Janoris Jenkins: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

JanorisJenkins copy

He’s not superman yet, but Rams fans certainly hope he will be someday.

Writers of all kinds are always looking for the perfect story. In sports, the perfect story needs two things: a star player and controversy.For that reason, some thought they had hit the jackpot during the 2012 NFL draft. Typically draft coverage centers around the stars at the top, with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III that was the case in 2012, but there was one player who ultimately went in the second round who was a writer’s dream.

On the field, analysts saw him as a superstar, off of it, reporters could constantly point to different aspects of his college life that could be perceived as controversial. Whether it was for his family life, his drug usage, his multiple arrests or his dismissal from the Florida football team, Janoris Jenkins was put under more scrutiny than any other 2012 draft prospect. That scrutiny was enough to push him down in the draft, but his talent was such that he wouldn’t be allowed to fall too far. Unlike Justin Houston, who fell from the first round to the third previously, Jenkins’ talents kept him close to the first round as he went 39th overall.

Just as he had done with Adam Jones, Jeff Fisher took a chance on Jenkins and looked to use him extensively during his rookie season. In fact, Jenkins would start from Week 1 and play 15 games during his rookie year.

Although Morris Claiborne and Stephon Gilmore were taken early in the first round, much of the talk during the season was about Jenkins. Obviously his story off the field created intrigue that carried over into the regular season, but Jenkins also had a nose for finding the football, which put the spotlight on him regularly. He announced himself with an interception early on in his first game against the Detroit Lions, before later returning his three other interceptions for touchdowns and recovering a fumble against the San Francisco 49ers for a touchdown.

Timing was huge for Jenkins. His first touchdown shaped his early season perception, while making the biggest play of the Rams’ biggest game of the season made most presume that he had played that way all season long. Alas, turnovers don’t determine how good a defensive back really is. Unless of course they can create many more than the four that Jenkins did and on a year-to-year basis. Continue reading

Keenan Lewis: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Keenan Lewis broke out for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, but this year he’ll be back in New Orleans with the Saints.

Keenan Lewis’ ascension to a starting role with the Pittsburgh Steelers took much longer than the team expected it would after taking him in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft. Lewis played exclusively on special teams as a rookie and even at that he was rarely on the field. It’s not uncommon for rookies to sit on the sideline for Dick LeBeau’s defense, but more development is expected of players entering their second seasons. That development wasn’t reflected in playing time, as Lewis played 43 snaps all season long.

It wasn’t until his third year that the former Oregon State star found a worthwhile role with the defense. Listed behind William Gay and Ike Taylor on the depth chart, Lewis was technically the fifth defender in the Steelers’ nickel defenses, but he didn’t play the typical role of a nickelback. On third downs and in passing situations, Lewis came onto the field and played across from Taylor, while Gay moved inside to cover the slot. Lewis showed flashes, but for the most part was an inconsistent player lacking the full focus and discipline that was expected.

It was quickly looking like the Steelers had wasted that third round pick. Lewis was taken in the third round with Mike Wallace and Kraig Urbik. Urbik gave the Steelers nothing because they cut him before he could even start a game, whereas Wallace quickly established himself as a star from Week 1. Lewis appeared to be completing the set. Wallace the star, Urbik the bust and Lewis the average role player.

Alas, even though it took him three years to find a starting spot on the team, the Steelers would quickly be reminded of why they took the defensive back that high in the draft. At 26 years of age, Lewis would take over Gay’s starting spot after he left to sign with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. He would play outside in base defense and outside in nickel packages, while Cortez Allen took over Gay’s role inside. Early struggles had some worrying, but as the season progressed, so did Lewis. His play appeared to be a steadying influence for the rest of the Steelers’ team, because he was so consistent from snap-to-snap.

Lewis, Taylor and Allen gave the Steelers a new breed of rangy, physical cornerbacks who could play press coverage. Something they hadn’t had in previous years. Continue reading

Antonio Cromartie: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Did Antonio Cromartie come out of Darrelle Revis’ shadow last season?

With the regular season being dominated by the hype machine that is Richard Sherman and the off-season dominated by the drama machine that is Darrelle Revis, it’s easy to forget about the New York Jets(yeah, that felt as weird writing as it did reading) and where they go from here. The Jets drafted one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft this year, Dee Milliner, but Milliner isn’t even a guaranteed starter at this point, never mind a Revis replacement.

Instead, the responsibility of replacing Revis will fall on seasoned-veteran Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie is a 29-year-old cornerback who has accrued seven seasons of football for his career so far. After an up-and-down few years with the Chargers, the Jets acquired him in a trade during the 2010 off-season.

During his first two seasons with the Jets, Cromartie appeared to play with more consistency across from Revis. With Revis following the opposition’s top cornerbacks on a regular basis, Cromartie was able to take on lesser assignments with more help. He never reached the peaks of his career, the 2007 season in San Diego when he had 10 interceptions, but his all-around game was beginning to flourish at a point when many thought it wouldn’t.

Up until this past year, Cromartie was happy to play second fiddle to Revis and accepted the benefits of playing that role gleefully. However, once Revis tore his ACL, his brash confidence made itself known. Cromartie took it upon himself to lead by example and took over Revis’ role as the top cornerback both on and off the field.

There is no doubt that he faced tougher challenges and even though the perception of his play was that of an improved player, to really understand how Cromartie handled the Revis role we must dive into the extensive film that is available from the 2012 season. Continue reading

Pre Snap Read’s Tier 1 Cornerback Rankings/Roundup

Is Richard Sherman the best cornerback from the PSR positional series?

This is a long article, there are nine contributors combining on this piece, but don’t be put off because it has been cut into sections so you can pick and choose what to read at any given time. If you are familiar with PSR’s Defensive Back Series, you can skip the next paragraph, but if you have stumbled on this piece as an unknowing new reader, then welcome and I hope you enjoy the previous articles.

I recently carried out a cornerback analysis series with the All-22 NFL tape. Because I was looking to provide in-depth analysis, I watched every single snap from the player’s season and compiled the data under comparable criteria. However, because I am not an analytics analyst, never have been-never will be, the analytics part of my articles was just one piece. The whole article involved analytics, tape analysis and an overall judgment on the player. In short, I wanted to provide context from all angles. You can find the process explained at the beginning of every individual article.

Returning readers, first I must say thank you all for reading and putting up with my lack of brevity. Secondly, I’m going to capitalize this just to be clear THIS IS NOT THE END OF CORNERBACK ANALYSIS’ ON PRE SNAP READS. There will be more and they should come relatively soon, but it is a long off-season and there is value in looking at other positions. I’ve had many requests for different players and always welcome discussion about who you all want looked at, but I will compile that list when I get back to thinking about cornerbacks in a week or two.

Now onto this beastly article(of which I wrote very little and take next to no credit for). One thing I’m very proud about when it comes to this website is the context and variety that has been put in every article. For that reason, it only made sense to bring in even more context and even more variety with a plethora of other writers. Some you’ll already know, some you should already know. Each writer graciously agreed to present a player for me as I ranked them. I am very grateful for their participation and even more impressed with the work they produced.

Let’s be clear on this too: I ranked the players, the guest writers only presented them and had no input about where they ranked(so abuse me about your favorite team’s player). I chose not to include Carlos Rogers. I didn’t feel his play was worthy of an 11th or 10th spot on this list, because it would imply that he was within touching distance of the other cornerbacks. I suspect he is somewhere close to the 20th or 30th ranked cornerback in the league instead of the top 10, if even that. Continue reading

Champ Bailey: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Champ Bailey’s 2012 season is only remembered for one game.

While the rest of the NFL world has been engulfed in Tim Tebow’s future with the New England Patriots, I have spent my time looking back at a long-time Denver Broncos’ superstar who played a major role in his initial success in this league.

Champ Bailey has an unrivalled list of accolades from his 14 year career in the NFL. He was a member of the NFL’s all decade team for the 2000s, has 12 Pro Bowl selections, three first team All-Pro selections, four second team All-Pro selections, led the league in interceptions during the 2006 season and was the youngest player to intercept three passes in one game. The longevity of his career alone is praise worthy, while his statistical prowess is incredible.

He has gone from consensus All-American in College to a career that will make him a consensus hall-of-famer.

Yet, since the 2012 season came to a close, none of that has been associated with the cornerback. A final performance of the season in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens is all that lives in the minds of NFL fans. Bailey was exposed as a too old, too slow cornerback on the national stage when young receiver Torrey Smith beat him for big plays repeatedly. No matter what he had done for the season before, his weak displays against the Broncos would condemn his reputation to that of a former superstar who helped another franchise on their journey to the Super Bowl.

He, like Nnamdi Asomugha, was living off of his reputation it seemed. He just hadn’t been exposed because of Peyton Manning, a weak schedule and the fact that the Broncos had one of the better pass rushes in the league. At least, that’s what the narrative said. The analysis on the other hand, now that’s a completely different story… Continue reading

Johnathan Joseph: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

He only missed two games, but Johnathan Joseph could have missed many more games last season.

It’s not fair to use Johnathan Joseph’s 2012 season as an example of his talent or as a way to compare him to the other elite cornerbacks in the NFL. While playing for the Houston Texans last year, Joseph was continually battling with injuries and missed two games during the regular season because of those issues.

His determination to play through the pain and lack of comfort was very admirable, but his product on the field was undoubtedly affected by his physical limitations. Still, defensive coordinator Wade Philips still thought highly enough of Joseph’s overall ability to trust him in his usual role for the team. There was no special plan to try and hide Joseph in the secondary. He wasn’t moved onto lesser receivers, in fact he did the opposite.

Even when he was playing notably slower than he is used to, Joseph repeatedly took assignments against the opposition’s top receiver. This was the reason the Texans invested in him and just like he wasn’t succumbing to his health problems, he wasn’t going to let his role change. Joseph followed players such as Brandon Marshall, AJ Green, Jordy Nelson and Demaryius Thomas from sideline-to-sideline and into either slot during the 2012 season.

Every NFL defensive back is athletic, but not every defensive back has the right combination of physical traits to allow them to play in different positions without having to sacrifice something. Most who can’t move around the field find a spot on the field that best fits their skill-set and they stick to it. For example, Brandon Flowers rarely moved from the left cornerback  position, because he excelled to an elite degree in that area of the field, whereas Patrick Peterson did move around, but struggled(in relative terms) lining up over the slot because of his lesser quickness and fluidity. Continue reading

Leon Hall: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

He’s often overlooked, but Leon Hall’s career has reached incredible heights.

Joe Goodberry(@) of SBNation’s CincyJungle and DraftBengals wrote
the introduction to this piece.

Since being drafted 18th overall in 2007, Cincinnati Bengals fans have enjoyed Leon Hall showing up every week, doing his job and doing so at a high level. Consistency, intelligent play and durability has made Hall into one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks and probably the most underrated.

Even in Cincinnati and among Bengals faithful, Hall has been overlooked and questioned. When he and Johnathan Joseph were one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL, Bengals fans weren’t sure who was better. Joseph had the athletic gifts, but Hall never missed a game and played at the same level each week. The debate had relevance because the team would eventually have that same discussion.

After the 2010 season, the Bengals front office had to decide who to build their defense around between the two corners. They ultimately let Joseph walk.

Hall was signed to an extension before the 2011 season and until this point, never missed a game for the Bengals. On November 13th, 2011 in Pittsburgh, he tore his Achilles and was placed on injured reserve the next day. Joseph went on to have his first Pro Bowl season and doubt crept into the minds of everyone. Did Cincinnati make the right choice in signing the corner that always stayed healthy and played sound football over the corner that offered every physical trait you look for, but often battled injuries and had more ups and downs?

In 2012, Hall was declared healthy in training camp and never looked back.

It was rare that his injury held him back, and as the season progressed, Bengals fans saw the same overlooked Leon Hall that they’ve relied on for six seasons. Hall was now covering the slot, outside, defending the run and came up with clutch plays in their two biggest games of 2012.

Hel may not be the Bengals best defensive player, because Geno Atkins is a man amongst boys, but Hall is their leader and the face of the defense. Getting to know him means getting to know Mike Zimmer and the Bengals’ defense. Continue reading

Stephon Gilmore: An Elite Cornerback Lost in the Failings of the Buffalo Bills

Stephon Gilmore needs to get more love for his displays as a rookie.

By exploring every aspect of players such as Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman, this cornerback series has so far unveiled the unknown about players that everyone in the NFL knows about. Even players such as Brandon Flowers, Joe Haden and Carlos Rogers are relatively well-known players in the NFL today, but even though Stephon Gilmore was a top 10 pick in the 2012 draft, he is a relative unknown.

Gilmore was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 10th overall pick last year. Landing in Buffalo was always going to hurt his exposure, despite an off-season full of excitement that ultimately resulted in all-too-familiar disappointment in the regular season. Couple that with the fact that he was the second cornerback, behind Morris Claiborne of the Dallas Cowboys, and third defensive back, when you include Mark Barron to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, taken in that draft, and it’s easy to see why Gilmore wasn’t a Pro Bowl consideration.

Very few defensive backs are Pro Bowl considerations with just one interception in a season, not least a rookie who can’t fall back on an already established reputation. However, the Pro Bowl has increasingly become a flawed process for rewarding players, especially when it comes to defensive backs and offensive linemen. Just because Gilmore didn’t have a Pro Bowl season or win defensive rookie of the year, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last year.

One of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last year, not one of the best rookie cornerbacks in the NFL last year. Continue reading

Joe Haden: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Joe Haden entered the league with a strong reputation and he has done little to disperse it since.

After a college career(can we really call it a career when they don’t get paid?) at Florida that included a SEC Championship, a National Championship, a National Defensive Player of the Year award and being named a Unanimous All-American, cornerback Joe Haden found his way to the Cleveland Browns as the seventh overall selection in the 2010 draft.

Although Haden hasn’t yet joined the 14 Pro Bowl players from the first round of that draft class, he has garnished a reputation as a young superstar at the cornerback position. Being the seventh overall pick in the draft obviously brings with it some notable levels of excitement, but that excitement was cranked up even higher when Haden had six interceptions as a rookie despite starting just seven games.

Haden’s ability to find the football early in his career set a standard that he would be expected to live up to throughout his career. Even though he followed up his first season with no interceptions in his second, the unkown aspects of the position allowed people to overlook his lack of production as a lack of opportunities. Haden’s coverage was good enough that it didn’t set off any alarms for those watching at home or in the stands.

It was a given that Haden was already a top cornerback in the league, he even said so himself. But playing in Cleveland meant that Haden didn’t receive much national acclaim, so some amount of studying is important to understand exactly where he ranks amongst the best players in the league at his position. Continue reading

Carlos Rogers: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Carlos Rogers has been flying for the 49ers since 2011. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.

Since taking over in ahead of the 2011 season, Jim Harbaugh has built his success on turning around the careers of previously overlooked players. Alex Smith was the poster-boy for his success, but to varying degrees each of Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Coline Kaepernick, Dashon Goldson etc etc owe Harbaugh for helping them take new steps in their respective careers.

Harbaugh took over a team with plenty of talent, but he developed that talent and added to it over and over again with astute additions who fit perfectly into his overall philosophy and strategies. Harbaugh’s impact has seen the the 49ers have 16 All-Pro and 17 Pro Bowl selections over the past two seasons.

One of those 2011 Pro Bowlers arrived in San Francisco after Harbaugh, arrived as an unheralded free agent and former top 10 pick who had never reached his potential. Carlos Rogers had spent six forgettable years with the Washington Redskins after being the ninth overall pick of the 2005 draft. He had been a starter in Washington, but not an overly impressive one.

As such, when he hit the open market, the best contract he could find was a one year offer from the 49ers worth less than $5 million. Twelve months later, after six interceptions during the regular season, Rogers signed a four-year $31 million deal. It appeared that all Rogers needed to reach his full potential was a change of scenery.

In Washington, he failed to live up to expectations. He wasn’t impacftul or a difference-maker. In San Francisco, he quickly became an anchor of the secondary it seemed.

At least, it seemed like he did… Continue reading