Titans Free Agency Primer: Cornerback


The Titans had big problems at the cornerback position in 2016. I know, really groundbreaking stuff here. Anyone who watched a Titans game last year could tell you that, but lets take a look at the stats for our pass defense last year and see if there are any other observations we can make about how or why we were bad.

  • Opponent Passing Yards Per Game: 269.2 (30th in NFL)
  • Opponent Passing Play Percentage: 65.47% (31st in NFL)
  • Opponent Yards Per Pass Attempt: 6.8 (16th in NFL)
  • Opponent Passing First Down Percentage: 70.06% (32nd in NFL)
  • Opponent Interceptions Thrown Percentage: 1.89% (22nd in NFL)
  • Pass Defense DVOA Overall Rating: +17.6% (26th in NFL)
  • Pass Defense DVOA vs #1 WR: +1.3% (17th in NFL)
  • Passing Yards Allowed to #1 WR Per Game: 86.9 (32 in NFL)
  • Pass Defense DVOA vs #2 WR: +22.2% (31st in NFL)
  • Passing Yards Allowed to #2 WR Per Game: 66.3 (32nd in NFL)
  • Pass Defense DVOA vs Other WRs: -0.5% (15th in NFL)
  • Passing Yards Allowed to Other WRs Per Game: 52.4 (22nd in NFL)
  • Pass Defense DVOA vs TE: -13.5% (8th in NFL)
  • Passing Yards Allowed to TE Per Game: 54.9 (16th in NFL)
  • Pass Defense DVOA vs RB: +36.0% (30th in NFL)
  • Passing Yards Allowed to RB Per Game: 48.7 (29th in NFL)

Here are a few takeaways I had from the numbers above. First, I was surprised to see that we were actually fairly middle of the pack in the Yards Per Attempt (YPA) category. I do think YPA is a really good gauge of how efficient a passing game or passing defense is. But I will propose a theory later as to why that was the case.

The Titans opponents chose to throw the ball against them at a higher percentage than any team in the NFL except for Dallas. Sometimes these stats can be skewed because a team was always ahead of their opponents (as is the case for Dallas), but that wasn't really the case for the Titans in 2016. In fact in terms of game time, we held the lead for 41.44%, were trailing 44.37%, and were tied 14.19% which was fairly middle of the road. For comparison, Dallas held the lead 58.69% of the time in 2016. If you are interested you can find more TOP and pace stats here. Clearly teams were passing on the Titans because they thought it was the easiest way to move the ball against us.

One common refrain among Titans fans over the past several years is "we can't cover tight ends and running backs". Well, that appears to be half true. We actually did pretty well against tight ends this year, but we were awful against opposing running backs. But neither of those issues is as problematic as our corner position.

Looking at the DVOA stats from above for our performance against #1 wide receivers and #2 wide receivers shows really all we need to know about the Titans corner play in 2016. We ranked dead last in the league when it comes to allowing yards per game to BOTH #1 AND #2 wide receivers. That is unbelievably bad. When combined with the YPA stats, you can start to see the narrative of how the Titans got beat through the air in 2016. We played too far off opposing wide receivers and allowed a lot of easy completions underneath. We didn't give up a ton of deep balls which kept our YPA numbers in the middle of the pack, but it was just so easy to complete these underneath passes that teams went to the well again and again and again. That really matches with what we saw on the field to me.

Which upcoming free agents could we target?

Here is the list of every cornerback that could be hitting the market in some form or fashion on March 9th when free agency officially opens. I have highlighted in blue the guys that I think are most likely to generate some interest from the Titans.


A.J. Bouye

Age 25, 6'-0", 192 lbs, 4.55 40 yard dash (2013)

PFF Rating: 90.9 (3rd)

2016 Stats: 11 games started, 1 INT, 0 FF, 48 TKL, 16 PBUs

Summary: Bouye signed with the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2013. In about a month he will likely become one of the highest paid cornerbacks in the NFL. He started the year as the 4th corner on the Texans depth chart behind Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and Kevin Johnson, but was pressed in to a more prominent role when Johnson and Joseph went down midseason with injuries. He shined in the spotlight when he got his chance to the point that the Texans couldn't take him off the field when Joseph got healthy later in the year. His 16 PBUs were good for 9th in the NFL this season despite Bouye only starting 11 games. Bouye is tough, fast, and physical. The only draw back to him may be that he gave up the 5th most penalty yardage of any corner in the NFL this year.

Could he be a Titan? The Texans would like to bring Bouye back, but it won't be easy for them. They have just $25M of cap space available heading in to 2017 with 14 players currently scheduled to be free agents from their current team. In addition to Bouye, other significant contributors such as Vince Wilfork, John Simon, Akeem Dent, Quentin Demps, Shane Lechler, and Nick Novak will need to be re-signed or replaced with that $25M. They also will need to extend DeAndre Hopkins which won't be cheap. The Texans can save an additional $7M of cap space by releasing Johnathan Joseph and another $2M by releasing Brandon Weeden. If I was Bouye's agent I would be advising him to test the open market because he will certainly attract a lot of attention and bids that could drive his price up towards the $12-14M per year range. Will the Texans be willing to make a deal that rich considering they still have former 1st round picks Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson at corner already? I have my doubts.

Malcolm Butler

Age 26, 5'-11", 190 lbs, 4.60 40 yard dash (2014)

PFF Rating: 89.8 (6th)

2016 Stats: 16 games started, 4 INTs, 1 FF, 48 TKL, 17 PBUs

Summary: Similar to Bouye, Butler was a undrafted free agent. In fact, Butler didn't even get invited to the combine and had to wait 3 weeks after the draft before even getting an offer to come to a NFL camp. He came on the scene with his Super Bowl winning interception against the Patriots in 2015, but has since turned in to one of the best corners in the NFL. He and Bouye are a testament to the flawed nature of the draft evaluation process.

Could he be a Titan? Put simply, no. Butler is a RFA and is going to draw a 1st round tender from the Patriots. This means that if the Titans were to agree to terms with Butler the Pats would have a right to automatically match the deal and keep him, and if they decided not to match the Titans would have to surrender a 1st round pick to New England. Its not going to happen.

Morris Claiborne

Age 26, 5'-11", 192 lbs, 4.50 40 yard dash (2012)

PFF Rating: 84.7 (12th)

2016 Stats: 7 games started, 1 INT, 0 FF, 24 TKL, 5 PBUs

Summary: Claiborne has the pedigree of a star corner in the NFL. He was the 6th overall pick of the 2012 Draft and at the time was billed as "the next Patrick Peterson". Claiborne has struggled with injuries in the NFL though. He has yet to make it through a season without missing time and has played in less than 60% of the Cowboys games in his 5 years in the league. The Cowboys declined to pick up his 5th year option for the 2016 season and instead decided to re-sign him on a 1 year, $3M "prove it" deal last offseason. It looked like a great deal for the Cowboys early as Claiborne finally played up to his draft status before going down yet again, this time with a torn groin muscle that cost him the 2nd half of the 2016 season.

Could he be a Titan? It will be interesting to see what happens with Claiborne this offseason. He is supremely talented and if he could ever stay healthy he could be a top 10 corner in the league, but after so many injuries in 5 years I don't see how any NFL team could commit big money to him long term. The Cowboys are in a terrible cap situation (as usual) so he probably will sign elsewhere, but I don't think it will be here.

Logan Ryan

Age 25, 5'-11", 191 lbs, 4.56 40 yard dash (2013)

PFF Rating: 84.5 (14th)

2016 Stats: 13 games started, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 73 TKL, 11 PBUs

Summary: Logan Ryan became a full time starter at corner for the Patriots in 2015 and has been excellent in his 2 years as a starter. He ranked 11th among corners in PFF's rankings in 2015 and then followed that up with a 14th place finish in this year's rankings. He is a big time playmaker with 13 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles in his 4 years in the league. That is especially impressive when you consider he was just a part time player his first two years in New England.

Could he be a Titan? He's probably the most likely of all of the corners available. I'm sure the Patriots will want him back, but he is at best their 4th or 5th priority this offseason behind Dont'a Hightower, Martellus Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, and Malcolm Butler. We know for a fact that Jon Robinson liked Ryan when he came out of Rutgers in 2013. Robinson was the Patriots Director of College Scouting then and played a role in selecting Ryan in the 3rd round. This one almost makes too much sense. The guys at Pats Pulpit are already projecting this as well. One last thing, read this article and tell me this doesn't sound like a Robinson/Mularkey type guy. I want this to happen so bad. Moving on before I get too excited.

Terrance Mitchell

Age 24, 5'-11", 190 lbs, 4.63 40 yard dash (2014)

PFF Rating: 82.3 (N/A)

2016 Stats: 2 games started, 0 INT, 0 FF, 17 TKL, 6 PBUs

Summary: Terrance Mitchell is an interesting guy in free agency as well. He was a 7th round pick of the Cowboys in 2014, but didn't stick with them. He ended up with the Bears briefly before signing on to the Kansas City practice squad and eventually starting a couple games towards the end of the 2016 season (including the game against the Titans). I noticed him quite a bit (in a good way) during the Titans-Chiefs game this year.

Could he be a Titan? Mitchell is another RFA similar to Butler, but he won't likely get a 1st round tender. If the Chiefs give him a first right of refusal only tender (meaning no draft picks would be surrendered if he signs elsewhere) I could see the Titans throwing an offer sheet at him if only to push the cap-strapped Chiefs in to a decision that could impact their ability to re-sign Eric Berry and Dontari Poe.

Trumaine Johnson

Age 27, 6'-2", 205 lbs, 4.61 40 yard dash (2012)

PFF Rating: 81.0 (26th)

2016 Stats: 14 games started, 1 INT, 0 FF, 47 TKL, 11 PBUs

Summary: Trumaine Johnson is a big physical corner who is known for his ball skills. Last year the Rams had to decide between franchising one of their two highly talented corners: Johnson or his counterpart Janoris Jenkins. The Rams chose Johnson and allowed Jenkins to sign with the Giants in what became one of the best deals of the 2016 offseason. That goes to show exactly how highly the Rams think of Johnson. Tru struggled a little bit this year with an ankle injury that cost him a couple games and also seemed to hinder his mobility later in the year, but he was elite in 2015 recording 17 PBUs and 7 interceptions.

Could he be a Titan? Obviously the Rams are going to want Johnson back after franchise tagging him last offseason, but the fact that a long term deal still hasn't been reached is interesting. The Rams have the space to sign Johnson to the $12-14M per year deal that he will be seeking his offseason, but will they want to? The Rams have holes all over their offensive line and could use some help at wide receiver and tight end as well so they could end up using that money to pursue a couple of the top offensive players in free agency. There are a ton of factors at play here though. Does he want to be back with the Rams? LA is a great place to live if you're an NFL star and they are about to get a brand new state of the art stadium. They have a new coach and just hired the best defensive coordinator in the league who helped develop Chris Harris and Aquib Talib in to the best corner tandem in the NFL. Then again the Rams are not likely to win big soon. They also weren't willing to pay him top money last offseason so has that stance changed 12 months later? There are a ton of variables in play here so its tough to even speculate, but if Johnson hasn't signed a long term extension by March 9th, I would expect the Titans to be very interested.

Edit: Reports from the Rams seem to indicate the Rams have decided to move on from Trumaine Johnson which is great news for us.

Prince Amukamara

Age 27, 6'-0", 206 lbs, 4.43 40 yard dash (2011)

PFF Rating: 76.6 (42nd)

2016 Stats: 12 games started, 0 INT, 0 FF, 46 TKL, 6 PBUs

Summary: Amukamara is another former 1st round pick that has struggled with injuries over his career similar to Morris Claiborne. He finally was able to stay mostly healthy this season for the Jaguars and had a pretty decent season. He has a good combination of size and speed, but has never really lived up to his draft billing.

Could he be a Titan? Possibly. The Jaguars likely would like to have him back for a reasonable contract. It seems like his days of getting paid like a #1 corner are gone, but he would make for a good 2nd corner for the right team. He could be a more budget conscious option for the Titans, but I think we need to swing bigger.

Captain Munnerlyn

Age 28, 5'-9", 182 lbs, 4.51 40 yard dash (2009)

PFF Rating: 75.5 (49th)

2016 Stats: 9 games started, 0 INT, 1 FF, 38 TKL, 3 PBUs

Summary: Munnerlyn was part of a Vikings defense that was elite for large portions of 2016. He played as the nickel corner behind Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman and had a decent season.

Could he be a Titan? To me, Munnerlyn is just a guy. If we want to bring him in to compete for a depth spot, that would be fine, but I don't think he's better than Sims right now.

Dre Kirkpatrick

Age 27, 6'-2", 190 lbs, 4.51 40 yard dash (2012)

PFF Rating: 74.7 (53rd)

2016 Stats: 14 games started, 3 INTs, 0 FF, 35 TKL, 10 PBUs

Summary: Kirkpatrick has a 1st round pedigree similar to Claiborne and Amukamara discussed above, but he has not struggled with the injury problems that those two have over the course of his career. However, his great potential hasn't yet been reached on the field. 2015 was his first season as a full time starter and he finished that year ranked as one of the worst corners in the NFL according to PFF despite recording 16 PBUs. This season he played much better, but still was not on the level of a shutdown corner as I'm sure the Bengals expected him to be when they drafted him 17th overall 5 years ago. He came in to the draft as a guy with great length and footwork, but questions about his size and physicality on the next level, so his slow development could just be the result of a guy that needed some time to add strength and learn how to play the position on the NFL level. There is a real chance that this guy's best days are ahead of him.

Could he be a Titan? I think the Titans will have some interest in Kirkpatrick this offseason. The Bengals have some cap space to work with, but need to spend some money on their offensive line as they have their 2 best offensive linemen (Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler) hitting free agency this season with no clear replacements on the current roster. They also have spent 2 of their last 3 1st round picks on corners Darqueze Dennard (2014) and William Jackson III (2016) so will they want to invest heavily in Kirkpatrick if another team makes a big offer? I doubt it. The most recent Pacman Jones arrest could throw a wrench in to this situation though if the Bengals decide to cut ties with Pac rather than continue to let him embarrass them on and off the field.

Stephon Gilmore

Age 26, 6'-1", 190 lbs, 4.40 40 yard dash (2011)

PFF Rating: 73.2 (61st)

2016 Stats: 15 games started, 5 INTs, 0 FF, 42 TKL, 12 PBUs

Summary: Gilmore was the 10th overall pick in the 2011 Draft as a size/speed guy with great production during his time at South Carolina. He was a full time starter from Day 1 in Buffalo and has performed as one of the best corners in the NFL over his 5 years there. He arguably had his worst season as a professional this year, but that could be due to an overall problem with Rex and Rob Ryan's schemes for the Bills defense this year combined with some injuries at key positions around them. Either way, Gilmore is clearly a talented guy and can produce like a top 10 NFL corner when put in the right positions.

Could he be a Titan? The Bills have a cap issue on their hands this year. With roughly $31M in cap space and a league leading 24 pending free agents on their roster they are going to have to make some hard decisions about who to bring back. Gilmore is going to be the most expensive of all of their departing free agents to bring back. Given the fact that Buffalo has no idea who their starting QB will be next season and may actually get worse before they can start to get better, Gilmore may be interested in finding greener pastures.

Sterling Moore

Age 26, 5'-10", 202 lbs, 4.54 40 yard dash (2011)

PFF Rating: 72.3 (65th)

2016 Stats: 12 games started, 2 INTs, 0 FF, 44 TKL, 13 PBUs

Summary: Another former undrafted free agent who has worked his way in to an NFL starting lineup, Moore started at corner for the Saints this past season after being a spot starter for the Bucs and Cowboys previously. He largely played well in 2016 despite being a part of a terrible Saints pass defense.

Could he be a Titan? Moore could be a depth guy for the Titans if they decide to go the bargain basement route, but again I think they can do better.

Neiko Thorpe

Age 26, 6'-1", 200 lbs, 4.39 40 yard dash (2012)

PFF Rating: 53.0 (N/A)

2016 Stats: 0 games started, 0 INT, 0 FF, 7 TKL, 0 PBUs

Summary: Thorpe is a size/speed freak who was a corner-safety tweener in the 2012 Draft. He has had very little opportunity to play in his 3 stops in Kansas City, Oakland, and Seattle so we don't really know much about what he could do on an NFL level.

Could he be a Titan? This feels like a Ruston Webster signing so I don't think it will happen.


The Titans have the money and opportunity to go sign one or two of these corners to big contracts to quickly fix the biggest weakness from the 2016 team and allow GM Jon Robinson to enter the draft with a true "best player available" strategy. My dream scenario would be to go get both A.J. Bouye (or Trumaine Johnson as a close 2nd choice) and Logan Ryan and go from one of the worst corner situations in the NFL to one of the best. There is no reason we couldn't pull this off and still have money to re-sign our own guys, extend Lewan, and still go after another impact free agent or two like Kevin Zeitler, Ronald Leary, Eric Berry, Dontari Poe, Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, or Terrelle Pryor.