The NFL’s best: A Detroit News series
Tim Twentyman/ The Detroit News
Ninth of 13-part series ranking the best NFL players at each position
The NFL’s transition into a passing league has made cornerbacks one of the most important players on the field.
“I think it’s the quarterback first and the defensive back second,” former safety and current NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots told USA Today.
Offenses have gotten complicated and are incorporating so many weapons, that defenses without a gifted corner or two are playing from a disadvantage.
A corner that can shut down half the field and take an offense’s No. 1 receiver out of the game is a defensive coordinator’s dream.
Interceptions don’t accurately measure a cornerback’s effectiveness, either. The truly talented corners don’t get thrown at enough to make an impact with interceptions.
So, taking into account those standards, there are two lockdown corners that stand above the rest: Darrelle Revis (Jets) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders, free agent).
Revis is so good, his real estate on the football field has been coined “Revis Island.”
Receivers rarely get off Revis Island.
Calvin Johnson (Lions) and Andre Johnson (Texans) combined for five catches and 45 yards against Revis last season.
Despite finishing last season with no interceptions and 10 pass breakups, Revis was a unanimous choice to start the Pro Bowl, and earned all-Pro first-team honors.
At only 25, it’s amazing to think Revis might only be reaching his prime.
As for Asomugha, the Raiders couldn’t afford his $16 million price tag, so they voided the contract in January.
With his production — eight interceptions for the Raiders in 2006, teams got wise and stopped throwing at him (three the next four years) — Asomugha will be inundated with calls when free agency opens.
He’ll likely become the richest cornerback in history.
The Lions’ situation at corner is up in the air.
Chris Houston was the most consistent performer last season, but says he’ll test the free-agent market.
Alphonso Smith started 10 games on the right side last season and led the team with five interceptions.
But his confidence seemed to waiver toward the end of the season, especially after a terrible game against the Patriots on Thanksgiving, when he allowed three touchdowns.
Smith is also coming off shoulder surgery that forced him out of the last four games.
The Lions do have a number of other players who’ll compete for time during training camp, including Aaron Berry, Nathan Vasher, Brandon McDonald, Prince Miller and Jack Williams.
But expect the Lions to be big players in a deep free-agency market.
Top 10 corners
1. Darrelle Revis, Jets: What more can you say about a player who week-in and week-out performers at an all-Pro level against the best receivers? The Jets had the No. 3 defense last season and were No. 6 against the pass, thanks in large part to Revis.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders: The three-time Pro Bowler surrendered a mere 10 receptions last season and didn’t allow a touchdown. He’s right there with Revis among the elite.
3. Charles Woodson, Packers: He’s a jack-of-all-trades for Dom Capers’ defense. He plays corner, safety and rushes the quarterback. A seven-time Pro Bowler, his 92 tackles and five forced fumbles in 2010 were career bests. He’s three interceptions shy of reaching 50 for his career.
4. Asante Samuel, Eagles: The career leader with four postseason interception returns for a touchdown, Samuel allowed 20 completions and one touchdown in 11 games last season. Unlike Revis and Asomugha, teams continue to target Samuel — and he continues to make then pay (36 interceptions the last five seasons).
5. Champ Bailey, Broncos: Bailey continued to be one of the most dominant cornerbacks in 2010, with two interceptions and 13 passes defended. At 32, his 10 Pro Bowl appearances are the most by a corner.
6. Tramon Williams, Packers: Williams certainly benefits from having Woodson on the other side, but he’s a playmaker in his own right. He’s notched 15 interceptions the last three seasons (six in 2010).
7. Devin McCourty Patriots: His biggest accomplishment last season was earning the starting job on a Bill Belichick-coached defense as a rookie. He rewarded Belichick with 82 tackles, seven interceptions (second in the league) and a Pro Bowl nod.
8. Dunta Robinson, Falcons: He was the free agent catch of 2010 — and proved it. Teams stayed away from his side of the field, and teammate Brent Grimes benefited. The pair form one of the best secondary duos in the NFL.
9. Brent Grimes, Falcons: Teams had to pick their poison — pick on Robinson or Grimes? Grimes made them pay when they chose his side of the field. The undrafted corner out of Shippenburg University earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2010, finishing with 87 tackles, five interceptions and 23 pass break-ups.
10. Antoine Winfield, Vikings: Like Bailey, the 12-year veteran is as productive as ever. He’s one of the best at supporting the run defense — he had 91 tackles last year. He also chipped in two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
June 22 Quarterbacks
June 23 Running backs
June 24 Receivers
June 25 Tight ends
June 26 Offensive tackles
June 28 Guards
June 29 Centers
June 30 Safeties
July 1 Cornerbacks
Saturday Outside linebackers
Monday, July 4 Inside linebackers
Tuesday, July 5 Defensive ends
Wednesday, July 6 Defensive tackles