Patriots

Gilmore ranked surprisingly low on ESPN's top NFL cornerback list

Patriots

It's so much easier to win the Super Bowl when you have a very good or elite cornerback in the secondary.

The NFL is a pass-focused league, and last season was no exception. Ten quarterbacks threw 30-plus touchdowns and 12 threw for 4,000 or more yards.

A top-tier cornerback helps fight against all of the impressive passing offenses seen around the league. But which cornerback is the league's best?

ESPN recently ranked the top 10 cornerbacks. Here's how the process worked, per Jeremy Fowler:

"Voters gave us their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls."

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The top-ranked cornerback was Los Angeles Rams star Jalen Ramsey. It's not a huge surprise he was the No. 1 player. Ramsey is an excellent player, and opposing quarterbacks certainly aren't quick to throw his way.

The real shock of the list came three spots later at No. 4. That's where New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was slotted. 

"[Gilmore] didn't have a great year, but I don't think he's down and out," a high-ranking NFL official said, per Fowler. "Still very talented. Long, great ball skills. You forget how fast he is until you see him in person. When he gets on your guys, he can frustrate the hell out of you. Very sneaky player in man and also get his eyes on the quarterback. He sees the quarterback and pivots eyes in and out. I don't think he's improving but he's not falling off, either."

 
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Gilmore is just one year removed from winning the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. He was the first cornerback in 10 years to earn the honor. 

The 30-year-old defensive back had a rough 2020 season for a variety of reasons, as Fowler noted in his article. But the No. 4 spot is still too low for Gilmore, who should be ranked in the top two.

In addition to his DPoY award in 2019, Gilmore also was the league's best cornerback in 2018 when he led the Patriots to a Super Bowl LIII victory over the Rams. Gilmore's interception late in the fourth quarter of that game helped seal the win. Gilmore also was the only cornerback to earn an "elite" grade from Pro Football Focus for the 2018 campaign.

It's easy to forget how dominant Gilmore was before a rollercoaster 2020 season. If Gilmore returns to the Patriots healthy and ready to go in training camp, it wouldn't be surprising if he was quick to remind everyone with his on-field performance why he's the best cornerback in pro football.