Written by: Cody Manning
The NFL has evolved into a passing league, and as a result, pass rushers and cornerbacks have become premium positions on teams’ defenses. I have already covered my top 5 pass rush duos, so for this edition, I am going over my top 5 cornerback tandems entering the 2018 season. Just one great cornerback can help improve the way defenses can be designed, but two reliable, solid players on the outside can give a defensive coordinator significantly more flexibility with how to to use the nine other defenders in his system. Let’s look at the tandems that I think defensive coordinators are happy to have on their units.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars — Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye
The Jaguars have been bringing in pieces for their defense over recent years and that paid off with their first playoff berth in 10 years. After spending the 5th overall pick on Ramsey in the 2016 draft, he has emerged as a leader on their defense, while earning Pro Bowl honors this past season. Ramsey has the potential to become the best corner in the league, and any team would be happy to have just him on their defense. But Jacksonville is lucky enough that they also brought A.J. Bouye on a $67.5 million contract last offseason that paid off quickly, as Bouye had a career high in pass deflections and interceptions while earning Pro Bowl honors as well. The Jags pass rushers know that the tandem behind them will give them time to get to the quarterback. Jacksonville is in great shape with these two players locking down receivers in 2018.
2) Los Angeles Rams — Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib
Based on talent alone, the Rams will enter the season with one of the top tandems in the league. It will be interesting to see how the two play together since both are newcomers to the organization. After trading for Peters in the offseason, the Rams acquired a ballhawk corner who has grabbed 19 interceptions in his first three seasons in the league. Like Ramsey, Peters also has a chance to cement himself as the best corner this year. Talib has been one of the better corners in the league over a span of time, but he will be entering the season at the age of 32. If father time isn’t ready for him, then quarterbacks will have a difficult time throwing to the outside when they face the Rams this year. If these two can live up to the expectations that are set, then they could be a big part of the reason why the Rams could have a deep playoff run in 2018.
3) Minnesota Vikings — Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes
If you were to go back to the beginning of the 2017 season, you would have never guessed that this tandem would even sniff this list. Xavier Rhodes, in my opinion, is a top 5 cornerback in the league, and his talent alone makes his defensive coordinator’s job easy. Rhodes can lock down any of the best receivers in the league, including Antonio Brown. But his counterpart, Waynes, had a rough start to his 2017 campaign. After stumbling into the year, Waynes finished the season strong, becoming a reliable tackler and contesting balls thrown his way. If he can continue his development, the Vikings could have one of the best overall secondaries in the NFL. The Vikings defense should dominate offenses once again in 2018 with the help of this tandem.
4) Denver Broncos — Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby
Denver’s No Fly Zone saw a departure when the organization traded the aforementioned Talib to the Rams. Harris Jr. will continue to be the top corner on the defense, but will now become the veteran leader that the younger guys can learn from. Harris Jr. is one of the more underrated corners in the league and will be a big part of their defense this season. Roby has done a solid job playing as the Broncos third corner over the past four seasons. He is also entering the final year of his rookie contract, so if Roby wants to be in the Broncos’ future or earn a big contract in free agency, he will have to prove he is more than a third-wheel this season. I believe he has the talent to do so, which is why I have the tandem in my top 5 list. With the other pass-heavy offenses in the AFC West, I am sure the Broncos hope Roby reaches his full potential and that he helps them have one of the better cornerback tandems in 2018.
5) New England Patriots — Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty
The Patriots will hope to see Gilmore improve upon to his strong finish from last season. At the beginning of last year, his signing looked like a major mistake by New England, but he started playing better as he got more comfortable within their defensive scheme. He was a big part of their run to the Super Bowl, as he had the game-clinching pass deflection against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, and despite the team’s loss in the Super Bowl, he was one of the bright spots on the defense when he shut down Alshon Jeffrey. Jason McCourty will be looking to rebound his career in Foxboro after getting traded for. His twin brother, Devin, has more than likely helped him understand their scheme as fast as possible. If he can play at his best, he gives the Patriots solid cornerback tandem. New England should like their chances of competing with opposing receivers in 2018.
Based on talent alone, the Los Angeles Chargers duo in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett could easily be a top 5 cornerback duo in the NFL. But Verrett only has played in one of his four seasons in the league, and in that year, he only played 14 games. If he can remain healthy, then the Chargers could have a lethal corner tandem.
The Buffalo Bills have an up and coming cornerback in Tre’Davious White, who showed he was worth the first round pick the team spent on him in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Bills signed Vontae Davis this offseason, and even though he has dealt with injuries over the past couple seasons, he is still one of the better corners when he is healthy. The Bills could have a solid duo in 2018.
The Oakland Raiders could quietly have a top tandem on their defense for the upcoming season. Gareon Conley is coming off a missed rookie season due to a shin injury, but the former first-round pick has been looking good in the offseason program and could look to prove he was worth the pick. The team also signed Rashaan Melvin in free agency. Melvin was one of the few bright spots on the Indianapolis Colts 2017 defense before his season ended due to an injury. If both players can stay healthy and show they can play at the level people believe they can, Oakland could have an improved secondary in 2018.