Through Week 7 of the 2013 season, cornerback Orlando Scandrick is the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive MVP. That’s a bold statement and one that many likely figured impossible prior to the season, but the truth is that Scandrick has been playing excellent football for quite some time.
After the 2012 season, I provided Scandrick with the highest grade of any player on the Cowboys. I also listed him as a top-10 player in Dallas. As a cover man, he was absolutely sensational in the slot in 2012 and even better in 2013.
Let’s take a closer look at the Cowboys’ most underrated player.
Scandrick hasn’t gotten much credit over the years because, due to the position he plays, he doesn’t get a lot of interceptions or even make a ton of huge plays. With just four career picks, Scandrick is hardly Deion Sanders.
But in terms of airtight coverage, Scandrick is one of the best in the business. He’s been targeted 41 times in 2013, allowing 26 completions (63.4 percent) for 217 yards (5.29 YPA). Those are outstanding numbers, but they don’t do Scandrick justice.
One of the problems with grading cornerbacks on a per-completion or per-attempt basis is that they don’t get any credit for not getting targeted at all. For years, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha ranked low in YPA, according to Pro Football Focus, but he was so rarely targeted that it didn’t tell the whole story.
That’s why I prefer to grade cornerbacks with yards per route—the number of yards they allow per route that they’re in coverage. That corrects for the “Asomugha effect,” rewarding cornerbacks for quality coverage.
In 2008, for example, Asomugha allowed only 0.36 yards per route, with the second-place cornerback checking in at 0.58. The next season, Asomugha was at 0.59 yards per route and second place was at 0.77. In 2010, he was back down at 0.46 yards per route. It was really amazing considering there aren’t even 20 cornerbacks in the NFL in 2013 who’ve allowed less than a yard per route.
Well, this is where Scandrick checks in this season in yards per route.
He’s ranked comfortably inside the top 10 in the NFL at 0.73 yards per route. Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis ranks first. You can see that Scandrick is ranked well ahead of Brandon Carr, who is still in the top 20, and Morris Claiborne, who ranks in the bottom 15 percent.
Part of the reason that we don’t often give Scandrick the credit that he deserves is that, when he’s doing his job, we don’t even realize it. Yards per route captures that.
The truth is that when Scandrick is at his best, his film is pretty “boring” to watch. He’s either not getting targeted or playing with such airtight coverage that quarterbacks end up throwing incomplete. Since last season, Scandrick has allowed 46 completions on 80 attempts—a 57.5 percent completion rate that’s unbelievable for a slot corner.
Nonetheless, using NFL Game Rewind, let’s take a look at what Scandrick does so well on the inside. Early in last week’s win over the Eagles, Scandrick was lined up in the slot over wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
He was in a press position in which he appears to feel most comfortable. Even when he doesn’t completely press, Scandrick is at his best when he can mirror wide receivers right off of the line as opposed to playing with ‘off’ technique.
At five yards, Scandrick got physical with Jackson and really disrupted his route. Quarterback Nick Foles, who was looking Jackson’s way, was forced to roll out of the pocket.
As Jackson moved up field, Scandrick undercut his route so that Foles couldn’t hit him while scrambling. It was an intelligent move on Scandrick’s part because, as you can see, he had safety help over the top. This is something that Scandrick does so well, knowing when he can play aggressively underneath and when he needs to back off.
Later in the game, Scandrick was lined up over wide receiver Jeff Maehl.
The Eagles set up a screen to Maehl, but Scandrick read it all the way. He was just a few yards off of Maehl when Foles released the pass.
Moving away from the coaches’ film and back to the broadcast tape, you can see Scandrick hit Maehl as the ball arrived. That’s the kind of play you’d expect from a cornerback who recorded a 4.32 40-yard dash and 1.46 10-yard split.
If Scandrick isn’t the Cowboys’ defensive MVP, who is? Here’s his competition in 2013.
CB Brandon Carr
Carr could theoretically be considered competition for Scandrick with his two interceptions and 24 tackles, but the yards per route numbers suggest that the slot cornerback gets the edge.
DE DeMarcus Ware
Ware is always in the MVP discussion. Still, he managed just four sacks in his six games, putting him on pace for only 10 sacks on the year, assuming he doesn’t miss another game. He’s also been just average against the run.
LB Sean Lee
With 71 combined tackles, Lee ranks third in the NFL in solo stops and 16th in assists. He’s on pace for over 160 tackles. He also has two picks, including one that he returned to the house.
DT Jason Hatcher
In my view, Hatcher is Scandrick’s primary competition for defensive MVP. He’s been good against the run with 25 total tackles and a terror against the pass with 20 pressures and six sacks. He’s really stepped up for the Cowboys when they’ve needed to generate a pass rush.
Despite the competition, Scandrick has to get the nod as the Cowboys’ defensive MVP, for two reasons. First, he’s playing as well as almost any player in the NFL at his position. That alone will get you in the conversation.
Second, he plays arguably the most difficult position in football other than quarterback. In the slot, Scandrick has a much more challenging job than the other cornerbacks because he can’t use the sideline to his advantage. He needs to play wide receivers “honestly,” incapable of using the sideline as an extra defender. He also needs to make tackles in the open-field and, because of the nature of his coverage, he’s never going to have a lot of interceptions.
Ultimately, Scandrick is a great example of why stats can be useful. He’s just not the type of player who’ll get much coverage because, when he plays well, it will generally go unnoticed by the casual observer. But using advanced metrics like yards per route, we can fully grasp Scandrick’s dominance to see that, through seven weeks of the 2013 season, he is indeed the Cowboys’ top defensive player.