Over the past few years, media folks have taken turns proclaiming several different cornerbacks to be the best in the league: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, to name a few.
But one underrated cornerback is missing from the list, despite being as consistent as most of those players. Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes is proving he belongs in the cloudy discussion of the league's best cover men.
The 5'10", 190-pound Grimes is not the most physically imposing cornerback, yet he manages to cover receivers of all shapes and sizes. His quickness, toughness, footwork, aggressiveness and awareness are what make him one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Week after week, he matches up with the best quarterbacks and receivers the game has to offer. Week after week, he stands tall in the face of that challenge.
|Brent Grimes, 2014|
This season, Grimes is allowing completions at a 56.7 percent clip for 11.6 yards per reception, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He has allowed three touchdowns and has intercepted five passes. PFF credits Grimes with one pass breakup, while the NFL credits him with 11.
Grimes started a little slow by his standards. In the first five games of the season, he allowed 24 receptions (64.9 percent) for 251 yards and two touchdowns and pulled down one interception on 37 throws into his coverage. He put the brakes on fast, and over the past five games he has yielded only 14 receptions (46.7 percent) for 191 yards, one touchdown and has pulled down four interceptions on 30 targets.
As with most good cornerbacks, it's not any one trait that makes Grimes so good, it's his own unique combination of skills.
He won the Week 9 AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his two-interception performance against the San Diego Chargers. He earned the first of those interceptions by diagnosing a post route by Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen.
The Dolphins were in Cover 1 Robber, which is when one safety covers deep while another safety comes underneath to "rob" the intermediate throw. The cornerbacks were in man coverage, and while Grimes had one safety over the top, he did not have his own safety help on the throw. That's not typically a situation when you would normally see a cornerback take a gamble and jump a route.
But Grimes saw something that told him Allen was going to break his route toward the middle of the field. Grimes' ability to quickly read the route and react to it allowed him to get in front of the ball and make the interception.
It's not always incredible displays of athleticism that help Grimes make big plays, though we'll see some examples of that later. He may not be the biggest cornerback, but he may be one of the feistiest.
He got right up in the face of Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson on this 2nd-and-10 pass attempt from inside the red zone. You would assume Grimes getting into a physical matchup with the 6'5", 236-pound Johnson would be like an ant playing a game of chicken with a pickup truck on a highway. Grimes held his own at the line of scrimmage, though, and kept stride with Johnson in his route.
Grimes stayed so tight to Johnson's hip pocket that quarterback Matthew Stafford had to throw the pass out in front of Johnson—way out in front.
Grimes allowed an early 49-yard touchdown catch to Johnson, but he was in stride with "Megatron" all the way down the field.
"He was upset with himself that he didn't make the play, but he's got that fierce competitiveness, that confidence that he was going to go back and make a play," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said of Grimes' performance and response to the early touchdown. "That's what the great players do. He did it and that's what makes him great. I thought he more than held his own, to be quite honest with you."
That confidence—and that short-term memory—is part of what makes Grimes a great cornerback.
Of course, it also doesn't hurt to have a touch of athleticism.
His one-handed interception against Johnson may be the Dolphins' play of the year, and perhaps even the best interception of the year. Grimes started in off coverage of Johnson, who ran a fade route down the left sideline. Stafford saw Johnson in one-on-one coverage and made the decision he's made so many times before: Throw it up to the big guy and see if he can make a play.
The safety was too far away to do anything about it, so it was truly up to Grimes to make sure the pass didn't reach its destination.
He kept his hips open to the line of scrimmage but turned upfield before Johnson got past him, thus allowing Grimes to have better positioning on the ball. He ran downfield and basically became a receiver on the play, tracking the ball in flight and adjusting to it as it reached its destination.
He then did what good receivers do, attacking the ball at its highest point by snaring it over his head.
He may be 5'10", but he looked 6'2" on this play. The fade route is one of the most difficult for a defensive back to cover, but Grimes made it look easy.
|Brent Grimes, career by the numbers|
There were concerns after an Achilles injury brought an end to Grimes' 2012 season, and at his age, it was not a stretch to think it could inhibit his athleticism—and thereby his NFL longevity. Those were likely among the factors that led to his departure from the Atlanta Falcons and also what led to him only receiving offers for one-year, prove-it contracts in the 2013 offseason.
But he proved it.
Thus far in a one-and-a-half-year stint with the Dolphins, Grimes has shown no signs of slowing down. If anything, he looks even better than he did in his Falcons days. That may have more than a little to do with the Dolphins' ferocious front four, which generates pressure at a fierce clip (30 sacks ranks third in the NFL, 7.5 percent sack rate ranks sixth).
In that sense, Grimes' style is a perfect fit for the Dolphins. With so many errant throws created by the pressure up front, the defense greatly benefits from having a ball-hawking cornerback in the secondary.
If Grimes continues to play at his current level, he could be a key contributor in the Dolphins' first run to the playoffs in six years.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained via Pro-Football-Reference.com and all quotes obtained via team news release.