NFL Predictions: Tramon Williams and the 5 CBs Who Will Dominate 2012
Other than quarterback, a true lock-down cornerback may be the most impressive position on the football field.
Their job is simple: line up across from the other team's best wide receiver, shadow his every move, and make him a non-factor. Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets has been the league's premier cover man for several years now, grading out as the NFL's top cornerback in 2011.
"Revis Island" has been a lonely place for the league's best wide receivers, and few cornerbacks have been able to mirror Revis's level of consistency from year-to-year. For that reason, Revis will not be included in this list.
Revis is on a level of his own.
Looking ahead to 2012, we can expect the usual suspects to maintain their position among the NFL's elite. In both the 2010 and 2011 season, Antoine Winfield, Joe Haden, and Brandon Flowers have graded out as top 10 cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus.
Like most years, several newcomers will rise to the occasion and play at a Pro Bowl level in 2012, while others will bounce back to their old form after a disappointing 2011 campaign.
Consistently great players such as Darrelle Revis will certainly be expected to play at their normal elite level, let's take a look at a few cornerbacks who hope to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season and dominate in 2012.
1) Tramon Williams, Green Bay
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The Williams Profile
Ht / Wt: 5'11", 191 lbs.
Career: 20 INT (6 seasons)
Playing alongside future Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson, Williams has developed into the Packers' top cover man. Although Woodson is a savvy veteran, who uses his intelligence and extensive film study to make impact plays on a weekly basis, defensive coordinator Dom Capers relies on Williams to cover the opposing team's best wide receiver.
In 2010 the Packers ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up only 3,107 yards through the air; however, 2011 was a much different story. Green Bay fell from fifth in the league to dead-last in the NFL, giving up 4,796 passing yards.
Nick Collins, who was lost for the season in week two against Carolina, was a big reason for Green Bay's defensive downfall. On top of Collins being sidelined, Williams played hurt all season, and the Packers' defense suffered.
Although he refused to let his injury keep him out of the lineup, Williams's shoulder was clearly less than 100 percent last season, to the point where he was unable to bench press 30 pound dumbbells. Heading into 2012, Williams is in much better physical condition and appears poised to have a dominant 2012 campaign.
2) Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia
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The Asomugha Profile
Ht / Wt: 6'2", 210 lbs.
Career: 14 INT (9 seasons)
Last season's top free agent, Nnamdi Asomugha, surprised many when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Although he's long had the reputation of being a physical, lock-down cornerback, Asomugha's production declined dramatically last season.
After grading out as the league's 24th best cornerback in 2010 with a plus-4.2 grade, Asomugha fell to 90th in the NFL last season with an overall rating of minus-7.2.
Asomugha, and the rest of the Eagles defense, struggled mightily under the lead of new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. In a surprising decision to some, Castillo was retained as the team's defensive coordinator for 2012. Towards the end of last season, Philadelphia's defense began playing much better as a unit.
The Eagles hope their defense will continue to take a step forward heading into 2012 with a year of experience under their belt. Asomugha was asked to play a variety of different positions within Castillo's scheme, and he'll likely feel more comfortable in his role this season.
It would appear that the Eagles defense is ready to enter the 2012 season with a head of steam, and Asomugha will get back to his usual elite level of play prior to 2011.
3) Brandon Flowers, Kansas City
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The Flowers Profile
Ht / Wt: 5'9", 187 lbs.
Career: 13 INT (4 seasons)
Although he doesn't receive as much publicity as some others at his position, Brandon Flowers has become one of the NFL's most consistent defensive backs.
In each of the past two seasons, Flowers has graded out as a top 10 cornerback according to Pro Football Focus. Headed into 2012, much of the attention in the AFC West is focused on the return of Peyton Manning and his move to the Denver Broncos.
With the Chiefs now facing Manning twice a year, Flowers's presence will be even more important to Kansas City than in years past. He'll certainly be asked to cover Denver's top wide receiver, whether it's Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas remains to be seen.
The man who formerly lined up on the other side of Flowers, Brandon Carr, left Kansas City to sign with the Dallas Cowboys, but the Chiefs will replace him with former Raiders CB Stanford Routt. Routt figures to be a formidable replacement for Carr, and he'll certainly benefit from having an All-Pro on the other side in Brandon Flowers.
As has been the case for the past several seasons, Flowers's dominance should bloom again in 2012.
4) Joe Haden, Cleveland
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The Haden Profile
Ht / Wt: 5'11", 190 lbs.
Career: 6 INT (2 seasons)
Despite playing for the Cleveland Browns, a team not well-known for defense, Haden has consistently played at an elite level in his first two seasons as a professional.
After being selected seventh overall by the Browns in the 2010 NFL Draft, Haden started seven of 16 games as a rookie. In his first year in the NFL, Haden grabbed six interceptions and graded out as the sixth-best cornerback in football according to Pro Football Focus—quite the accomplishment for a rookie.
Although he didn't register a single interception last season, Haden again ranked in the league's top 10 cornerbacks.
In the same division as talented receivers A.J. Green, Mike Wallace and Anquan Boldin, Haden is a vital piece to Cleveland's defense. If 2010 and 2011 are any indication, Haden appears ready to have another dominant season in 2012.
5) Johnathan Joseph, Houston
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The Joseph Profile
Ht / Wt: 5'11", 191 lbs.
Career: 18 INT (6 seasons)
Despite being overshadowed by fellow cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in last summer's free agency period, Johnathan Joseph overshadowed Asomugha on the field in 2011.
It had previously been said that the Texans' offense was a 12-win unit, while their defense was a four-win unit, and that's why they always ended up around .500.
However, 2011 was a much different story. Houston's defense saw a dramatic improvement under the eye of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and Joseph was a big reason why.
The offense continued its usual high level of production, while the secondary went from being the 30th best pass defense in 2010 to the third-best in 2011. Houston had the second-best defense in football in terms of yards allowed, and the fourth-best unit in terms of points per game.
Suddenly, the Texans look like one of the most complete teams in football, and they certainly have the attention of the rest of the NFL. Look for "J-Jo" to become a household name after another dominant 2012 campaign.