Free Agent Profile: Brandon Flowers
The cornerback market in free agency is a strange one. There is no Darrelle Revis out there, but there are several interesting names who will attract attention.
Chief among those names is Brandon Flowers who comes to the market after a season in San Diego that served to resurrect a career that went off the rails late in his stint in Kansas City.
We are not too far removed from Flowers being one of the league’s best young corners, and one of the few that looked capable of challenging Darrelle Revis for his crown with a little more development.
Then came the 2013 season, which brings us to what Brandon Flowers is not: a cornerback suited to man-heavy schemes.
Flowers had excelled in zone schemes before, but the Chiefs changed what they asked him to do in 2013, and he struggled with the new role. It was the first time since his rookie season that his overall PFF grade sank into negative figures and the only time in his career his PFF coverage grade was negative.
Flowers came into the league as a hard-hitting corner who excelled at his ability to read and react quickly. When you ask him to turn his back on the quarterback and play man coverage you remove a lot of what made him so good.
Like Antoine Winfield for the Vikings for several years, Flowers has the ability to make teams work for the short yardage, high-percentage passing plays that have become mainstays of modern NFL offenses. If he is asked to play man coverage you neutralize most of this. In that scheme he is asked to turn his back to the quarterback and read the receiver instead, often giving up too much of a cushion because he is not the most physically gifted corner in the league.
Take a look at his grades at PFF on a year by year basis. Can you guess the year that saw him asked to play a lot of man coverage?
Most teams in the league play a mix of man and zone coverage, often depending on the situation, and it’s not like Flowers can’t play man coverage, it’s just clearly not his strength. In a scheme like the Oakland Raiders used to play with Al Davis in charge – exclusively man coverage with virtually no exceptions – Flowers would be a poor fit.
There are still schemes in the league that play predominantly man coverage, and those are the teams that won’t be in the market for Flowers – think Buffalo, New England, Cleveland, Indianapolis – but the rest of the league saw last season in San Diego that Flowers can still play to a pretty high level in other systems.
As much as interceptions are the gaudy headline statistic for cornerbacks and defensive backs in general, their play is defined far more by what they give up than by the number of passes they themselves pick off.
This past season Flowers gave up 56% of passes into his coverage and was beaten for four scores. Quarterbacks throwing at him had a passer rating of 84.2 over the year. Those aren’t stellar numbers, and Flowers has had four seasons better, but they represent a major bounceback season from his career low a year ago.
The question for any teams looking to sign Flowers this time around is does he have more to get back, or is that the level he will play at going forward into the down slope of his career.
The bottom line though is that even at that level Flowers is playing at a quality starting level.
Let’s take a look at one of his pass breakups from this past year. This play came against the Oakland Raiders in the red zone and was with Flowers backing off in a cover-3 shell against a post route from his receiver. This route against a cover three corner is extremely tough to cover, and though it’s true Flowers benefited a little from Derek Carr being a little late and a little off with his ball location, Flowers maintained close coverage throughout and was able to make the play with a diving effort to prevent the touchdown.
Flowers showed in San Diego he was still a quality cornerback after a disastrous season in Kansas City in an ill-suited scheme in 2013. Over the first half of the season Flowers was back to his best, but he did end the season with a couple of ugly games and some poor performances. Those games will be a check to teams who might otherwise have chased hard after Flowers, convinced he was back to the player they saw before 2013 in Kansas City.
Flowers is a player that requires a little bit of digging, but he has major talent and would help out most teams in need of cornerback help.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam