2021 NFL Free Agency: Best Available Cornerbacks

With our top five players off the board, the Green Bay Packers re-signed Kevin King, who is coming off a disappointing season after a productive 2019.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Free agency officially kicked off with the beginning of the league-year on March 17. A strong group of experienced cornerbacks remains available. The potential slot cornerbacks – or the “star” position in defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s lingo - are in a separate story.

The Packers’ Picture

Packers Need (1-10 scale): 10. Water covers about two-thirds of the Earth. Jaire Alexander is good but he’s not good enough to cover the rest of the globe. After a promising 2019, Kevin King endured a miserable fourth season. The Packers brought him back, anyway. Josh Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018 who was productive as a rookie, couldn’t even get himself on the gameday roster for the playoffs. Ka’dar Hollman, a sixth-round pick in 2019, wasn’t active at the end of the season, either. Maybe Barry’s system will be just the ticket for Jackson. But a championship-contender can’t count on “maybe.”

Packers Free Agents: Almost nothing King could do could possibly erase the mistake of former general manager Ted Thompson bypassing T.J. Watt and drafting King in 2017. It’s not King’s fault that Watt is a three-time All-Pro and one of the best big-play pass rushers in the NFL. But at least King had his 2019 season to reduce the sting. Finally staying healthy after playing less than one-third of the defensive snaps his first two seasons, King ranked among the NFL leaders with five interceptions and 15 passes defensed.

King took a step backward this season. It cost the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, when he allowed two touchdowns, and it will cost him in free agency.

Limited to 11 games by a quad injury, King had zero interceptions and five passes defensed. It seemed like he was playing hurt. When he scooped up a loose ball against Carolina, a man with 4.43 speed in the 40 might have gone the distance. Instead, he was easily chased down. Too often – perhaps because of the labrum issues that dated to his time at Washington – his tackling amounted to throwing himself at the ball-carrier’s legs and hoping for the best.

Put this on the tombstone of that draft: In four seasons, King – a man paid to cover – has five interceptions and 27 passes defensed. Watt – a man paid to sack the quarterback – has four interceptions and 25 passes defensed.

Top 20 Unrestricted Free Agents

Note: Jaire Alexander (5-10 1/4) is the shortest cornerback drafted in the Ted Thompson-Brian Gutekunst era. So, nobody shorter than 5-foot-10 (without rounding) made this list. All stats are from Sports Info Solutions.

SIGNED BY WASHINGTON: William Jackson, Cincinnati: A first-round pick in 2016, Jackson (6-0) missed his rookie season with a torn pectoral and gave up seven touchdowns in 2018 before finding his stride. According to Sports Info Solutions, he allowed a 46.3 percent rate in 2020 with two touchdowns allowed, one interception (two drops), 10 additional breakups and 7.1 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 6.3 percent. He has only three career interceptions but a career catch rate of a meager 43.1 percent. He’ll turn 29 at midseason.

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SIGNED BY JACKSONVILLE: Shaquill Griffin, Seattle: A third-round pick in 2017, Griffin (6-0) made the Pro Bowl in 2019 with zero interceptions but 14 passes defensed. In 2020, he had three interceptions – matching his career total – and 10 additional breakups but gave up a career-worst six touchdowns, 7.9 yards per target and a 61.3 percent catch rate. His missed-tackle rate was 7.5 percent. He’s got 4.38 speed and a knack for getting his hands on the ball, ranking 10th in the NFL with 48 passes defensed the past four seasons. He’ll turn 26 before training camp.

SIGNED BY DENVER: Ronald Darby, Washington: A second-round pick by Buffalo in 2015, Darby (5-11) has eight career interceptions. In 2020, he didn’t have any interceptions but deflected a league-leading 17 passes. He allowed a 52.9 percent catch rate and gave up one touchdown and 7.0 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 7.1 percent, his four misses a big improvement over the 19 whiffs the previous two seasons. He’s at his best in man coverage but the lack of interceptions is a blight on the resume. He and Griffin are tied for 10th with 48 passes defensed the past four seasons. He turned 27 in January.

SIGNED BY CINCINNATI: Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas: A second-round pick in 2017, Awuzie (6-0) has 42 starts under his belt. He started six of his eight games in 2020, with a stint on injured reserve due to a hamstring. He has one interception in each of his four seasons. In his abbreviated fourth season, he allowed a 60.0 percent catch rate, gave up three touchdowns and yielded 10.8 yards per target. He added four breakups. His missed-tackle rate of 7.5 percent was a major improvement. He’s at his best in zone coverage and has 4.43 speed.

RE-SIGNED: Xavier Rhodes, Indianapolis: A first-round pick by Minnesota in 2013, Rhodes (6-1) has played in 120 of a possible 128 games in eight seasons and recorded 12 interceptions. In 2020, his first season with the Colts, he intercepted two passes and broke up 12 others. He allowed a 44.8 percent catch rate and gave up five touchdowns and 6.9 yards per target. In 2019 with Minnesota, he gave up a 77.0 percent catch rate and 9.8 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 10.6 percent. He’ll turn 31 in June. Packers defensive passing-game coordinator Jerry Gray coached him in Minnesota.

Richard Sherman, San Francisco: An all-decade performer and three-time All-Pro, Sherman (6-3) played in only five games last season due to a calf injury. There were definite signs of age (he’ll turn 33 on March 30) before the injury. According to Sports Info Solutions, he’s gone from a catch rate of 39.1 percent in 2017 to 53.3 in 2018, 59.2 in 2019 and 61.1 in 2020. He allowed three touchdowns, had one interception and didn’t break up any passes. His missed-tackle rate was an awful 21.7 percent.

Quinton Dunbar, Seattle: Dunbar (6-2) has 31 starts in six seasons since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent receiver with Washington in 2015. He has 10 career interceptions, with four of those coming with Washington in 2019. Traded to Seattle last offseason, he played in six games before being shut down with a knee injury that required surgery. In 2020, he intercepted one pass (dropped three others) and broke up three additional passes. He allowed a 56.4 percent catch rate and gave up four touchdowns and 8.7 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 8.8 percent. He’ll turn 29 before camp.

Darqueze Dennard, Atlanta: A first-round pick in 2014, some scouts believed Dennard would be the next big thing. That didn’t happen, though. He’s started 30 games in his seven seasons and intercepted four passes. He played nine games for Cincinnati in 2019 and eight games for Atlanta in 2020. That’s the bad news. But he allowed a catch rate of 41.4 percent in 2019 and 48.7 percent in 2020. His career missed-tackle rate is 5.6 percent. He’ll turn 30 in October.

Gareon Conley, Houston: A first-round pick by the Raiders in 2017, Conley (6-0) has played in just 31 of a possible 64 games. He missed the entire 2020 season following ankle surgery. After playing in only two games due to a shin injury as a rookie, he had three interceptions and 13 additional breakups in 2018. Before the trade deadline in 2019, he was shipped to Houston for a third-round pick. For his career, he’s given up a 53.6 percent catch rate and missed 12.4 percent of his tackle attempts. He’ll turn 26 in June and surely will get another chance.

SIGNED BY MINNESOTA: Patrick Peterson, Arizona: The fifth pick of the 2011 draft, Peterson (6-1) was voted to the all-2010s team after being picked for every Pro Bowl from 2011 through 2018. However, with his 31st birthday coming in July, Peterson is not that player anymore. His catch rate has crept up from 45.6 percent in 2017 to 62.7 percent in 2020. This past season, he intercepted three passes (dropped two others) and broke up only four additional passes. He gave up a career-worst six touchdowns and 8.6 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 12.3 percent.

RE-SIGNED: Sidney Jones, Jacksonville: Jones (6-0) was a top cornerback prospect in the 2017 draft but suffered a torn Achilles during his pro day. He played in just one game as a rookie and merely 31 of a possible 64 over his four seasons. Cut by Philadelphia at the end of camp this past summer, he played in nine games with a career-high six starts for Jacksonville. He intercepted two passes and broke up eight additional passes. He allowed a 46.9 percent catch rate and gave up two touchdowns and 10.6 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 10.0 percent. As bad as that is, it was the best of his career.

Bashaud Breeland, Kansas City: A fourth-round pick in 2014, Breeland (5-11) has 14 interceptions and eight forced fumbles with three teams in seven seasons. After intercepting two passes in seven games for Green Bay in 2018, he’s been the Chiefs’ No. 1 corner the past two seasons. In 2020, he intercepted two passes and broke up seven additional passes. He allowed a 46.0 percent catch rate and gave up four touchdowns and 6.5 yards per target. Breeland has given up a sub-50 percent catch rate each of the last four seasons. His missed-tackle rate of 15.0 percent was actually his best mark since 2016. He turned 29 in January.

SIGNED BY HOUSTON: Terrance Mitchell, Cleveland: A seventh-round pick in 2014, Marshall was a full-time starter for the first time in 2020. While he didn’t intercept any passes, he broke up 13 passes and forced three fumbles. He allowed a 54.9 percent catch rate but yielded five touchdowns and 8.4 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 8.2 percent. He’ll turn 29 in May.

A.J. Bouye, Denver: An undrafted free agent in 2013, Bouye (6-0) was a Pro Bowler in 2016, when he intercepted six passes. In 2016 and 2017, he intercepted seven passes, broke up 31 others and yielded two touchdowns. His star has fallen dramatically. In 2019 with Jacksonville and 2020 with Denver, he had one interception, 12 additional breakups and gave up five touchdowns. In seven games in 2020, he allowed a 60.6 percent catch rate and 7.5 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was a ghastly 25.0 percent. Bouye missed the start of the season with a shoulder injury and the end of the season with a PED suspension that will carry over to the first two games of 2021. He’ll turn 30 during training camp.

RE-SIGNED: Kevin King, Green Bay: The Packers could have selected T.J. Watt in the first round in 2017. Instead, then-general manager Ted Thompson traded the pick and wound up with King. An elite combination of size (6-3) and athleticism, it never quite added up. Injuries were the story. He played in 41 of a possible 64 games. In 2019, he looked like a standout with five interceptions and 11 additional passes defensed with a 54.8 percent catch rate in 15 games. In 11 games in 2020, he had zero interceptions, five breakups and a 61.0 percent catch rate. He gave up two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game, an infamous (final?) memory. He’s always been a bad tackler; his career missed-tackle rate is 18.5 percent. He’ll turn 26 in May.

RE-SIGNED: Michael Davis, L.A. Chargers: An undrafted free agent in 2017, Davis (6-2) has started 35 games the past three seasons, including 14 this past season. He’s got five career interceptions. In 2020, he intercepted three passes and broke up 13 additional passes. He allowed a 58.9 percent catch rate and gave up three touchdowns and 7.2 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 11.1 percent. He’s only 26.

SIGNED BY SEATTLE: Ahkello Witherspoon, San Francisco: A third-round pick in 2017, Witherspoon (6-2) started 33 of his 47 games and intercepted four passes. In 2020, he intercepted one pass and broke up three additional throws. He allowed a career-best 50.0 percent catch rate and gave up two touchdowns and 6.5 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was just 4.8 percent, a huge improvement over 24.3 percent in 2019. He’ll turn 26 next week.

Rasul Douglas, Carolina: A third-round pick in 2017 by the Eagles, he’s intercepted five passes and started 29 of his 60 games. All five interceptions came in his first two seasons. The Eagles dumped him at the end of training camp this past summer and he wound up starting a career-high 11 games for Carolina. He had no interceptions and broke up nine passes but was burned for six touchdowns, a 59.2 percent catch rate and 8.1 yards per target. His missed-tackle rate was 12.5 percent. He’s tall (6-2) and young (he’ll turn 26 in training camp).

Jason McCourty, New England: In 12 seasons, McCourty (5-11) has played in 166 games (137 starts) and intercepted 18 passes. He’ll turn 34 during training camp. Has he hit a wall? In 2019, he allowed no touchdowns with a 45.5 percent catch rate and 5.1 yards per target. In 2020, he allowed four touchdowns, a 62.9 percent catch rate with 10.0 yards per target. He is a superior tackler with 12 misses the past five seasons, the same number as King last season. Some team should hire him as a player-coach.

SIGNED BY CHICAGO: Desmond Trufant, Detroit: A first-round pick in 2013, Trufant was a Pro Bowler in 2015 with a 49.0 percent catch rate allowed. Injuries and age have caught up to him. He played in only nine games for Atlanta in 2019 – he intercepted four passes and gave up four touchdowns – and six games for Detroit in 2020. He intercepted one pass and broke up three additional passes for the Lions. He allowed a 60.7 percent catch rate and gave up two touchdowns and 8.4 yards per target. His tackling has gone to hell. In 15 games the past two seasons, he missed 12 tackles. In 56 games the previous four seasons, he missed 14 tackles. He’ll turn 31 at the start of the upcoming season.

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