In the 2019 NFL season, per Sports Info Solutions, there were 19,933 total quarterback dropbacks. Against those dropbacks, NFL defenses put four defensive backs on the field just 18% of the time (3,579 snaps), while nickel defense (with five defensive backs) ruled the league by far with 59% of all snaps (11,780). And if you want to know how much the NFL isn’t a base defense league anymore, consider this: Defenses lined up in dime coverage (six defensive backs on the field) on 20.9% of total dropbacks (4,091), which means that teams played more dime defense than base defense. The Seahawks were the only team to play base defense more than 50% of the time (67%), and the Cardinals finished second at 37%.
The Post’s Ryan Dunleavy gives his top 10 cornerbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft: 1. Jeff Okudah, Ohio State, 6-1, 205. Finding flaws here feels like nitpicking. Future All-Pro will shut down. 2020 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 cornerbacks A true lockdown corner, capable of covering elite receivers without help from a safety, changes everything for a defense.
All this is to say that unless you’re the Seahawks, you’d better have some top-level slot defenders if you want to put a credible pass defense out there in a league where offenses are implementing more kinds of receiver sets and route combinations than ever before.
And it’s not as if the skill sets required to be a slot defender are the same as those for an outside cornerback. You might be up against a 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end on first down who can body you right out of the paint, and on the next play, you may have to deal with a small, speedy option-route receiver whose job is to juke you right out of your shoes. And as Richard Sherman once told me in his Seattle days, the thing about playing outside cornerback is that the boundary is your friend. That’s not the case when you’re in the slot, where you’re defending in space pretty much all the time.
So, which slot defenders were the most effective and valuable to their teams in 2019, and thus should be set up to do the same in 2020? With help from Pro Football Focus’ metrics, and a whole lot of tape study, here’s one list. To avoid small sample-size results, each of these defenders played at least 50% of their snaps in the slot.
Best Slot Cornerbacks 2020 Draft Prospects
Mike Hilton | Chris Harris Jr. | Jourdan Lewis | Tramon Williams | Mackensie Alexander | Nickell Robey-Coleman | Marlon Humphrey | D.J. Hayden | Brian Poole | K’Waun Williams | Tyrann Mathieu