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NFL’s Most Intriguing Positional Battles – Cornerback

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In today’s NFL, it’s essential to have an above average to good pass rush. Teams are starting to spread opposing defenses out with four and five wide receiver sets, which puts a lot of pressure on the front seven to create havoc in the backfield.

Unfortunately, every team doesn’t have the luxury of a good pass rush, which causes more pressure on the secondary to perform at an elite level.

While the rules are catered to wide receivers, you still must give yourself the best chance to contain them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top cornerback battles heading into training camp.

Cincinnati Bengals – Despite losing veteran Terence Newman in free agency, the Bengals still possess tons of secondary talent heading into the summer. In 2014, Cincinnati was ranked 20th in pass defense, but they ranked among tops in the league in interceptions with 20.

Former All-Pro Leon Hall is expected to see plenty of action as he appeared in 15 games last season. With that being said, former first round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard will compete for snaps alongside Adam Jones.

New England Patriots – The reigning Super Bowl champions are undergoing a complete overhaul in the secondary. Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington are all no longer in Foxborough.

Losing that much in the secondary is never ideal, but if there’s anybody to get the most out of his players, it would be Bill Belichick.

Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is looking forward to the challenge moving forward.

“As much as I hate to lose those guys, I’m confident in the players we have in our secondary, and I’m gonna do everything I can to contribute and be one of the guys that fills that void. That’s the thing about the NFL: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you just gotta be ready when your number is called, cause you never know when it’s gonna be your turn to make a big play. Trust me, I know.”

This is a very young group with Bradley Fletcher being the oldest at 28-years-old. Justin Green (24) and Robert McClain (26) will fill out the depth chart.

Considering the youth of this unit, there will sure to be plenty of competition for playing time throughout the summer.

Miami Dolphins – Brent Grimes is holding down one of the cornerback positions, but after him, Miami has some questions.

Due to the departures of Cortland Finnegan and Jimmy Wilson, the Dolphins will have open competition at cornerback and at the nickel spot.

From an experience point of view, Zach Bowman has the advantage to start opposite of Grimes. The 30-year-old has appeared in every game over the last two seasons.

On the flip side, Miami spent two fairly high draft picks on Jamar Taylor and Will Davis back in 2013, but the tandem has been riddled by injuries throughout their short tenure.

In this year’s draft, Miami selected another secondary tandem in Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain. However, they were both selected in the 5th round, which puts them at a disadvantage before training camp begins.

Philadelphia Eagles – As far as entertainment goes, no team was more exciting than the Eagles this off-season. Chip Kelly was wheeling and dealing, but as things begin to calm down, this Eagles squad has plenty of unknown questions to answer. One of them is who will be starting opposite of Byron Maxwell?

Nolan Carroll, Eric Rowe and Brandon Boykin are all candidates, but it appears Carroll has the edge, especially after these remarks from Kelly.

“Nolan Carroll has done an unbelievable job in the offseason. He’s a guy that stands out in terms of what he’s done in the weight room and some of those other things.”

It’s vital for Philly to choose the right man for the job, considering they ranked 31st in pass defense last season and was only one of five teams to allow 30 or more touchdowns in the air.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.