When you think of elite cornerbacks in the National Football League, the name Nnamdi Asomugha is probably not the first name to pop-up in your head.
Names such as Champ Bailey, Asante Samuel, Charles Woodson, Marcus Trufant, and Antonio Cromartie are definitely more likely household names. But, in the last three seasons, Asomugha has proven he is up there with the rest of the top corners in the NFL. And, he might just be the best.
Asomugha was drafted 31st overall in the 2003 draft by the Oakland Raiders. He had to make the transition from free safety, the position he played in college, to cornerback.
In 2004, Asomugha was promoted to starter in the mid-season, and started all 16 games in 2005. He amassed 60 tackles and led the team with 14 passes defensed in his first year as the full-time starter.
In 2006, Asomugha started becoming a force on defense. He was tied for third in the league in interceptions with eight, including returning one for a 59-yard touchdown. He had 50 tackles and led the team once again with 19 passes defensed. Despite his excellent season, he was only a Pro Bowl alternate.
In 2007, quarterbacks began to realize that it was a mistake to throw the ball to Asomugha's side of the field. Only 35 balls were thrown his way all season, and he allowed only 10 completions that season. That was an average of only 2.1 passes thrown to his side a game.
By comparison, Champ Bailey was thrown to 63 times last season and 37 of those balls were completed. That means about 59 percent of the balls thrown his way are completed, compared to Asomugha's 29 percent.
An NFL scout told ProFootballWeekly.com that "Asomugha has been thrown to less times than any other corner I've seen in the last 10 years." Again, Asomugha was only named a Pro Bowl alternate.
Before the 2008 season, the Raiders put the franchise tag on Asomugha but were unable to negotiate a long-term deal. Asomugha signed a one-year deal worth $9.7 million.
So far in 2008, the trend has been that an opposing team's top receiver does not fare well against the Raiders because they have to go up against Asomugha. Note that many of the catches and yards come from plays when Asomugha was not covering the receiver.
- Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons Season low in yards. Five catches, 54 yards, zero touchdowns;
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers Worst game of the season and possibly of his career. Asomugha was his shadow the whole game. One catch, nine yards, zero touchdowns;
Laveranues New York Jets Four catches, 51 yards, zero touchdowns;
- Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills Four catches, 65 yards, zero touchdowns;
Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers Three catches, 52 yards, zero touchdowns;
- Ted Ginn Jr., Miami Dolphins Four catches, 51 yards, zero touchdowns;
- Derrick Mason, Baltimore Ravens Worst game of the season. One catch, three yards, zero touchdowns.
Recall that last year, Asomugha had 35 passes thrown his way. This season, he is on pace for nowhere near that number. Through Week Six, Asomugha had only one ball thrown his way in each of those games, except against the Kansas City Chiefs, who threw a whopping two balls sent in his direction.
New York Jets Coach Eric Mangini said, "The low total of passes headed Asomugha's way is a sign of respect. The reasons for leaving him alone are twofold: one, because Asomugha is that good, and two, when quarterbacks do look his way the receiver is usually covered and they go somewhere else."
Asomugha keeps a spiral notebook in which he records everything that happens in all of his games. He wrote at the beginning of the season, "Don't get lazy because they don't throw to you." Self-motivation to never take a play off.
The Raiders have begun playing Asomugha at safety in some formations with the idea of getting him an interception (and because regular starter Michael Huff has played horribly).
The Raiders go up against the Broncos this week, and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan had some words for Asomugha this week. "He is the most underrated football player, to me, that I have ever been around. For people not to talk about him as the top corner in the NFL, along with Champ Bailey, to me, is a crime."
"The people that throw at him usually get beat," Shanahan said. "He's not going to be challenged, but he plays 100 percent on every play. He plays the run, he plays the pass, the guy is a competitor. He's the most underrated top player in the game—I can't say the history of the game because I haven't been around here that long—but I can say in my 25 years, he is by far the most underrated player."
Shanahan continues—"I've never met him but I'm going to shake his hand after the game because I keep on looking for him but I never get a chance to talk to him. He's one of my favorite players, even though he is with the Raiders. That shows you how much I like him."
With Asomugha a free agent after this season, is Shanahan trying to get an early start on negotiations? It will be interesting to see where Asomugha ends up after this season. A true shutdown corner is one of the most sought after positions in the NFL, with only a handful of teams actually having one.
Asomugha could cash out after this season and finally escape from the black and silver disaster that is Al Davis' Oakland Raiders.
I just hope he can get enough respect to make the Pro Bowl this year.