Five Years of PFF Grades: Top 10 Cornerbacks
It’s been five seasons since PFF opened its doors and tackled the subject of performance-based evaluation in the NFL.
We’ve seen many breathtaking performances, whether it be over a year or in an individual game, but we’ve never really looked back on things in a longer sense. So consider that something we’re rectifying, adding up the grades each player has earned and then normalizing their performance on every snap based on the position they played.
(*Players had to have participated in at least three seasons to qualify, so for those expecting to see Richard Sherman you’ll have to wait until next year.)
Coverage Grade for Cornerbacks
1. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (+80.7)
It should give you an idea of just how good Revis has been that his grade over five years in coverage is nearly twice as good as anything anyone else has produced. That he did that despite missing nearly all of the 2012 season makes it all the more remarkable.
His standout year remains the fantastic 2009 that saw him shut down a plethora of receivers on his way to allowing just 36.9% of balls to be complete into his coverage. Even that league-leading number didn’t do justice to a season that will go down as one of the best of any cornerback in the modern era. Proving himself no one-season wonder, Revis would also lead our coverage rankings in 2011, making it easier to see why the Bucs were so happy to invest big in him.
2. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers (+43.8)
During the PFF era Woodson has entered the twilight of his career, yet it’s a testament to his talent that he hasn’t let his performance drop. His best work was done in the early years, finishing fifth in our coverage rankings in 2008 and second in 2009 — a year in which he rivaled Revis for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
A different type of player than Revis, we’ve seen Woodson perform a variety of roles in the Packers’ defense. Playing the slot cornerback role as Green Bay used their nickel as their base and then moving to safety, the versatile Woodson has never lost his knack for making plays. A well-earned second spot.
3. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs (+40.9)
As a rookie Flowers flashed some talent, but it was his sophomore year where he really highlighted his arrival as one of the league’s most promising cornerbacks. His five picks and 12 pass deflections showed a nose for the ball as he finished eighth in our coverage rankings.
A year later Flowers had jumped to second in those rankings, giving up just one touchdown and allowing 51% of passes his way to be completed. A model of consistency, he’s finished in the Top 10 in the past two years, and it’s that constant delivering on his ability that makes Flowers such a find for the Chiefs.
4. Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos (+38.5)
While the most recent memory of Bailey is that playoff game, let’s not forget how good he’d been throughout the 2012 regular season and long before that. The Broncos have never been shy about asking a lot of Bailey, and he’s responding by delivering time and time again.
His stats may never capture the hearts and mind of the public (though 10 interceptions and 39 pass defenses are nothing to be sniffed at), but Bailey’s ability to shut down top receivers and limit the yardage they get is what defines him.
5. Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings (+35.1)
Not many defensive players full stop have a nose for the ball like Winfield. His game is built upon allowing catches for short yardage and making stops in coverage — evidenced by four complete seasons in which he is yet to allow more than 10 yards per reception into his coverage.
A fantastic run defender (as you’ll see below) it shouldn’t be forgotten that Winfield gets the job done in coverage and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the past three years. A true force of a player who doesn’t need picks or pass deflections to make his mark.
6. Leon Hall, Cincinnati Bengals (+34.2)
Playing in Cincinnati doesn’t always get you the attention you deserve, but it hasn’t affected our attention when it comes to Leon Hall.
His best year was undoubtedly in 2009 when he would finish third in our coverage rankings, and while he’s never come close to repeating that, he has always graded positively and proven himself a reliable top corner for the Bengals, one capable of playing inside and out. You wonder if not for some nagging injuries just how much higher he could be, but at just 28 time is still on his side.
7. Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers (+32.6)
Nobody would say that Williams was coming off his best year after a tough 2012 highlighted by an atrocious end to the season in Week 17. But for the former undrafted free agent that is certainly the exception and not the rule, as he developed into one of the league’s most competitive corners after becoming a full-time starter halfway through the 2009 season.
It was that year where he really started to get attention (though he flashed talent in 2008), and as the Packers rode to Super Bowl glory in 2010, he emerged as one of the team’s most important players (highlighted by a tremendous display in the big game itself). Like others, he hasn’t quite replicated that form since, but Green Bay has to be ecstatic with what they’ve got out of him.
8. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns (+26.9)
I mentioned earlier that playing in Cincinnati made you hard to spot, so then what does playing in Cleveland do? A tough franchise to make a big reputation with, Haden has been top-notch since Day 1. Sure, Cleveland eased him in as a nickel defender and he’s followed up his six interception rookie year with just three since, but that’s really not what his game is about.
Playing the kind of man-to-man coverage he excels in, interceptions are always going be more limited, and instead it’s worth noting that he’s broken up 38 passes in three years and has a 53.4% receptions-allowed percentage over that time. He’s top tier already.
9. Asante Samuel, Philadelphia Eagles & Atlanta Falcons (+25.9)
Samuel is always known as something of a gambler (and not much of a tackler) and nothing highlights that more than his 26 picks (and 62 missed tackles) over five years. Wherever Samuel has gone he’s lived up to his billing and, while always someone susceptible to deep balls, he’s only been beaten for only 14 touchdowns over five years (a very impressive return).
10. Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears (+25.9)
The forced-fumble machine that is Tillman is a guy who can do it all and seems to be getting better with age with his coverage grades improving since 2010. What’s more, he’s shown his versatility in the Bears’ defense, being one of the only cornerbacks out there to have a measure of success tracking Calvin Johnson. Peanut shows no signs of slowing down.
Top 10 Overall Run Defense
1. Antoine Winfield, MIN (+41.5)
2. Lardarius Webb, BAL (+15.8)
3. Charles Woodson, GB (+14.6)
4. Champ Bailey, DEN (+14.4)
5. Jason McCourty, TEN (+14.0)
6. Devin McCourty, NE (+10.4)
7. Bradley Fletcher, SL (+10.1)
8. Kyle Arrington, NE (+9.8)
9. Nate Clements, SF & CIN (+9.6)
10. Tim Jennings, IND & CHI (+8.9)
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