While it’s the slow time between OTAs and training camp, let’s continue looking back at how Cleveland fared position by position in 2009.
This time, we’re going to take a look at the cornerbacks.
Often left on an island trying to cover a bigger WR, cornerbacks have a rough job. The receiver knows his route, his QB knows his route, but the cornerback has no idea what’s coming.
He’s also not allowed to touch the player after five yards and is routinely flagged for huge chunks of yardage—sometimes unjustifiably.
While viewing the rankings of Cleveland’s cornerbacks in 2009, you’ll see some stats that will boggle your mind. Take what you thought you knew about the Browns secondary, crumple it up, and flush it down the toilet.
Note—Rankings are out of 107 CB’s with at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps to qualify.
This was the most surprising stat out of any position on Cleveland‘s defense. Not only did the CBs not do that bad, they actually did pretty well in comparison to other three-man CB groupings in the NFL finishing in the top ten overall when combining all the numbers. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
Mike Adams did amazing as a CB with positive rankings in every statistical category after moving from safety. He might have found his niche at CB, finishing in the top 18 out of 107. He had a decent amount of snaps at CB, so it’s not like it’s a very small sample size.
More surprising, was Eric Wright’s low rating. Most people thought he had the best season out of Cleveland’s CBs, but it was actually the exact opposite.
Eric Wright did have a down year in comparison to 2008 when he finished ninth overall out of 114 CBs. It’s difficult to tell if Eric regressed as a player or if he needs more help back there, but something was wrong last year.
Wright played great on a horrid defense in 2008. He went through a coaching staff change plus a team rebuild last year, and it’s not exactly like he’s rapidly aging either. Right now, I lean towards the notion of him needing more help, and you’ll see why when you see the Browns safety ratings for 2009.
Again, not what we all thought. In terms of pass-coverage in the NFL, the Browns had two CBs in the top 26, and all three in the top 41 out of 107.
It’s easy to be swayed by simplistic, vague stats like total passing yards given up by a defense. The first position people tend to blame are the cornerbacks, but this is not always the case.
Yards Per Completion (The average number of yards per completion in the player’s coverage)
Mike Adams—30th (11.0)
Eric Wright—87th (13.9)
Brandon McDonald—102nd (17.2)
This was their major downfall in overall coverage—the deep ball. Brandon McDonald had another awful season in this category as he bested his below-average total from 2008, when he gave up 13.4 yards per reception and finished 84th out of 114 in this category.
We know that they’ve all been burned deep in the past, but nine times out of 10, who should you look to first when it comes to covering the deep pass? Here’s a hint…it’s not the CBs.
It’s true that they’re at fault to some degree, but it should be noted that when you see a trio of CBs that have great overall ratings in every single conceivable area of coverage except covering the deep pass—there is usually no one else to blame but the safeties.
Percentage Caught (The percentage of receptions completed into the player’s coverage)
Brandon McDonald—7th (48.5%)
Eric Wright—16th (52.8%)
Mike Adams—71st (64.4%)
Great statistical percentages with a lot of snaps played between the three of them. As a tandem, Wright and McDonald were the third best in the NFL in this category behind the Jets and the Packers' tandems.
The NFL average last year for cornerbacks was around 62 percent.
Touchdowns Given Up
Mike Adams—1st (0)
Brandon McDonald—33rd (2)
Eric Wright—33rd (2)
In coverage, the Browns CBs only gave up four TDs all year, giving them the second best trio of CBs in this category behind only Washington.
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Mike Adams—28th (8)
Eric Wright—28th (8)
Brandon McDonald—47th (6)
Pretty good overall, as all three were in the top 47. Mike Adams also played about half the snaps (512) compared to Wright (1,106) and McDonald (910) and still did just as well, or better than both of them.
If you double Adams’ snaps (1,024) and assume he’ll also double his defended passes, he’d have a total of 16; tying him for second in the NFL behind Darrelle Revis. It almost never works out like that, but it’s interesting to think about.
Not good numbers whatsoever. Wright did fairly well, but McDonald and Adams were extremely poor. In total cornerback INTs team by team, the Browns only finished better than St. Louis (0), Houston (1), Pittsburgh (2), Buffalo (3), Detroit (4), and Oakland (4).
You heard it here first, Brandon McDonald was by far the best pass-rushing CB in the league. He tied for first in the league with two sacks, and eighth overall in QB hits. Mike Adams also did really well in his time at cornerback.
Mike Adams—1st (6)
Brandon McDonald—8th (3)
In about half the snaps of Charles Woodson, Mike Adams matched him in QB pressures, tying him for first in the NFL. That’s pretty impressive.
Against the Run
Right around the top-middle of the league. Not bad at all, but not amazing.
For comparison’s sake, Darrelle Revis was the highest ranked Jets CB against the run at 54th behind both Adams and McDonald, and barely ahead of Wright. The Jets were also the fourth ranked overall defense; maybe your CBs don't have to be good in run support.
Eric Wright—18th (58)
Brandon McDonald—42nd (45)
Mike Adams—63rd (36)
Overall, that’s above-average production. But, like I said, how many total tackles do you really want your CBs to have?
Early in the offseason, the Browns made a splash in the trade market, landing Sheldon Brown from Philadelphia in a multi-player deal. Cleveland then signed him to an extension for three years worth $15.25 million, meaning he’ll be a part of the secondary for the next few seasons.
Selecting Joe Haden seventh overall in the draft led many to believe that newly acquired cornerback Sheldon Brown would be moving to safety. That is, until Cleveland spent their next draft pick on safety TJ Ward. Things became even murkier after Cleveland spent a fifth round choice on another safety from Nebraska named Larry Asante.
Now that Abram Elam is also back in the fold for this season, it’s safe to say that Sheldon Brown will be staying put at cornerback—at least for now.
The secondary has received an injection of youth, and also a solid veteran leader in Sheldon Brown who hasn’t missed a game in his entire career. In fact, he hasn’t missed a game since the sixth grade.
The type of secondary Cleveland has now assembled is quietly becoming very versatile. Last year, the Browns roster lacked physical cornerbacks who could play the bump and run.
With the additions of Haden and Brown, Mangini now has the ability to mix and match any type of CBs he wants on the field at any given time.
Want two cover corners? Insert Wright and McDonald.
Feel like jamming the WRs at the line of scrimmage? Enter Brown and Haden.
The overall depth at cornerback is much better than a year ago, allowing more competition during training camp, as well as insurance in case of injuries.
Mike Adams and Sheldon Brown are two versatile, veteran cornerbacks who can also play safety in a pinch. If Ward and Asante aren’t quite ready to start game one, either one of these guys can hold down the fort for a while. Their versatility is what could earn them both significant playing time.
If you look at total tackles by CB from top to bottom, you’ll see that a large number of the cornerbacks with the most tackles played on bad teams. Here’s the order of those teams:
Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Carolina, Pittsburgh, NY Giants, Chicago, Indianapolis, Arizona, Denver, Oakland, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota, Cleveland, Houston, and Atlanta.
Do you see a trend with these results? I do. 15 of these 20 teams missed the playoffs and six of the teams drafted in the top 10. What these stats tell us is if your cornerbacks are making a lot of tackles, chances are you are not a playoff team.
Eric Wright finished second out of all CBs in total snaps played with 1,106. When sorting all CBs by snaps played, you’ll see that just about all of the guys with the most snaps actually had the lowest ratings.
Simply put, the more snaps you play at CB, the more opportunities you have to fail.
Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright played the fifth most combined snaps out of any CB duo in the NFL.
My closing thought has a major theme; “contract years”.
Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald are both in the last year of their contracts. Combine that with Elam signing his one-year tender, and the Browns have a lot of question marks in the secondary after this season.
With the landscape of free agency, there are no guarantees that Wright or McDonald will return next year.
They all might get better deals somewhere else. Then what would be left with if Cleveland hadn’t gone after Brown, Haden, or Ward? I cringe at the thought and so should you.
No one in the front office or coaching staff wanted to play Russian roulette with the secondary, especially since it was viewed as such a problem last year. They decided to nip it in the bud now with a little veteran leadership and promising youth for the long haul.
Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald will either play harder and become long-term fixtures for the team, or they'll move on somewhere else next year. If that happens, Cleveland is ready.
Hank Poteat played 77 snaps at CB with a negative rating in every category but one, and Coye Francies played 15 snaps with average results.
Similar Articles by Writer
All rankings are based from profootballfocus.com . Stats don’t tell the entire story, but they do reveal a lot and these stats are about as close as you’re going to get in terms of judging a player’s overall season—position by position, game by game, and play by play.