NFL.com’s Ike Taylor, former cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, offered his rankings for the top five cornerback tandems in the NFL. The New England Patriots projected starting duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore came in fifth place.
“Malcolm Butler doesn't get the credit he deserves,” Taylor writes. “There was plenty of trade talk this offseason surrounding the restricted free agent, but it all ended in Butler signing his one-year tender from the Patriots in April. This guy made one of the biggest plays in our sport's history, and his talent is still underrated.
“I'm interested to see how he pairs with Stephon Gilmore, who played well last year for another AFC East team in Buffalo. Gilmore was picked on early in 2016, but he quietly handled his business. He will fit in well in New England because of his ball-hawking skills. Expect him to pick off two to five more passes in 2017 than he did in 2016.”
Gilmore had a relatively down year in 2016 after posting back-to-back solid outings in 2014 and 2015 and Taylor projects a major bounce back in 2017. Buffalo’s defensive line and safety position was ravaged by injuries in 2016, putting the secondary in a tough position of having to cover without much support. The Patriots will put Gilmore in a better position to succeed.
Butler looks to build upon his two strong seasons as a starter as he searches for his big pay day after the 2017 season.
Taylor’s list comes with a major surprise, although I wonder if it’s for the sake of discussion as opposed to actual belief. Coming in first place is the Jacksonville Jaguars duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, a pair that really has just one year each of starting experience in the NFL. Who knows if their 2016 successes will extend into 2017, or if they’ll take a step back, but to put them in first place is a major leap.
In second place is the Denver Broncos duo of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., which should have been an obvious first place tandem. In third place is the New York Giants with Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple (although Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is still superior to Apple). In fourth place is the Los Angeles Chargers duo of Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.
It’s not that I don’t believe that the Jaguars duo should crack the top five, it’s just that they probably shouldn’t be ranked in first place. I would shift them down to third place, behind the Broncos and Giants.
Taylor gives special mention to the Minnesota Vikings for Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman and to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III. I fully agree with the Vikings mention, but question the Buccaneers inclusion- Grimes was great, but Hargreaves is a total projection for 2017.
Additionally, if Verrett can help the Chargers make the list, then I think the Atlanta Falcons duo of Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant should receive at least an honorable mention and should definitely rank ahead of the Buccaneers tandem.
What do you think of this list?