Rex Ryan believes, with the exception of quarterback, that cornerback is the most important position in football. Without solid corners, your defense, and thus your team, will struggle. Who’s it going to be, Revis or Asomugha?
Editor’s Note: Almost done. This is the sixth part of my journey to determine the one player, at each position, I’d want over all the rest. Still to come: QB. Apologies to the offensive line, special teamers, and fullbacks. It’s not that I don’t appreciate you, it just wouldn’t be much fun to write about you. Sorry.
Remember, contract, age, fantasy value, and whether or not I despise the player will not influence my decision, nor will statistics and popularity. There’s no mathematic formula. Only my humble opinion.
I’m not ranking the best players at each position. I’m picking who I’d want on my team. Is Ndamukong Suh the best defensive lineman in the NFL? Not yet. Would I rather have him than anyone else? Yes, Yes I would. Comprende?
Similar to what I did with linebackers, defensive backs were broken down into two groups; cornerbacks and safeties.
Here we go. In reverse order.
Rod Woodson Division
3. Charles Woodson
The ageless wonder. Many believed Woodson’s best days were behind him when he joined the Packers after battling nagging injuries in Oakland. Instead, Woodson became one of the league’s most outstanding defensive players, winning the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009 and being named an NFL All-Pro three times in five seasons. Woodson also led Green Bay’s defense to a Super Bowl title in 2010.
In addition to his natural instincts and nose for the football, Woodson’s versatility is what makes him special. While he’s still an excellent cover corner, Woodson can just as easily slide back to safety, where he’s equally effective. Even though his interceptions tailed off in 2010, he continually ranks among the league leaders in forced fumbles. Clearly, he’s still getting to the ball and making plays.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha
Throughout his career, he’s been the NFL’s least known All-Pro, but no longer. His arrival in Philadelphia has him in the spotlight, so he’s on the verge of going from relative obscurity to overexposed in less than a year.
Despite the hoopla, Asomugha is as good as advertised. Stat lovers point to his low interception numbers to try to throw stones. However, anyone who follows football knows you could watch an entire Raider game and see only a handful of balls thrown in Asomugha’s direction. He doesn’t limit opposing receivers; he locks them down to the point they’re irrelevant.
Unlike many shutdown corners (ehh emm, Deion Sanders), Asomugha can also tackle. Better yet, he actually likes to tackle. Watching cornerbacks dance around contact is all too common in the NFL today. Asomugha is refreshing. There’s no hesitation when it comes to getting involved and blowing up a block or making a tackle. The Eagles have lacked Asomugha’s aggressiveness and pedigree at the corner position since Troy Vincent left. It’ll be nice to see a cornerback tackle again.
1. Darrelle Revis
Similar to Asomugha, Darrelle Revis isn’t given many opportunities to make plays. In some regards, it’s a curse to be as good as Asomugha and Revis. Quarterbacks don’t even bother looking in their direction anymore. I’d assume the lack of activity gets boring. Revis made 26 tackles in 2010. Some NFL corners make that many tackles in half a season. He isn’t a pansy corner, either, so it’s not as if Revis is dodging contact. He likes to hit people. Unfortunately, there’s no one to hit if the guy you’re covering isn’t sniffing the football.
Both Revis and Asomugha are unquestionably the best cornerbacks of the last decade (apologies to Champ Bailey). In fact, neither should be considered a lockdown corner any longer. “Eliminators” would be more appropriate.
Devin McCourty – It took a single year for McCourty to establish himself as one of the NFL’s premier corners. Becoming an All-Pro your rookie year is hard enough. Putting on an encore that doesn’t disappointment is even harder.
Asante Samuel – I’m not overly excited about this one. Sure, to most NFL fans, Samuel is regarded as a great corner, and that recognition is mostly deserved. After all, he’s at or near the top of the NFL in interceptions every season. Unfortunately, Eagle fans also know Samuel won’t tackle, mentally disappears at times, and bites on the double move Every. Single. Time.
Leon Hall – Maybe I’m crazy, I don’t know, but tell me Leon Hall wouldn’t be a perennial Pro-Bowler if he played just about anywhere but Cincinnati. (Waiting…whistling…twiddling my thumbs…) You can’t. I watch a lot of Bengal games (don’t ask), and Hall is one of the best corners in the NFL. It’s a shame Cincinnati blows, because Hall deserves more recognition than he’s getting. I’m just glad I’m expanding his national exposure to my 1.4 readers. No need to thank me, Leon.
Brian Dawkins Division
1b. Ed Reed
If you hadn’t noticed, I’m not including a third player here. The NFL safety position belongs entirely to two men from the rugged AFC North. Until one of them retires or falls off the wagon, I feel it would be disrespectful to include another player on the same list.
Ed Reed, it seems, is always battling some sort of injury. To his credit, though, he always seems to make his way onto the field. And, even when injured, he always has an impact. I’ve never seen a safety close on an interception faster than Reed, nor have I seen a safety transform into an All-Pro running back once the ball is in his hands. Needless to say, he’s a special player. Unfortunately for us, our time with Ed Reed is fading, so enjoy the long strides, devastating blows, and remarkable interceptions while you still can.
1a. Troy Polamalu
While I would have loved to stick it to Steeler fans (possibly the most annoying fans in sports), I ultimately chose Polamalu over Reed simply because he has a little more left in the tank. (Or so I think.) Although he’s been hampered by nagging injuries, Polamalu is every bit as important to the Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger or James Harrison, if not more. Need proof? Watch tape of the 2010 Steelers. When at their best, Polamalu was healthy and terrorizing opposing offenses. Later in the season and in the playoffs, it was clear he wasn’t 100%. The Pittsburgh defense suffered. I’m not saying the Steelers would have won title #7 had Polamalu been healthy, but losing the best defensive player in the NFL is a hefty loss.
Two other things about Polamalu: 1. He always seems to make the biggest play in the game; great hands on an interception, a back breaking return, or blowing up a 3rd and short with the game on the line. Whatever it is, it’s always Polamalu doing the damage. 2. He plays at one speed. As it did to Bob Sanders, reckless abandon will probably shorten Polamalu’s career, but players that go all out on every play are fun to watch. His corny, over-the-top Head & Shoulders commercials? Not so much.
Nick Collins – Charles Woodson garners a lot of the attention when it comes to Green Bay’s secondary, but Collins is equally important to the standout play of that unit. In fact, some have argued Collins is the linchpin in that defense.
Eric Berry – I purposefully recorded Kansas City games last year to watch Berry. Sure, he looked confused at times, but watching him deliver the wood was worth the price of NFL Ticket.
Adrian Wilson – I feel like he’s been around forever. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in 2011 considering he’ll be playing with a torn bicep.
Brian Dawkins – I don’t care what you say. As long as the man is on an NFL roster, he’ll be on my list.