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5 best shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL today

Stephon Gilmore details contract dispute: 3 best-case scenarios for Patriots cornerback
Sep 15, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) runs back an interception for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Guys who blanket receivers — the league’s shutdown cornerbacks — are among the most invaluable resources in the NFL today.

We recently dove into the most disruptive pass rushers in the league, and they tend to get most of the glory on game days. After all, who doesn’t want to see a quarterback get plastered?

But it’s the guys covering the back end who are even more vital to shutting down passing games these days. With that in mind, here’s a look at the top-five cover corners in the NFL right now.

5. Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers

As reliable as a Swiss clock, Hayward rarely gets burned. He’s a true technician who smothers his man and rarely gets tested these days. That probably has to do with the 11 interceptions he tallied from 2016-17 — his first two seasons with the Chargers.

When quarterbacks do go at Hayward, they are rarely successful.

Last season, he was targeted 47 times but allowed only 26 receptions on 512 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

4. Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

All Ward has done since being selected fourth overall in 2018 is dominate. Still, quarterbacks continue to test the former Ohio State star. Last season, Ward was targeted 77 times. But he only allowed a reception 44.9% of the time — the best percentage in the NFL.

This kid has phenomenal technique, never gives up on a play and has the athleticism to dominate physically. It shouldn’t be much longer until Ward starts getting the type of treatment typically reserved for the Richard Shermans of the world.

Speaking of which…

3. Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers

The last thing we all remember about Sherman’s 2019 campaign was Sammy Watkins roasting him in Super Bowl LIV to go ahead late in the game. But aside from that bit of recency bias, there’s no doubt that Sherman is still among the NFL’s elite cover corners.

During the regular season, Sherman allowed one touchdown in 517 coverage snaps. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 46.8 when they threw his way. Sherman also had three interceptions and a pick-six (watch here).

He was absolutely dominant for the 49ers last year.

2. Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills

Here’s a bonkers stat for you: Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 38.9 when they targeted this young star last year. White is just three years into his pro career but is already one of the most feared defensive backs in the league.

Last season, White drew 84 targets. That type of attention may not continue much longer, because he came up with six interceptions and 17 passes defended. Even more impressive, per Next Gen Stats, his tight-window percentage was a jaw-dropping 28.6% and he earned a 20.2% ballhawk rate.

1. Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots

The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore, was utterly dominant in 2019.

Gilmore broke up 20 passes (No. 1 in the NFL), racked up six interceptions (T-1 in the NFL) and forced 15 incompletions (No. 4 in the NFL).

He also did not allow a single touchdown. The dude was a veritable brick wall in coverage. He is clearly the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL at this time.