True "shutdown corners" are few and far between, like truly elite quarterbacks. Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson or Darrelle Revis don't walk through the door every day.
However, in today's parlance, the term "shutdown corner" is a bit watered down.
To me, it means that you can leave that cornerback on an island without safety help against the best receivers in the game and he will not be a liability. Rather, by allowing you to deploy more resources against the rest of the offense, he has become an asset.
Aqib Talib is quickly becoming just that sort of player.
Is Aqib Talib a shutdown corner?
Through five games, Talib has been targeted 28 times. He has only given up 11 catches, giving quarterbacks a 39 percent completion rate when throwing his direction. He's given up only one touchdown—to Robert Woods in Week 1—and has racked up four interceptions.
Those gaudy statistics have come against some of the best receivers in the league. Stevie Johnson, Santonio Holmes, Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green have all seen more of the Patriots' No. 31 jersey than they would have liked to.
Green—arguably the best receiver in the NFL—has had the most success against Talib out of anybody this year. Even so, he was held to four catches and 58 yards—pedestrian numbers for Green.
However, instead of telling what you already know—that Talib is having an incredible season—here are two plays from the Patriots' first loss of the season that show how Talib can take the next step in becoming even better.
Talib (black circle) is lined up in man-coverage against Green while the Patriots look like they are in Cover 1 with Devin McCourty deep. Talib doesn't really have any help on this play and needs to push Green to the sideline to act as a second defender.
Talib loses his leverage and Green crosses his face, opening up the inside slant and an easy completion from quarterback Andy Dalton. If Talib gets a stronger jam and can reroute Green to the outside, it makes the throw that much harder to make, in addition to giving the pass-rushers another split-second to get home.
In a 3rd-and-short situation, the Patriots look to be in Cover 1 Robber with Talib aligned across from Green again.
Green motions tighter to the formation and Talib counters by opening his hips and looking to force Green inside to his help.
Green stems hard up the field, pushing Talib five yards past the line of gain. Talib stumbles slightly and the rest is history. Green breaks off his route, pivots to the outside and has the whole triangle to work unmolested.
Dalton finds Green for the simple conversion. Talib makes matters worse by overrunning Green in pursuit. Green breaks back inside and picks up another dozen yards before being chased down from behind by Talib.
Talib is playing out a one-year, $4.95 million contract with New England. If he continues to perform at this level, he will certainly be rewarded with a rich free-agent contract. If he cleans up some of the few mistakes he has made this year, he could very well break the bank.
The Patriots don't often throw around big money in free agency, but Talib has been a rare difference-maker for this club. If the team feels good about his off-the-field and injury issues, they need to lock him up, just as Talib has been doing to receivers all year long.