3 Reasons Why Shutdown Cornerbacks Are Becoming Less Valuable
The term "shutdown cornerback" tends to get thrown around loosely, but when it comes down to it, there just aren’t many guys you can leave on an island against the Calvin Johnsons of the world.
Although cornerbacks continue to be one of the more heavily drafted positions, spending a first-rounder or investing big bucks in free agency on a shutdown corner isn’t the best way for a team to devote its resources.
Let’s take a look at three reasons shutdown cornerbacks are becoming less valuable in today’s NFL.
High Price Tag
For half a decade, Nnamdi Asomugha was considered the best cornerback in the game.
However, after the Philadelphia Eagles signed the four-time All-Pro to a staggering five-year, $60 million contract, the stakes got a whole lot higher.
Unfortunately for Asomugha and the Eagles, that investment looked like a flop in year one.
Although some of Asomugha’s struggles fall on the defensive scheme, it was troubling to see how lost he looked compared to his usual stellar play. The former Oakland Raider struggled to adjust playing across from another high-priced corner, Asante Samuel, who was traded to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason.
One doesn’t have to look any further than Samuel, who owns perhaps the stickiest pair of hands and sharpest instincts of any defensive back not named Ed Reed, to see what the price for interceptions costs.
After starring for the New England Patriots for five seasons, the brash pick-master signed a six-year, $57 million contract with the Eagles.
Beyond long-term contracts, retaining the services of a top corner is costly business. For 2012, the franchise tag number for cornerbacks was an eye-popping $10,281,000 (via theredzone.org), just third behind defensive ends and quarterbacks.
Investing that type of money in one player, particularly one who might only snag a few picks if he’s lucky, just isn’t worth that cash.
Not even Darrelle Revis can do much if quarterbacks don’t throw in his direction.
The game’s one and only shutdown corner is often relegated to becoming an onlooker when quarterbacks don’t even attempt to toss the ball near No. 24. That means that as much as he can be a game-changer, he can also be a non-factor.
That’s no knock on Revis, but rather a sign of respect and intelligence by offensive coordinators. Why risk a pick six when you can attack the defense’s No. 2 corner or slot guy?
As dominant as the Jets’ top corner plays, he often has limited opportunities to make plays because offenses don’t afford him that chance.
Nnamdi Asomugha often got that same treatment during his days with the Oakland Raiders. Despite being a terrific man-to-man corner, opponents respected and feared Asomugha so much that he only recorded three interceptions in his last 60 games in Oakland.
While a quarterback is involved in the offense in some capacity on every play, clever scheming can help remove a shutdown quarterback from the equation.
With the emergence of pass-catching tight ends and slot receivers, a defense needs multiple cornerbacks, not just a shutdown cover guy, to stop opposing offenses.
Instead of investing a first-round pick on a corner, it can be beneficial for teams to take a couple of mid-round defensive backs who have the versatility to play as boundary corners, in the slot or at safety.
Looking at the past five drafts, there’s a solid case to be made that teams have fared better by taking corners later in the draft than on the first day. In 2008, five corners heard their names called in Round 1, but none of them have become consistent Pro Bowlers.
Despite his talent, Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner Aqib Talib’s off-field issues have stained an otherwise promising career. Mike Jenkins of the Dallas Cowboys once looked like a good player but could be on his way out, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was one of many Philadelphia Eagles who underperformed in 2011.
The 2009 draft’s best cornerback lasted until the third round when the Baltimore Ravens took Lardarius Webb out of little-known Nicholls State.
Joe Haden has the makings of becoming the next shutdown corner, but his first-round peers from 2010 haven’t panned out like the former Florida Gator.
Kareem Jackson has been a massive disappointment in Houston while Devin McCourty went from rookie Pro Bowler to sophomore bust. The New York Jets’ Kyle Wilson hasn’t made a name for himself, either.
While the past two drafts have some intriguing guys like Patrick Peterson, Jimmy Smith and Morris Claiborne, it’s tough to say whether any of these guys—or maybe all three—will turn out to be shutdown corners.
When teams find guys like Terrell Thomas and Brandon Flowers in the second round, or steal a guy like Richard Sherman or Jason McCourty in the late rounds, it proves good scouting can help maximize value.
Having Darrelle Revis definitely makes you a better football team, but with the rising cost of cornerbacks, and with offensive coordinators avoiding them, the value of shutdown cornerbacks is slowly dwindling.
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