Lockdown, Shutdown, Whatever You Call Them, They ARE Real!

Dec 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) catches the ball in front of Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) catches the ball in front of Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (23) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

You Call them Lockdown, Shutdown – Call it what you will but believe in it!

Detroit saw increasing brilliance this year from cornerback, Darius “Big Play” Slay. When I used the term “lockdown” to describe him, it was met with resistance. No such thing, I was told, lockdown doesn’t exist in today’s game. I call BS. But there could be some truth behind that argument so I did research to find out how corners are measured and who qualifies based on those measurements.

Stats don’t lie, but they sometimes don’t tell the whole truth

This article by Bucky Brooks was exactly what I needed to get started. Take a look and watch the video, it’s worth the time. There were more than a handful of articles posted after this that basically restated the same case, so it’s clear the opinion is popular.

Related Story: Why there are no true shutdown corners

While I agree with the overall analysis, I can’t buy into the conclusion and I don’t think it’s so simple to measure a corner’s worth to their team based on the standard defensive back stats. The prerequisites and assessment of who’s who in the history of the shutdown were a fantastic read. But are the stats provided a fair measure of their talent?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a game is worth half a dozen stats at least. The picture that’s painted is misleading in figuring out who’s lockdown in today’s game. Slay is featured at the top stalking and ready to pounce on Odell Beckham Jr. the minute he catches the ball. Seeing those plays from all corners of the league, I’m not on board with the statement that they just can’t exist anymore.

Who qualifies?

A corner has a big assignment and several duties fall into that assignment. Plus, they have big shoes to fill. The greatest to step into the role without question is Deion Sanders. He was beyond stellar. He didn’t just know the game, he breathed the game, bled the game, and lived the game in every sense. His instinct can’t be taught. Forget the flash and glam and what you read about him off the field, the intangibles are what count. Prime Time’s written stats don’t reflect the man that he was on the field. It was like watching an animal, stalking, hunting, in his element, knowing every move his prey was going to make before they did. Nothing in black and white can show what happened in living color. But no one can be expected to be Deion Sanders, that’s ridiculous. But it’s a jumping-off point.

Versatility is key

Job One-Cover half the field. HALF. It’s daunting, right? But it is the primary requirement to be considered a shutdown corner. Whether that’s across the field or skirting the sidelines, it’s necessary. Tackles and run-stoppage are the defense’s meat and potatoes, turnovers are their bread and butter. So other job requirements include tackles, deflected passes, interceptions, forced fumbles and even sacks. But these aren’t all of the stats that matter.

Corners have to deny their opponents and truly shut down an offense, so count the number of times targeted, touchdowns, receptions allowed, yards after catch, completion % allowed, passer rating and quality of receiver that they’re tasked with covering. It takes a heightened sense of field awareness to master these skills, and only a select few are able to.

Lockdown today, Shutdown tomorrow

A lot of names come to mind when talking about big corners who lockdown a field and shutdown the offense. The list is long, including names like Patrick Peterson, Malcolm Butler, and Janoris Jenkins. Here’s Ike Taylor’s list, which was enlightening. However, a couple of different names belong on that list.

Related Story: Ike Taylor's Year-End CB Rankings

All of these guys should be in this conversation and then some. Janoris Jenkins picked off Aaron Rodgers twice. In the same game. Who does that? It’s not easy to measure without some major research, but take a snapshot of the opponents and the coverage the players provided and you get a pretty good idea of how effective they are. The big thing left out of these analyses are strength of opponent and schedule. That is the sticking point for me. While I agree that finding guys who earn the moniker is a challenge, there are some shining stars that stood out consistently this year. Based on their recorded stats, field presence and strength of opponents and schedules, these are the ones to watch.

Casey Hayward – LA Chargers

If you haven’t watched Casey Hayward, you need to remedy that immediately. He racked up 58 tackles and a league-leading 7 interceptions, including a pick-six. On top of that, he deflected 20 passes, the fourth-highest of corners in 2016, and had a whopping 102 yards. Impressive! While the Chargers finished last in their division, he and the rest of the defense helped keep their hopes alive through the first half of the season. Give Casey Hayward some love.

Casey Hayward Intercepts Jaguars

Chris Harris Jr. – Denver Broncos

Denver’s cornerback tandem is largely considered one of the best in the league. Chris Harris is the better of the two. He had 63 tackles on the year, 57 of those unassisted. His opposing QBR, according to Ike Taylor’s analysis, was 63.3, and considering he faced four of the best QBs in the league today, the numbers are better than they look.

Marcus Peters – Kansas City Chiefs

Year two and Marcus Peters is still making tidal waves. Not only was Peters a consistent playmaker, often spectacular, but the opponents that Kansas City played were the league’s 2016 elite. The AFC West was arguably the most difficult division in football this year,  and week after week, it was handled by Peters with ease, helping his team sweep their division opponents. He contributed 45 tackles, 6 interceptions, a forced fumble and 20 passes defended, good enough to tie with Casey Hayward for third in the league. Clearly, the title of Best in the West is up for grabs in the AFC.

Logan Ryan – New England Patriots

As a member of the reigning SuperBowl Champion Patriots, Logan Ryan was expected to play at an elite level and he did so. He led the league with 92 tackles, and got himself on the board with a sack and a forced fumble, 2 interceptions and 11 deflected passes. New England didn’t have the toughest schedule this year, but winning the SuperBowl bumps his stock up significantly. The 2017 season will give him the opportunity to prove himself yet again.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – NY Giants

The NY Giants had one of the top defenses in the league in 2016, due in no small part to their CB pair, Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins. DRC had a better year because he was everywhere. And this is the only team that handed Dallas and their #1 offensive line its two losses this season. While his 49 tackles don’t seem like a lot, add 21 passes defensed, a sack, a forced fumble and 6 interceptions, and the picture is clear. A third of the QBs he faced this year gave up interceptions to DRC and you can bet that he’ll be on their radar for next year.

Brent Grimes – Tampa Bay Bucs

Tampa Bay ended with a 9-7 record, respectable for this season. Even with the barely above average record, Brent Grimes was able to shine in the Bucs’ secondary with 57 tackles, 4 interceptions, a forced fumble and he was the league leader in passes defensed with 24. He took care of the NFC South and the AFC West. Grimes will likely put up big numbers next year with the Bucs’ schedule.

On their way in 2017

Vernon Hargreaves III – Tampa Bay Bucs

Vernon Hargreaves was solid in the Bucs’ secondary this year and he’ll continue to bookend the backfield with Brent Grimes. His rookie year was pretty amazing, with a monstrous 76 tackles, second only to Logan Ryan. He deflected 9 passes and added an interception and forced fumble to his resume. One to watch in the future for sure.

Stephon Gilmore – Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s defense has definite potential and Gilmore gives them a leg-up. That’s if he returns. He is a free agent this year and likely going to be one of the most sought-after in the league. His stats are impressive, most notably converting his 5 interceptions into first-place yardage at 135. The impending move may put him in a bigger market with some really high-caliber teams, and Gilmore will shine without a doubt.

Darius Slay – Detroit Lions

Give Big-Play Slay his due. He earned his spot on this list because of his finishing skills. Watch a tape and you see him all over the field, which is why he was able to make the huge plays to earn his nickname. His two interceptions closed the book versus Philadelphia and Minnesota and he was competent in covering receivers like Randall Cobb and Larry Fitzgerald. 44 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, 13 passes defended and 2 interceptions might not seem like shutdown numbers on their face, but they show Slay’s ability to be anywhere on the field.

Almost, but not quite

There are a few star corners that make almost every list, but their contributions don’t add up, all things considered. Here are some stars that didn’t shine as bright as some people think.

Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks

Because he makes every list, right? I disagree. The worst division in the league this year was undoubtedly the NFC West. Argue all you like, but stats show it. Aside from the poor performance of the entire division, opponents left a lot on the table as well. A majority of Sherman’s season saw mediocre games against mediocre opponents. But even though the opposition was lackluster, Sherman was still all over the field as usual. And when the biggest game of their season came, Sherman showed up. He had two passes defended in week 6 versus Atlanta, plus deflected a ball to give Earl Thomas an interception. And he was tasked with covering the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones.

Sherman doesn’t rank high on my list, however, because he gets away with too many calls, and the opponents that beat the Seahawks this year were largely unimpressive.

Josh Norman – Washington Redskins

Josh Norman was franchise tagged during free-agency. Then he was dropped. Then he went to Washington and got a pretty good deal. Norman did a decent job of earning his money with 67 tackles and 19 deflected passes, as well as 3 interceptions. He aptly covered receivers the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. These stats might get him into the top ten, but his penalty yardage was high and it skews things enough to drop him. So no, he’s not a lockdown corner this year. Another year in the Redskins defensive scheme gives him a leg up and puts him back on the road to shutdown level.

The Best in the Biz

For my money, these are the big play Corners that earn their paychecks all day long. With the whopping amount of injuries this year during the season, it’s hard to really analyze the full potential of every guy across the league, and there are lots of names left on the table. So next season might see some big players re-emerge or step up into the spotlight, but we can count on these guys to give us all another good show.

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Next: Eight of the Lions' Big-Play Makers