There are so many accomplished cornerbacks hitting free agency this offseason. While Nnamdi Asomugha will be the ultimate prize and Champ Bailey will be popular with playoff teams looking for a two season boost, Johnathan Joseph is possibly the most valuable player on the table.
Joseph and Leon Hall have made a dangerous cornerback tandem in Cincinnati for the last few seasons. However, with both their contracts coming up at about the same time, the Bengals may be forced to choose which they want to lock up to a long-term, expensive contract.
Hall is the better athlete, has been the better of the two recently, has less of an injury history and no character red flags (Joseph was arrested for marijuana possession in 2007). This means that Joseph will enter the free agent market with little chance of returning to the Bungles.
Joseph is one of the best young cornerbacks in the league. He is 26 years old and has had no major injuries in his career. He is super fast (4.31 40) and possesses top notch ball skills. He rarely drops passes and can make spectacular athletic plays to take the ball away from receivers. Once he gets hold of the ball, he is also a dangerous returner in the mold of Ed Reed. Joseph commits himself to supporting the run and can get off blocks thrown by smaller wide receivers easily.
He is only 5'11", but has a big vertical jump, which allows him to cover larger receivers ably. His hips are not the most fluid, but they bend enough to allow him to turn and use his speed to recover lost ground. This makes him hard to compete against, especially when throwing deep.
In 58 starts over five seasons, Joseph has recorded 14 interceptions, 272 tackles, two forced fumbles and 76 defended passes (1.31 per game).
Joseph would have a really positive effect on the Lions defense as a whole. Because he is only 26 years of age, he should be able to play for the Lions for another five or six years (one contract). His speed allows him to cover deep threat wide receivers as well as anybody.
For as long as I can remember, the Achilles' heel of Detroit's defense has been its inability to stop deep passing plays. Last season, even with an effective pass rush limiting the damage, they still allowed nine passing plays over 40 yards (18th). The addition of Joseph would lower this to acceptable levels for a playoff defense.
With Joseph providing better coverage against the deep bomb, Louis Delmas, their star safety, will be free to play a less conservative defensive game. He could shorten his drop and assist in the run game. He would also have more freedom to try to read the receivers routes and take more risks under cutting routes to try for interceptions.
The added freedom for Delmas, and Joseph's athletic abilities and sure hands should improve the number of interceptions recorded by the Lions from the 14 (19th) they grabbed this season.
The relationship between the pass rush and the coverage is symbiotic. If coverage is superb, then the offensive line has plenty of time to fight away from blockers and record sacks and hurries. Likewise, if the pass rush is very good, then the secondary needs to cover receivers for less time, therefore less completions. There is also the bonus of more interceptions from hurried passes.
The Lions defensive line, led by Ndamukong "Silverback" Suh, has been very good, but the signing of Joseph, or any elite cornerback, would allow them more time to get to the quarterback.
Joseph will be a valued free agent due to his skills, track record and age. However, any franchise that wishes to take the high ground and follow the "Patriot Way" is likely to steer clear because of his aforementioned arrest. This cuts the number of teams bartering for his services.
He would be the ultimate prize for a rebuilding defense with a weak secondary. That sounds an awful lot like the Lions, doesn't it? Mayhew and Co. will go after him with all they have got.
Odds of being in Honolulu blue in 2011: 65 percent
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