Neil's NFL Daily: June 19, 2013
With NFL news more sparse than Joe Thomas pressures, I’ve decided to look at the first of some interesting training camp battles that may be brewing. Where better to start than a team that’s looking to improve significantly on last year, particularly on offense — the Arizona Cardinals. However, the strength of the Arizona team last year was defense and maintaining that quality will be crucial. Which leads to a key question — who will man the corner position across from Patrick Peterson?
Wednesday, June 19th
Cardinals RCB: Antoine Cason vs. Jerraud Powers
When Greg Toler took the surprisingly good deal offered by the Colts during free agency it opened up the position across from Patrick Peterson. So who will take the role? At the moment it looks like a competition between the guy who effectively swopped teams with Toler, ex-Colt Jerraud Powers, and Chargers cast-off and previous first-round selection Antoine Cason.
The first thing to say here is that although I’ve listed the position as right cornerback, with Peterson often tracking the opposition’s top receiver, the role is more outside corner than specifically right-sided (Peterson played LCB just 56% of the time in 2013). This may not sound like much, but changing positions when you have been used to playing just one side can be notoriously tricky — although far less for corners than, say, offensive linemen.
In this area Powers has an advantage, having played a significant volume of snaps on both sides, although not usually in the same game. Last year Powers played the majority of snaps at LCB before a toe injury in the fourth quarter of the Miami game cut short his season, however he played the whole of Week 1 (at Chicago) on the right. In 2011 he played mostly RCB together with over 150 plays in the slot, showing his versatility.
Alongside his toe injury last year (which limited him to eight games) there are substantial concerns regarding Powers in this regard. In fact, he has not once played a full season, and never more than 12 games in the regular season going back as far as his rookie year of 2009. It’s not just one thing with him either, as his medical list also includes a dislocated left elbow, a broken right forearm and a pulled hamstring.
In stark contrast Cason has played 16 games every year since he was drafted 27th overall by San Diego, and only performance issues have kept him off the field.
Form on the Field
After a slow start, where the Chargers initially used Cason in the slot before losing faith in 2009 and limiting him to only 314 of snaps, he then started to improve and had an excellent 2010 as the Chargers starting RCB. He limited the opposition to a 52% completion rate when throwing at him, together with a QB rating of only 74.0 into his coverage. That year he was our 11th-rated corner and all looked rosy for him going forward. Unfortunately, a terrible start to 2011 marred that year and although he ended up with an average grade it set the tone for a very poor contract seasonin 2012. Here he gave up a 67% completion rate, 98.0 QB rating and was beaten for five touchdowns — his -7.6 PFF grade ranked 105 of 113 corners in coverage.
Powers has had seasons as bad as Cason did in 2012 — in 2009 his final -8.3 grade could have been far worse but for an excellent Week 6 showing against the Redskins — but he has never shown anything like the ability of Cason at his best. His ceiling, based on demonstrated ability, is much lower, although he did play marginally better in coverage last year. That said, his tackling was awful and his 11 missed tackles saw him rank fifth-worst as his position.
It’s ironic that it was probably the Chargers interest in him that drove Powers final deal with the Cardinals up. Three years, $3.5m APY with $5.6m guaranteed puts him in Tim Jennings/Tarrell Brown-type territory, and he’s certainly not done enough to be worth that. However, it may well be that number that eventually sees him win out, because with a one-year, $1.5m deal ($1m guaranteed) Cason is (at least financially) considered the lesser of the two.
Playing for Bruce Arians last year will also give Powers another advantage over Cason and it’s unquestionable, because of the contract disparity, that the Cardinals want Powers to win this job. The only problem with that is so far in his career he’s never shown himself to be anything more than an (at best) average player. It’s bad enough losing both safeties (Adrian Wilson is now in New England and Kerry Rhodes is jobless), but if one of the corners tanks too it could be open season on the Cardinals’ secondary for opposing QBs.
The additional bad news for the loser is that if they don’t win out then they may not play much at all, as Javier Arenas is better in the slot than either and almost certainly wins the nickel job. Last year that equated to a mere 25 snaps.
Advantage: Powers, but I would prefer to see Cason win as his ceiling is much higher.
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