Antoine Winfield: 2010′s Most Complete Corner?

| July 10, 2011

How often do you hear Antoine Winfield’s name mentioned in the discussion of top cornerbacks in the league? He might be one of the most underrated players around, and he seems to be defying the laws of ageing by only getting better, playing his finest football over the past two seasons.
 
Sure, everybody loves to talk about him as the best tackling corner in the league, and announcers get a few minutes out of that every time Winfield makes his first play in the run game, but what if I was to tell you that Winfield was the best corner in the league in 2010? You’d think I was crazy, right?
 
That’s the level I’m talking about when I tell you he’s underrated: His 2010 season wasn’t just good, it was arguably the best season of any CB in the league – have you heard anybody talk about it in those terms?
 
Let me start by telling you that Winfield finished the season as PFF’s top graded cornerback. As you know, that’s a composite grade, and it includes coverage, play against the run, penalties and even blitzing. Winfield was one of only a few players to grade positively across the board, in all areas of play.
 
I know there are some people who are only interested in coverage when it comes to a cornerback’s play, and for those people, Winfield wouldn’t be your top guy last season. That’s not to say he had a poor year in coverage, far from it, but he wasn’t our top graded player in that regard – Champ Bailey was – and what makes Winfield special is his ability to be a force in multiple areas of the game, something very rare today.
 
Obviously, coverage is the most important facet of any cornerback’s play, but offenses still run the ball anywhere between 40 and 50% of the time, and a corner that can’t hold up his end of the bargain in the run game is a problem, even if some people would prefer to bury their head in the sand about it because he can cover on the back end. Asante Samuel’s coverage numbers last season were bordering on ridiculous, but he was pulled from games by Eagles head coach Andy Reid for his inability to make simple tackles in the run game. This isn’t just us at PFF holding a purist view of things, you can’t just ignore two players out of 11 on D when it comes to the run game.
 
Anybody that has ever watched Winfield play will know that is not an issue for him. He regularly shuts down screen plays, and several mainstays of any conventional offense become low percentage plays to his side of the field.  He has an uncanny ability to knife under blockers in space, getting past them to make tackles in the backfield and destroy plays before they fully develop. He takes on pulling linemen in such a way as to both protect himself from the head-on collision, and to make it extremely difficult for them to get any meaningful block on him. He is one of a very select few corners that are prepared to take on that type of block and make plays despite being accounted for by more than a wide receiver on the play. The 77 tackles he recorded were impressive enough, but he led the league in cornerback stops (a tackle that constituted an offensive failure on the play) with 42, a ratio that betters plenty of linebackers.
 
On Monday Night Football late last season, Winfield was able to show how effective he can be on the blitz – making Michael Vick’s night turn sour, and contributing in a huge way to the Vikings’ upset win over the Eagles. From just 32 blitzes (17 of them on that night alone), Winfield was able to notch seven pressures and a pair of sacks (including the strip-sack, fumble recovery touchdown that swung momentum in the Vikings’ favor).
 
He was also one of only two cornerbacks last season to play more than 1,000 snaps without being penalized. Charles Woodson led the league in that regard, being flagged 12 times despite being thrown at just 78 times (not all of the penalties were in coverage of course, but the more times a corner is attacked, the greater the chance he’ll be beaten and give up a penalty rather than the big play.
 
To back up the kind of steady play his lack of penalties suggests, the longest reception Wifnield was beaten for last season was just 27 yards. He also didn’t allow a touchdown reception all season, and while this next number is skewed slightly by the time he spends in the slot (slot corners allow a noticeably lower YPC figure than corners playing the edge), he allowed just 7.8 yards per reception last season. Only Asante Samuel, who allowed a ridiculous 7.4 yards per reception, bettered that mark.
 
To an extent, that last figure falls into the category of cherry picking a number to suit an argument. It’s the one figure of Winfield’s that jumps out from last season. His other numbers, while solid, don’t scream elite; he allowed 59 receptions on 84 targets, he allowed 463 yards, opposing QBs had a rating of 73.7 when throwing into his coverage. But as I’ve already said, I’m not trying to make out that Winfield was the best corner around in coverage last year, or that you can’t throw the ball on Antoine Winfield (the kind of argument you could make about Revis in 2009). Winfield will allow receptions, but he makes you work for yardage, and he doesn’t make it easy for an offense.
 
The point, though, is that Winfield’s season was a demonstration of impressive and consistent play in every area. He may not have been the ‘shut-down’ corner that everybody loves to look for, but when you add up all the areas of his game – each one played at a very high level – he just may have been the best and most complete corner in football in 2010.
 
 
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