as the game’s top cornerback through eight weeks of play, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kyle Fuller has gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit with all of the Khalil Mack hoopla. Mack, of course, has been fantastic, but so has Fuller. The fifth-year defensive back is tied for the league lead with four interceptions and tied for fourth with nine defended passes.
Jaire Alexander is in a competition with Ward to prove who is the best rookie cornerback. Alexander has been better in coverage, whereas Ward has made more plays of significance. But the Green Bay Packers aren’t going to complain if Alexander has relatively low interception and defended pass totals as long as he shuts down wide receivers on a consistent basis.