The bulk of NFL free agent signings are now in the rear view as the start of training camp is only days away. While some additions could still be forthcoming, we have a good idea of where each AFC North team’s depth chart stands ahead of the 2023 season.
Looking at the defensive side of the ball, how does every team’s positional groups stack up to one another in the division? Let’s break down the all-important spot of cornerback, where there’s high-level talent across the AFC North.
1. Cleveland Browns
Starters: Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, Martin Emerson
Depth: Mike Ford, A.J. Green III, Cameron Mitchell
The Browns are the only team in the division set to return all three of their starting cornerbacks from last season. The trio of Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, and Martin Emerson performed well in 2022 and projects to be strong again this coming year.
Ward’s availability has been his main issue, as he’s played more than 14 games just once in his five career seasons. When on the field, though, he’s steadily been a Top-10 talent at the position. Emerson flashed as a rookie and Newsome II took another step forward in his sophomore season. Cleveland drafted Cameron Mitchell in the fifth round out of Northwestern and signed Mike Ford for added depth.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Starters: Marlon Humphrey, Rock Ya-Sin, Brandon Stephens
Depth: Damarion Williams, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Kyu Blu Kelly
The Ravens replaced Marcus Peters with another veteran cornerback, Rock Ya-Sin, who’s expected to step in as a starter outside. Ya-Sin is coming off his best career season and will pair with Marlon Humphrey, who’s squarely in his prime as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Slot cornerback is the Ravens’ biggest question mark on defense.
Brandon Stephens is an option to start there, but he’s also a candidate to play more safety than cornerback. Last year, safety Kyle Hamilton emerged as the team’s primary nickel defender. Rising sophomore Damarion Williams is another potential starting candidate. Humphrey has seen substantial playing time at slot corner in his career, as well. Overall, this is a young group that’s thin on established starting experience sans Humphrey and Ya-Sin.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Starters: Chidobe Awuzie, Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton
Depth: D.J. Turner, D.J. Ivey, Jalen Davis
Cincinnati’s top cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, suffered a season-ending torn ACL last October. His eventual return will be a much-needed boost for the Bengals’ secondary that lost Eli Apple, who started 31 games over the past two seasons, and Tre Flowers. Rising sophomore Cam Taylor-Britt will step into a larger role after flashing as a rookie.
While the two outside corner spots carry some question marks, Mike Hilton is a stabilizing presence in the nickel role. Hilton had another solid season in 2022. The Bengals added two cornerbacks in the draft to supplement their depth.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Starters: Patrick Peterson, Joey Porter Jr., Levi Wallace
Depth: Cory Trice Jr., James Pierre, Chandon Sullivan
The Steelers will see some overturn at cornerback in 2023. Cameron Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon, two starters from last season, departed this offseason. To replace them, Pittsburgh signed veteran Patrick Peterson and drafted Joey Porter Jr. in the second round. Levi Wallace will be entering his second year with the team.
Peterson, now 33 years old, is fresh off a bounce-back season after a decline in play the previous three seasons. He’s no longer in his prime elite form, but Peterson’s 2022 performance suggests he has plenty left in the tank. Porter Jr. was nearly a first-round talent and has immediate upside. There’s question marks with this group but the talent level is higher than a year ago.
Which team has the best cornerback group in the AFC North?
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