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2021 free agency preview: Denver's options at cornerback


When March 17 arrives and the new league year officially begins, teams across the league will be able to add an influx of talent to their roster.

As General Manager George Paton enters his first free-agency period, the Broncos could choose to add to their roster in several key areas.

We conclude our look at this year's free-agent class with a look at the cornerback position.


William Jackson III

Denver could fill its need for a No. 1 cornerback in a hurry if the Broncos were to sign Cincinnati's William Jackson III. Jackson, a former first-round pick in 2016, is the top available player in the class and rebounded from a less productive 2019 season with an interception and 11 passes defensed in 2020. Though he's never been a takeaway machine — which could be something to consider for a Broncos team that desperately needs to create more turnovers — he's shown top-tier potential at times during his career.


Richard Sherman, Desmond King II, Mike Hilton, Shaquill Griffin, Troy Hill, Chidobe Awuzie, Quinton Dunbar, Xavier Rhodes

Behind Jackson, Richard Sherman leads the next group of available cornerbacks. Sherman, a six-time Pro Bowler, can still match up with top receivers at 32 years old, but he may choose to sign with a team closer to championship contention. Both Desmond King II and Mike Hilton are dominant slot cornerbacks, but the Broncos may not have a need there with Bryce Callahan still under contract and showing signs of promise when available. The Rams' Troy Hill can also play in the slot, but he also has outside abilities, similar to Callahan.

Shaquill Griffin, Chidobe Awuzie, Quinton Dunbar and Xavier Rhodes may be the closest options to a pure outside No. 2 cornerback. Griffin made his lone Pro Bowl in 2019 as he posted 13 passes defensed, and he followed up that campaign with three interceptions in 12 games in 2020. Dunbar, his one-year Seattle teammate, has struggled with injuries but recorded four interceptions in 11 games in 2019 with Washington. Awuzie, a former second-round pick, posted a slightly lower stat line in 2020 as he started just six games. His skill set lends itself to zone defenses, which could work well in Denver. Rhodes, meanwhile, enjoyed a bounce-back year in 2020 in Indianapolis after struggling in his final season in Minneapolis. Rhodes is a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro that George Paton knows well after selecting him in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

These are far from the only players available, as Jason Verrett, Patrick Peterson, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Gareon Conley, Bashaud Breeland and Cameron Sutton are all potential outside cornerbacks ranked among PFF's top 100 players. Veteran cornerback Casey Heyward Jr. is also available after being released by the Chargers.


When the Broncos released cornerback A.J. Bouye in February, the position likely became the team's greatest area of need.

"There's some good players available at corner in free agency, and obviously, there's some in the draft," Head Coach Vic Fangio said in early March. "We hope to at some point, whether it be in free agency or in the draft, to add a player to that position for us because we need to."

When free agency opens, the Broncos could pursue two different plans of attack.

Denver's first option would be to pursue a No. 1 cornerback in free agency. This plan could involve going after a player like Jackson, and it would likely give the Broncos more flexibility with their first pick in the draft. A No. 1 cornerback could complement Bryce Callahan and Michael Ojemudia and still allow Denver to take a cornerback at some point in the draft.

The other option, if Denver chooses to sign a free-agent cornerback, would be to pursue a solid starter that could fill the team's No. 2 cornerback role. This path would make it much more likely that Denver's first- or second-round pick will be used on a cornerback. Griffin and Awuzie could certainly be options, and Paton likely knows Rhodes as well as anyone from their time together in Minneapolis.

Denver's decisions will likely depend on the market for each player, as well as Paton's evaluation of Callahan and Ojemudia.

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