Cornerback is the toughest position to play in the NFL, in my mind. They have to read and react to some of the most talented people on the planet. Think about the height, speed, leaping ability, hands, and the ability to turn on a dime that players like Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall possess. As rare as a combination of those attributes are to find in one human, it's even more improbable to find a man that can mirror those actions in the midst of a moment. Quarterbacks have several options on most plays. They can pick on a mismatch of a slower linebacker covering a speedy pass catching tight end or just dump the ball to the back out of the backfield. If a wide receiver slips or runs a bad route, then the quarterback just goes to his next option. A cornerback doesn't have this luxury. If he slips, bites on a double move, or is just caught out of position, then he will be seen over and over again on the highlight reel of the opposing team.
The type of corner that is labeled a true "shutdown corner" doesn't come along that often. Champ Bailey wore this crown for the last several years. Bailey's time came at the end of Deion Sanders reign as one of the all time greatest shutdown corners of all time. Champ has now passed the crown on, but to whom? Some say Nnamdi Asomugha, the corner out of Cal who plays for the Oakland Raiders. Others say it's the 4th year man out of Pitt, Darrelle Revis.
There's one thing that is for sure, at the moment, only one of them is getting paid like a "shutdown corner". Asomugha, who is entering his 8th NFL season this year, just signed a new 3 year $45.3 million dollar contract. Revis, who has had instant success since coming in the league in 2007, wants to be paid more than Nnamdi. He's even said that he'll be happy with one dollar more than Nnamdi's contract.
There are plenty of others to give you the contract talk. I want to ask the all important question. Is he worth it? We all know that both of these players are Pro Bowlers, and rightfully so. But, is Revis better than Asomugha? Let's dive into the statistics and see what they have to say.
Nnamdi scored his big contract at the age of 28. If Revis gets his deal this season, he would be getting it while playing at least the same level of Asomugha and being 3 years younger. This is a key factor that most people seem to be over looking. The NFL body wears down quickly and you don't have too many prime years in your career. This benefits Revis, seeing how he has had such success so early on. Nnamdi didn't record an interception until his 4th season; he's now played 7 seasons and has only recorded 11 picks. Darrelle who has only played 3 seasons has already recorded more picks with 14 for his career. And Revis is durable too. Revis hasn't missed a game in his career, playing in all 48 regular season games since entering the league. This shows that he's resilient and will play through little nicks and bruises.
Nnamdi's best statistical season came in 2006. He recorded 8 interceptions and had 19 pass deflections. Asomugha has had 1 interception a year since then. His supporters will state that quarterbacks just decide to throw away from him. While this is true, he hasn't been as effective as he was previously when he has been thrown at. The All-Pro only had 3 pass deflections in 2009 in 28 attempts. Revis averages more pass deflections a year (21) than Nnamdi's top year of 18. Asomugha averages only 8 pass deflections a year. Revis had 31 pass deflections in 2009 to go along with his 6 picks. Revis also is a better tackler and plays a bigger role in run support. Nnamdi averages 42 tackles a year and has only had more than 50 tackles in a season once, with 60 tackles in 2007. Revis had a career high with 87 tackles as a rookie and averages 66 tackles a year and Revis and Asomugha have both forced and recovered the exact same amount of fumbles in their careers.
Nnamdi is targeted a lot less than Revis. Asomugha backers will tell you that quarterbacks are afraid to throw his direction. Nnamdi was only targeted 28 times in 2009 as opposed to Revis being targeted 111 times in the same season. Now, I'm sure that quarterbacks do go away from Asomugha out of respect for his skill set, but this is too huge of a disparity to just be that. Some other reasons for the difference are, Oakland had the 29th ranked rush defense last year and the Jets had the 8th ranked. This would lead to the offense running the ball more on Oakland and passing more against the Jets. Teams passed almost a 100 times more against the Jets than the Raiders in 2009. Other factors are different match ups in the passing game. If the corner on the other side of these players is horrific, then you are going to throw that direction a lot more. Why go up against a top corner when you have mediocrity on the other side. The defensive scheme that the Jets run also incentivizes teams to pass in Revis' directions a lot more. They send a healthy dose of blitzes, and the way they scheme them often leaves Revis on his Island alone with the receiver while everyone else blanked by zone coverage; thus the nickname "Revis Island."
The most telling fact that makes me give the nod to Revis over Asomugha comes from an article from SI. ...In today's NFL there are left cornerbacks and right cornerbacks, and they share the responsibility for covering the opponent's No. 1 wideout. And then there is Revis, who according to Jets coach Rex Ryan is the only corner in the league who does not split duties on the star receiver. "Left side or right side, in the slot or out wide," Revis says, "I'll follow you everywhere you go." Following the #1 wide receiver for the other team all over the field is exactly what Revis does too. He lines up against Andre Johnson on every play against the Texans, on Brandon Marshall every play against the Broncos (last year), on Randy Moss every play, etc. Nnamdi on the other hand, lines up against whoever is in front of him. This explains a lot of why teams throw at Revis more than Asomugha. If you were Kyle Orton and you had Revis covering your best receiver, Brandon Marshall you are still going to try and get your big play receiver the ball. In the same scenario, if Orton drops back and sees Marshall up against Chris Johnson and Asomugha matched up on Eddie Royal, then you can expect a huge workload for Marshall that day. Why would you throw to a lesser receiver with a better corner covering him, when you could throw to a better receiver with a lesser corner?
These are clearly the 2 top corners in the game today. While it may seem like I'm bashing Asomugha and that's not the intent here as he's truly a special player, he's just not as good as Revis. Revis proves game in and game out that he's both willing and able to go up against the best in the game and he shuts them down.
There is one last stat that I'll leave you with to make my point. In Raiders' games in 2009, the opposing teams #1 wide receiver was targeted 113 times. Nnamdi was only covering them 13% of this time. That means the other 87% of these passes against the Raiders were to the opposing teams #1 option with lesser corners covering them. On the other side of the coin, the #1 wide receiver was targeted 109 times against the Jets and Revis was there to cover them 78% of the time.
In the famous words of Ric Flair, "To be the man, you got to beat the man. Whoohooo!" Revis faces and beats the best competition every week. He's 25, in his prime, and the best in the game. If New York doesn't want to pay him, there are 31 other teams that will. But, really this is just New York being New York and having to do everything on the big stage. He'll be signed on the Hard Knocks season premiere...... - Jayson Braddock
Jayson appears on Sports Radio 790 AM in Houston, TX once a week as the football insider on the Dylan Gwinn show. He's a graduate of the Sports Management World Wide Football GM & Scouting Course and has been mentored by former NFL player / executive John Wooten and Sporting News.com NFL Draft Expert Russ Lande. His work is mostly appreciated by die-hard fans interested in every little detail about their team and not just watered down mainstream talk.
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