No. 5: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets

| May 3, 2012

Darrelle Revis is the unquestioned best cornerback in football. It wasn’t long ago the term “shutdown corner” was thought to be an anachronism, an extinct species no longer applicable to the modern game, but Revis changed that.

Revis isn’t just capable of shutting down one side of the field, but in the Jets defensive system, he is asked to do so much more than that–he’s asked to take away the opponent’s best receiver. Revis is one of an elite few corners that will track specific receivers across the formation wherever they line up, be it left corner, right corner, or somewhere in the slot.

Aside from being an extremely difficult thing to be able to do and do well, that ability also allows the Jets to be much more creative with the rest of their coverages. Perhaps most importantly, it puts an offense in a tough spot with a tricky decision to make. Do you accept that your best receiving option is gone from the game, or do you force it to him anyway and run the risk of throwing into Revis’ coverage?

Most teams hate to accept their top receiver is gone, so Revis will get thrown at more than top corners who don’t track receivers. The Jets are able to make teams continue to throw at him even though they know it’s unlikely to be successful.

Last season Revis was thrown at 85 times, but he allowed only 35 receptions and a single touchdown. Quarterbacks throwing into his coverage had a rating of just 45.6, and he got his hands to (either intercepted or defensed) 20 passes. Throwing at Revis was not a productive way to move the football, but teams forced it anyway.

In the fourth quarter of games–the money quarter–Revis’ numbers became even more insane. He allowed just 26.1% of targets to be complete, picking off half as many balls (three) as he allowed completed (six). Passing on Revis is hard enough to begin with, but it only gets harder as the game goes on and he gets better at reading what’s coming. The game’s best corner was back to his best this season, and belongs in the Top 5 of our list.

 

Best Game: Week 16 vs. New York Giants (+5.9)

The Jets and Giants met in Week 16 over the holiday period in an ugly game that neither team really seemed all that keen on winning. While the Giants ultimately came away with victory, it wasn’t with any help from Darrelle Revis, who was in his best form despite one of his biggest tests of the season.

The Giants tested Revis with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, both of whom were having excellent seasons and Cruz who, in particular, had been destroying teams late in the year. Over the last seven games of the season Cruz had 864 receiving yards with 164 of them coming in this game against the Jets, but on the snaps Revis was matched up with him, he was taken out of the game. He was thrown at seven times in the game, but only once when covered by Revis, and the Jet broke up the pass. In total, Revis was thrown at eight times in the game, and allowed just two catches for 31 yards, but he got his hands in for pass defenses on five of the other six throws.

This game was a display of Revis at his best, shutting down two of the game’s best receivers whenever he was assigned to cover them, even as other defenders were being beaten.

 

Key Stat: Revis allowed just 41.2% of throws into his coverage to be completed.

Today’s NFL is a passing league. You may have heard that once or two thousand times recently, but it remains true. The value of players who can force incompletions is going through the roof as a result. The league is become ever more passing oriented because offenses and coaches are getting better and better at making passing a safer, higher-percentage option. Quarterbacks and receivers can play pitch and catch with defenses just scrambling to patch all the holes and make tackles after the grab. If things break right, they’ll disrupt a few passes and get a few lucky breaks.

Players like Revis change that dynamic. Revis can stick to an opponent’s best receiver and make a quarterback’s completion percentage drop over 20%, while also continually being a threat to pick it off and take it in the other direction. Passing has become a pretty safe way of moving the football in today’s NFL, but not when Darrelle Revis is in coverage. When you’re throwing the ball at Revis you know it’s going to be contested, and at the very least it needs to be accurate, because he will be in the area. He is the best corner in the game, and is good enough that he can change the dynamic of what’s happening on the field. That earns him a spot at No. 5 on our list.

 

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