Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis utilizes skill, swagger on his ‘Island’


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.

Schedule

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

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John Niyo: Lions might strike lightning with Titus Young


John Niyo

Allen Park — Moments after the Lions drafted Boise State receiver Titus Young in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night, general manager Martin Mayhew called him “a stick of dynamite.”

Not long after, somebody decided to light the fuse on a guy who’s about to become a fan favorite in Detroit, whether Lions fans realize it or not.

He’s been called a poor man’s DeSean Jackson by at least one prominent draft analyst, as the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock compared him to Philadelphia’s dynamic Pro Bowl playmaker leading up to the draft. And not to be outdone, Lions coach Jim Schwartz even referred to him as “DeSean” by accident after responding to a question about that comparison Friday night.

But while that’s a heck of a compliment — and the Lions have been practically penniless when it comes to a No. 3 receiver the last couple of years — Young passionately and playfully took issue with it.

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“I’ve never been another man’s nothing,” he said, laughing. “I’ve always known that I’ve been Titus Young from Day One. My mother named me Titus Demetrius Young. She didn’t name me nothing else. I know who I am and I know people compare you to people. But God made me to be me. He made me to be Titus Demetrius Young. You can compare me all you want to, but I’m no man’s poor man.”

And right there, man, I can tell you this: We in the local media were starting to realize we probably struck it rich with this pick.

Whether or not the Lions did, none of us can say for sure, obviously.

I actually liked the pick — more so than the trade up to snag Mikel Leshoure, though I didn’t have a huge problem with that, either — because it adds talent and addresses a glaring need. (And in case you didn’t notice, Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams combined for a whopping 21 catches last season.)

Sure, there’s more glaring needs at linebacker and cornerback. But the best of the corners were off the market before the Lions picked Friday night. And if you hadn’t noticed by now, this draft class of linebackers is more than mildly underwhelming. (A linebacker from Michigan (!), Jonas Mouton, was a second-round pick.)

Just call him T.D.

Young, meanwhile, is anything but underwhelming. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder plays a little like Jackson, maybe, and in addition to his return ability, he could thrive in that role Schwartz envisions for him helping Nate Burleson help Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, and vice versa. (Where will he play? “Where Calvin’s not,” Schwartz joked.) But he also smiles and laughs eerily like Desmond Howard — Young laughs a lot, too — and he talks a bit like Chad Ochocinco, which isn’t all bad.

But sorry for the interruption, Titus. Please continue that thought.

“Actually, my initials my whole life have been T.D. Young,” said Young, the youngest of five children — and the only boy — growing up in Los Angeles, where his parents, Richard and Teresa Young, are pastors. “So it’s been Titus Demetrius Young — Touchdown Young. So I just feel like football has been me ever since I was born. And now I can go play some more football in Dee-troit.”

He cackled as he put the emphasis on that last part, and he did so often Friday, enjoying this moment for all it’s worth. He even let out a little banshee cry at one point, as he talked about leaving behind the dominant program they’ve built on the Smurf Turf in Boise and joining the Lions, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999.

“The green turf is gonna be a little bit of an adjustment for me,” Young said, “but I know the blue uniforms will keep me at home.”

And fittingly, at least the way Young sees it, Hall of Famer Barry Sanders was the one on the stage Friday in New York announcing his selection for the Lions.

“I know Barry Sanders,” said Young, who had his off-field struggles early at Boise State but rebounded well playing for a no-nonsense coaching staff. “I know a lot about him. He went to Detroit and he wanted to win. His whole thing was about winning. And unfortunately he wasn’t able to win as much as I believe that when I come in we’re going to be able to win.”

All of which brings him back to where he started in a 10-minute conversation that had everyone in stitches, even after he got choked with emotion and broke down in tears a couple of times.

Family ties

It turns out Young has family ties to Detroit, where his maternal grandfather lived. He hasn’t visited since his grandfather passed away in 1998, but he says he’s coming home.

“My roots are actually in Detroit,” Young said, when asked to explain the tears. “It’s just the emotion of I’m actually gonna be back in a family town. That’s my home now. I’m gonna take care of Detroit, and I know they’ll take care of me. And all this emotion is really just all the hard work and all this waiting and all this patience and having faith in the Lord and …”

And then he broke down again, just before he managed to crack another joke about his father being from Texas. (“So he’s probably a little upset I ain’t in Dallas,” Young laughed.)

“But the whole thing is just about winning,” he added. “I feel like we’re all gonna be winners in Detroit. Not just me — the community, the kids in Detroit, they’re gonna know that the Lions are here to stay. We ain’t just no anybody; we’re coming to play.”

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