We’ll be wrapping up our three-year player grades series this week by looking at the defensive backs and the corners are up first.
We’re the first to admit that due to the nature of footage available to all media outlets (and essentially anyone outside of the teams themselves), cornerback is among the hardest of positions for us to judge. There are times when we don’t get shots of where the ball isn’t thrown, so we can’t always tell if a corner got away with leaving a receiver wide open, or if his excellent coverage forced the quarterback to look elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t add something to the cornerback debate. Our ratings take into account time spent in coverage when they’re not targeted, and when they are thrown at, we break them down.
Which leads to a disclaimer: these ratings are not gospel, but an indication of who the best are. To get the list, we considered all corners who played two thirds the average number of snaps of the five who were on the field the most during 2008-2010 (2,130 snaps was the qualifying line). To highlight how important coverage is in those rankings, we weighed all other graded categories as worth a quarter of our rating for coverage.
Got it? Good. Let’s get to ranking.
1. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
What can you say about Darrelle Revis that hasn’t already been said? Last year was a disappointment by his high standards with injury and an offseason holdout seeing it take longer for him to get going, but he remains the top CB in the NFL. We may never see a cornerback shut out as many top receivers as Revis did in 2009 – it was truly a season for the ages. How he didn’t win Defensive Player of the Year is beyond laughable. True shutdown corner.
2. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
While he should never have been the DPoY in 2009, Woodson still had a tremendous year to finish behind Revis in our coverage rankings. Outside of an anomalous 2008, he is right up there (with the guy below) as a true every down, every situation cornerback. Attacks the run and has been used to great effect in blitzing situations. On the downside now (he was getting beat far more often with the Packers using him near exclusively in the slot), he’s still easily repaid the Packers investment in him.
3. Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings
My colleague Sam Monson wrote an excellent piece on Winfield here. Suffice to say that won’t make this ranking any easier for some to swallow, but Winfield is more than people are willing to give him credit for. Came back from a sub-standard (by his standards) 2009, to effectively shut down receivers, allowing no touchdowns in 2010. Effectively eliminates screens to his side of the field, and also the top CB in run support. An underrated skill set for a cornerback, but Winfield makes the Vikings defense better in ways that are hard to quantify.
4. Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos
Missing half of the 2008 season is likely the only thing that keeps Bailey behind Winfield. As it is, Bailey shows no signs of slowing down – even if he is prone to giving up a few more touchdowns. Can shut down receivers and has great closing speed on the ball. Champ may have been surpassed as the top cornerback in the NFL, but he’s still right up there.
5. Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders
There’s sure to be some flack for this one. No doubt Asomugha doesn’t grade as well in our rankings because of the limits we deal with in evaluating corner play. We’re left wondering is Asomugha so great he shuts down half the field, or is it a case of playing predominantly on the quarterback’s left side (where they are less likely to throw) and reputation that leads to this. I lean more to the latter with a touch of the former – it’s unreal that he’s been thrown at 87 times over the past three years. To put that in perspective 25 cornerbacks were thrown at more than that in 2010 alone. No doubt about it: QB’s are scared to play scrabble.
6. Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers
A riser, Williams is coming off a great post season – a great season in general – where he established himself the top corner in Green Bay. Interesting that, while the praise has come his way this year, his ascent started when Al Harris went down in 2009. Williams stepped up, was superb, and hasn’t looked back since. A real playmaker at the position.
7. Corey Webster, New York Giants
It may surprise some to see Corey Webster here, but if it does, it’s because his tremendous 2008 season has been forgotten. Back then he was our top ranked cover cornerback when he allowed completions on just 43.6% of passes and one touchdown. Oh, and he defensed 21 passes. Remarkable, given he only allowed 34 catches. Still, he’s struggled a tad the past two years, given up 12 touchdowns and will need to find that 2008 form soon enough.
8. Leon Hall, Cincinnati Bengals
Being nicked up and the Bengals struggling to generate pressure made life a lot harder for Leon Hall in 2010. A shame because a year before he was so good he ended up ranking just behind Revis and Woodson. With his talent, it would be interesting to see Hall matched up against a team’s top receiver, and with Johnathan Joseph potentially moving on, maybe the Bengals will employ more of that.
9. Jabari Greer, New Orleans Saints
Back at the start of 2009, Greer was playing as well as anybody. He looked like a bargain pick up for the Saints after a good last year in Buffalo was cut short by injury. And that’s probably why a guy as talented as Greer isn’t higher here. He’s always missing time or limited by some injury. It’s pretty hard to be in the top five when you’ve mustered seasons where you’ve started 33 out of 48 regular season games (and missed considerable chunks of some of them). Let’s hope we see an injury-free season from him.
10. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs
Another one to watch, Flowers looked pretty good in 2009, and then made a name for himself with a fantastic start to 2010. He still had a very good year, and is extremely aggressive in run support, but it tailed off a bit in the second half of the year. Elite tools, if he wants to join the upper, upper echelon he’ll need to keep the high standards up throughout. Isn’t helped by not going toe-to-toe with the top receivers to try to shut them out.