In 2011, New York Giants fans were certainly fearful that rookie first-round pick Prince Amukamara was headed down a path that would label him a bust. The cornerback out of Nebraska broke his foot one day after signing his first pro contract, and he struggled while playing only 144 snaps in seven games that season.
But with the rest of the defense in shambles, Amukamara took what looked like a big step forward in his second NFL season, outplaying No. 1 corner Corey Webster and emerging as New York's best cover man.
The Giants defense ranked 31st in the league in yards allowed, though, so that's sort of like being the best hockey player in Brazil or the best basketball player in Iceland.
So how good was Amukamara really?
He certainly wasn't a playmaker. The 23-year-old forced just one turnover in 13 games, matching his total from his rookie season despite being on the field for 600 extra snaps.
But in terms of sheer coverage, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him 49th among the 113 cornerbacks who played at least 25 percent of their teams' snaps in 2012. He allowed completions on only 52.4 percent of the passes thrown his way, which ranked 19th among the same group, while opposing quarterbacks had a combined passer rating of just 74.5 on those throws, placing Amukamara in the top 25 in the category. And finally, on a per-snap basis, only eight corners gave up fewer completions than he did.
Did it help that he didn't have to face a lot of No. 1 wide receivers? That might have been a factor. For instance...
- In Week 3 against Carolina, Webster struggled a tad with Steve Smith, while Amukamara completely shut down the significantly less talented Louis Murphy.
But good coverage is good coverage, and he did a great job closing on Murphy after giving some extra pad on this fourth-quarter deep pass...
- In Week 4 against Philadelphia, Webster was beaten five times by DeSean Jackson, while Amukamara gave up only a single catch against the slightly easier Jeremy Maclin.
In the third quarter of that close game, Amukamara did an incredible job staying with Maclin on two separate moves within the the same route. The blanket coverage forced Philly to settle for a field goal...
However, Maclin got revenge in Week 17, making Amukamara look silly on a seven-yard touchdown catch...
- In Week 8 against Dallas, Webster surrendered four catches to Dez Bryant, while Amukamara gave up three receptions on eight attempts against Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree.
And had he not committed pass interference on this third-quarter deep ball for Austin, it could have been a rough day...
- When Amukamara earned some reps against top-flight wideout A.J. Green in Week 10, he gave up three receptions on three targets (although one was for a three-yard loss). He was also the closest man in coverage when Robert Griffin III hit Pierre Garcon on a game-clinching completion in the fourth quarter in December.
All in all, it was a solid season, but you can see that there's room for improvement. That's to be expected when a guy has only 11 career starts under his belt and has yet to turn 24.
So we still don't know how high Amukamara's ceiling is. Sometimes, he looks slow, and other times, he looks lost. But he flashed technique and instincts in 2012 that led you to believe he'll continue to flourish in his third season, even if he continues to have growing pains with matchups against top wideouts looming.