* With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2020 season in the books, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Ryan Homler take a look at 10 potential free agents that the Washington Football Team could benefit from signing this offseason. Next up: three options at cornerback.
The cornerback position for the Washington Football Team was a pleasant surprise in 2020, and that was largely due to the work Ron Rivera and company did in free agency.
Going out and getting its own former draft pick Kendall Fuller gave the team a true No. 1 cornerback that could play all over the field, and taking a risk by signing Ronald Darby to a one-year contract paid off as he played some of the best football of his career.
Now entering the 2021 offseason, it would be wise for Washington to enact a similar formula this time around. With Fuller still around the team doesn't exactly need to find "the guy" at the position, but adding some depth will be key.
Darby wants to return to Washington, but there's no guarantee that happens. Even if he does, there is an argument to be made that the unit could still use an upgrade. At his best Darby is a solid corner that can cover and make a big play occasionally, but he's yet to show that his ceiling is anything more than that. There will also be times where he's burned and the defense ends up in a bad position.
Even though he found his way as an every-down starter late in the campaign, it wasn't exactly a perfect recipe for success. In 2021, Washington could look to add another solid cornerback to play across from Fuller or work the slot. It would give them a true No. 2 to fill in should Darby depart or allow for the unit to have three capable playmakers. Either situation works.
With that, here are a few names to consider.
2016 undrafted free agent from Mississippi; Unrestricted free agent; 5-foot-9 | 184 lbs. | 26 years old
It took Hilton a little while to find his footing in the NFL after bouncing around a few teams to begin his career. Yet once he landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers and got a chance to show his skill, he's done just that.
From 2017-2020 he's become a valuable cornerback and an important member of the Steelers defense. He only played in 12 games in 2020 and still set a career-high mark in interceptions (3) and second-best mark sacks (3). That ability to succeed in different areas of the defense is what makes Hilton special.
A versatile, do-it-all defender, Hilton can be useful in defending both the pass and the run. He has the speed and skill set to keep up with receivers, doing almost all of his work in the slot. Don't let the 5-foot-9 frame fool you, though, as Hilton has proved to be an aggressive tackler and someone that can come off the edge on a blitz.
The flashy plays are always great, but what truly makes a defender special is the physicality and the ability to wrap up and tackle. Hilton offers just that.
William Jackson III
2016 first-round pick from Houston; Unrestricted free agent; 6-foot-0 | 196 lbs. | 28 years old
Jackson put together a really strong 2017 campaign leading many to believe stardom was on the horizon. However, he's been unable to truly capture that form in the seasons since. Part of that may have to do with the overall struggles the Bengals franchise has faced in that time.
Still, the talent is there and in the right situation, the corner could become a solid No. 2 option. With a little bit of a bigger frame, he's someone that could matchup on the outside, unlike Hilton who would be used primarily in the slot.
Jackson would certainly come as a risky acquisition given his inconsistent play, especially when considering PFF projects his contract to be around three-years, $40 million. Yet Ron Rivera wants to take big swings, and this is one that could potentially be another high-reward move at the cornerback position.
2015 undrafted free agent from Oregon; Unrestricted free agent; 5-foot-11 | 183 lbs. | 29 years old
Hill is coming off his best season as a pro, and it was the first time he started all 16 games for a team. With three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and a fumble return for a touchdown, Hill was an active member of the defense that had a knack for big plays. He also defended 10 passes and became an underrated part of what was a truly great unit in Los Angeles for the Rams in 2020.
What really propelled Hill to break out this past season? Part of it is getting more comfortable in a scheme, but the talent around him also made his job easier. He had Jalen Ramsey to take on the No. 1 receiver and deal with physical battles, and there was also a talented defensive front that created pressure and bad decisions for the opposing quarterback.
Washington can offer that, too, with Fuller handling the responsibility of the top pass catcher most of the time and the defensive line wreaking havoc like always.
Putting Hill into this defense may be a solid way to get the most out of his abilities, and at just a $5 million annual salary projection, it wouldn't break the bank.
Other Free Agent Targets: