As we get ready for free agency, it’s time for teams to start tendering their restricted free agents. In the past, we haven’t seen the top RFA’s attract much interest. This was mainly due to the highest tender previously meaning you would have to give up first and third round draft choices to pry one away from another team. However, that changed with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The highest tender a team can now give one of their RFA’s is a first round draft choice on its own. That makes this offseason a little more interesting as there are at least a few players out their worth a first round pick.
One such player is Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb (+14.4). Webb was our fourth-highest graded CB in 2011, and our second-highest graded in coverage. His consistently high level of play was a highlight for the Ravens throughout the season and he will surely attract some interest from opposing teams. He’s likely to receive a nice new contract either this offseason or next, but just how worthy is he of giving up a top pick in April’s draft? Does he stack up well enough compared to the rest of the league’s CBs? Let’s take a look.
Return to Form
A third round pick out of Nicholls State in 2009, Webb had to wait until Week 9 against Cincinnati to see his first significant action as a pro. He showed signs of being the CB he has become even then, eventually finding his way into the starting line up by Week 12. By the end of Week 15, however, his season was over; a torn ACL cutting short an impressive late season performance. Looking back on that season, though, Webb was in coverage for 187 snaps and didn’t allow a touchdown. Coming back from that injury in early 2010, Webb struggled; receiving a negative grade in all but two of his first 10 games of the season. Rebounding, his performance returned to that rookie level from Week 13 onward as he closed out the season with a positive grade in every game.
That brings us to this season where he went from being someone to keep an eye on, to one of the top performing CBs in the entire league. A quick glance at our positional rankings shows that Webb was second only to Darrelle Revis (+23.1) in coverage, but that only tells part of the story. When you delve a little deeper into his season, it becomes clear just how good he was. He played in 18 games for the Ravens, seeing a total of 638 snaps in coverage, and didn’t allow a single touchdown reception in that time. Of the 102 times he was targeted by opposing QBs, Webb got his hands on 20, with eight interceptions and 12 passes broken up throughout the regular season and two playoff games.
What impresses me the most about Webb is his ability to cover in the slot as well as on the outside. In 231 snaps in coverage against the slot, he was targeted just 30 times by opposing QBs, giving up 18 receptions for 203 yards. Fans of our Signature Stats will already have seen how highly Webb ranks in our Slot Performance section. He came in second among all CBs with a reception allowed just once in every 12.8 plays in coverage in the slot. Below is a comparison of Webb’s coverage stats in the slot and on the outside:
|Snaps||Targets||Receptions||NFL Rating||Cover Snaps/ Target||Yards/Cover Snap||Cover Snaps/ Rec|
From that you can see that Webb was targeted less often, and gave up a reception less often when covering in the slot. He may not have recorded any interceptions from the slot during the regular season, but he did pick off a Tom Brady pass in the AFC Championship game when covering inside. The versatility to be able to step inside and cover the slot will make Webb even more appealing to teams this offseason, particularly in a league that becomes more and more about the passing game by the day.
Worth That Pick?
We’ve highlighted what Webb does best and why he’s an attractive prospect this offseason. However, giving up a first round pick for a player causes most football fans to gasp. That’s because, as fans, I think we often believe that a first round pick isn’t a gamble, but rather a lock to be a future hall of famer. With that in mind, I had a look at which corners were taken in the first round of the draft between 2008 and 2010, to see where Webb stacks up.
|Name||Draft Year||Draft Pick||2011 PFF Grade|
|Leodis McKelvin||2008||No. 11||2.1|
|D. Rodgers-Cromartie||2008||No. 16||-5.7|
|Aqib Talib||2008||No. 20||3.2|
|Mike Jenkins||2008||No. 25||1.1|
|Antoine Cason||2008||No. 27||-2.7|
|Vontae Davis||2009||No. 25||0.5|
|Joe Haden||2010||No. 7||9.7|
|Kareem Jackson||2010||No. 20||-4.5|
|Devin McCourty||2010||No. 27||-2.2|
|Kyle Wilson||2010||No. 29||-8.5|
|Patrick Robinson||2010||No. 32||6.0|
From the 11 CBs drafted in the first round between 2008 and 2010, six had a positive grade in 2011. Only Joe Haden and Patrick Robinson had seasons that you would class as anything far beyond average, but this highlights just how much of a crap shoot the NFL Draft is. Looking at that list, particularly if you are picking at the back end of Round 1, it makes too much sense to not at least take a look at Webb.
Who Makes a Play?
So we’ve looked at Webb’s strengths and what makes him both a quality player just now, and a worthy investment for the future. So, which teams make the most sense, and who is in a position to make a play for him? Well, first of all you can scratch the teams picking in the Top 10 from the list. As good as Webb is, it’s pretty hard to imagine a team giving up a pick that high for him. However, a team picking late in the first round wouldn’t feel like they were giving up the world, particularly after the season Webb has just had. Looking at the back of Round 1, the obvious name that jumps out at you is the New England Patriots. Picking at number 31, the Patriots are expected to at least be looking at CB and have an additional first round pick this year. We all saw just how much they struggled at the position last year. Surely bringing in one of the league’s top performers, and hurting the team you played in the AFC Championship Game in the process, is worth that very late first round pick.
Another option could be the Cincinnati Bengals, who have Leon Hall but beyond that don’t have much and, like New England, they’d be hurting a rival while improving their own roster. Would the Bengals be willing to give up the 21st pick in the draft for Webb? In the NFC, the Detroit Lions know that they need to improve in the secondary, especially with both Drew Brees (+60.2) and Aaron Rodgers (+53.7) playing for fellow contenders.
The Ravens Need Him
Let’s say that a team like New England does indeed tender an offer to Webb over the next week. Baltimore is then faced with the dilemma of matching the contract, provided they can afford to do so (which would be tough with Ray Rice’s and Joe Flacco’s deals on deck). Their other option is letting Webb go and gaining an extra first round draft pick. As I said earlier, as fans we often look on a first round pick as being so much more of a guarantee than it actually is and, as long as it’s affordable, I’d be shocked to see the Ravens not match the offer. Why give up a proven commodity for a rookie who hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet, especially with Webb’s young age himself? They need just to look at his play in the two playoff games, where he got his hands on as many passes (three interceptions and one pass broken up) as he allowed receptions, to realize that what they have is worth so much more than an unknown.
Taking a look at the wide receivers within their division shows another reason why the Ravens must do all they can to keep Webb in Baltimore. In Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (+14.2) and Mike Wallace (+9.6), and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green (-1.6), the Ravens will see three of the Top 22 WRs (according to 2011 PFF receiving grades) twice each in 2012. It simply wouldn’t make sense to let their best pass defender go if they are genuinely expecting to be competing for the Lombardi Trophy at the end of next season.
Webb will surely attract interest from teams in the coming days, but if the Ravens brass are as smart as they seem to be, he’ll still be playing in purple come September.