Ranking the 2012 Free Agents: Cornerbacks

| February 24, 2012

Some positions in free agency are more attractive than others, and the cornerback market is one that certainly brings its fair share of appealing targets. There may not be a Darrelle Revis in this crop of players, but there are a few guys who have a legitimate claim to be the next best player at the position, certainly if our grades are anything to go by, as our second-, third-, and fourth-graded corners are all available in one way or another.

After quarterback, corner is one of a couple of positions vying for attention and importance. Everybody wants a shutdown cornerback, but the trouble is there just aren’t many to go around. So let’s take a look at who the most attractive candidates are as we gear up for free agency to start in earnest.  

 

 

1)     Brent Grimes

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 29

2011 Grade: +16.0

Key Stat: Grimes allowed only 258 total receiving yards last season.

Behind the Numbers: In truth, Brent Grimes is never likely to hit the open market, with the Falcons seemingly ever more certain to Franchise him rather than risk his escape. Atlanta has put themselves in the awkward position of seeing three key members of their defense hit free agency in the same year, but it looks as if they are likely to tag Grimes and risk losing the others. As good as Grimes is, and he may very well be the best cover corner in the league after Revis, he will be 29 by the time the season rolls around and teams would be reluctant to offer a big contract in terms of both dollars and years to a player of that age.

 

2) Lardarius Webb

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 26

2011 Grade: +14.4

Key Stat: Didn’t allow a single TD all season.

Behind the Numbers: Lardarius Webb tore his ACL at the end of his rookie season in 2009, and, though he was back in the lineup to begin the 2010 season, it was only in 2011 that we really saw the play he was capable of. Webb had our second-highest coverage grade of the season last year (beating Grimes by 0.1), intercepting five passes and getting his hands in to break up another 11. Opposing quarterbacks had a rating of just 55.6 when throwing at his coverage, and at 26 he is only entering his prime. This is why he makes this list, despite being a restricted free agent, because the upside is good enough that some teams might take a run at him and try and pry him from the Ravens’ grasp, even at the cost of a first round pick.

 

3) Cortland Finnegan

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 28

2011 Grade: +15.8

Key Stat: Allowed only 8.8 yards per reception in 2011.

Behind the Numbers: Finnegan brings a rare brand of physicality and versatility to the free agent market. Last season the Titans had him covering the slot in nickel packages so that he could get more involved in the plays and be around the football more. He excelled in that role and is at his best when he can get physical with receivers. He can play both man and zone, and work from the slot as well as out wide, so he will be attractive to almost all teams, regardless of scheme. At 28 when the season rolls around, he’s still in his prime and should be one of the most hotly-chased corners.

 

4) Brandon Carr

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 26

2011 Grade: +2.7

Key Stat: Allowed fewer than half the targets into his coverage to be complete (39 of 79).

Behind the Numbers: Carr didn’t have the best of seasons last year, but even so, he allowed fewer than half of all balls thrown his way to be complete and got his hands to more than 10 passes. At just 26 when the season starts, he is the youngest free agent option around, and with Stanford Routt just signed in KC, he’s likely to be on the move. Carr has shown to have very good coverage skills and gets to a lot of passes, making him a very attractive option to anybody looking for a long-term answer at corner.

 

5) Carlos Rogers

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 31

2011 Grade: +9.4

Key Stat: Six interceptions in 2011 tied for third amongst CBs

Behind the Numbers: Slips behind Carr only because of his age, and the fact that his excellent 2011 season came somewhat out of the blue. Rogers was once a top draft pick, so he always had the talent, but it took a change of scenery and the prospect of playing for a new pay day to get the best play out of him. Another player that can play out wide and in the slot, Rogers has the talent to be a top corner in this league, but will his age and suspect hands put some off?

 

6)  Tim Jennings

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 28

2011 Grade: +7.4

Key Stat: Allowed only 11.1 yards per reception in 2011.

Behind the Numbers: Tim Jennings is one of those players that is likely to be a bargain pick up for some team. He is at his best in a Cover-2 scheme, because he is physical, good at keeping things in front of him, and supports the run well. The league may have slowly moved away from that scheme in recent years, but there are still a number of teams out there that run it. Inexplicably benched last year after a poor performance, Jennings still finished 2011 without allowing a touchdown and giving up only 11.1 yards per reception. He may be a limited fit, but Jennings is a fine pickup for a team running Cover-2.

 

7)  William Gay

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 27

2011 Grade: 0.0

Key Stat: Wasn’t beaten for a reception over 27 yards all season.

Behind the Numbers: Perhaps it’s fitting that over the course of 970 snaps last season, William Gay’s grade ended up exactly at 0.0 – dead average, because in truth, that is probably what he has been so far as a Steeler. Starting last season, Gay allowed less than 500 yards receiving, and only a pair of touchdowns, but he was also targeted only 83 times and was beaten on a few occasions where the opposition couldn’t make the play to take advantage. He’s still only 27, and does have talent, but any team who signs him will still be paying for potential more than production.

 

8 ) Aaron Ross

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 29

2011 Grade: -1.3

Key Stat: Only eight corners allowed more than the 811 receiving yards Ross gave up in 2011.

Behind the Numbers: Aaron Ross was once a first round draft pick, but his career has been blighted by injuries and simply poor play. Only last year did we see games that made you remember why he was so highly thought of as a prospect to begin with. Unfortunately for Ross, he was still inconsistent, and those games were matched by the ones that made you remember why you forgot. Ross allowed 811 yards receiving last season and a half-dozen touchdowns, and opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 102.8 when throwing into his coverage. The Giants should be looking to bring back one of their two free agent corners, and if it’s not Ross, he has to hope potential suitors are looking at the tape of his good games, not his bad.

 

9) Richard Marshall

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 27

2011 Grade: -1.2

Key Stat: Allowed 394 receiving yards in 2011, 95 of which came on one play.

Behind the Numbers: In an offseason of one-year contracts, Marshall was another player to sign after the lockout and look to hit the open market again 12 months later having earned themselves a big pay day. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work out as well for him as it did for some. Marshall was the third corner for the first half of the season and didn’t start for Arizona until Week 9, but after getting the starting spot, he recorded all five of his best games of the season. Marshall was only thrown at 54 times all season, but even so, allowing only 28 receptions represents an impressive 51.9% mark. He won’t be at the top of anybody’s shopping list, but he might make a healthy consolation prize.

 

10) Terrell Thomas

Age as of September 1st, 2012: 27

2011 Grade: Missed the season injured.

Key Stat: Allowed 950 yards receiving in 2010, but also collected 12 PDs and 5 picks.

Behind the Numbers: The other New York Giant hitting free agency this season, Terrell Thomas missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL suffered in the preseason, and, in truth, his coverage was poor in 2010 despite notching five interceptions and a dozen passes defensed. He also gave up seven touchdowns and was beaten for 950 yards, 403 of which came after the catch. His 2009 season, on the other hand, was far better, but at this point any team looking at him will be banking on play from more than two years ago on the far side of an ACL injury. He’s an intriguing long-term option for somebody, but his short-term return may be rocky at best.

 

2012 Free Agent Tracker | PFF’s Top 50 Free Agents

 

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