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06 Jun 2013

Best Cornerback Charting Stats 2012

by Rivers McCown

As is becoming our custom, we want to apologize for us taking so long to post these. This year we worked hard to review all the game charting and get the data as accurate as possible, but that also delayed things a bit. We're working double-time behind the scenes to complete the book and upgrade our website, which is why content has been scarce and the player pages have not yet been updated with 2012 data and 2010-2012 similarity scores. Hopefully we'll be able to make those updates soon.

As usual, the typical caveats about the game charting apply: This is imperfect data based on the game charting project, which means it comes off limited television camera angles, and it is charted by a group of volunteers plus a handful of FO staff members. Sometimes a cornerback will benefit because he happens to be in coverage when a quarterback throws a bad pass, even if he wasn't covering close. Sometimes a cornerback will benefit from a better pass rush, because it's easier to cover when you don't need to cover for six seconds. As we always say, these stats should not be seen as absolute statements on player value. They're just part of the story.

These tables rank all cornerbacks with at least 40 charted passes. As we do with the cornerback charting stats in the book and on the player pages, we've removed passes marked as Hail Mary, Hit in Motion, Tipped at Line, or Thrown Away. We've also removed wide receiver screens, which aren't really a good way to measure cornerback coverage because a cornerback in man coverage is going to (or at least, is supposed to) immediately get blocked out of the play by another wide receiver.

Because of this year's delay in posting the stats, we at least are able to provide you with our most accurate numbers. These stats have been analyzed to give half-credit on plays where we list two defenders in double coverage, or where we listed DEFENDER1 as "Hole in Zone" but also list a specific defender as responsible for that zone. We also have both actual numbers and the metrics adjusted for the quality of receivers each cornerback had to cover.

Pass interference is included, although no other defensive penalties are included. With defensive pass interference, the defender flagged is almost always the player who was in coverage on the intended receiver; with illegal contact or defensive holding, the flag often comes far away from where an actual pass may be thrown.

We'll start with the cornerbacks who allowed the fewest yards per pass according to our game charting.

Top 10 Cornerbacks in Yards/Pass, 2012
Defender Team Passes Tgt% Rk Yd/Pass Rk Suc% Rk PYD YAC Rk Adj Yds Rk Adj Suc Rk Rec
Robert McClain ATL 56 14% 69 4.7 1 63% 3 9.5 2.9 33 4.4 1 64% 3 32
Casey Hayward GB 65 14% 72 5.0 2 70% 1 11.0 2.8 32 5.6 5 67% 1 26
Brandon Browner SEA 64 19% 36 5.5 3 61% 10 13.6 2.5 15 5.5 3 61% 7 30
Captain Munnerlyn CAR 62 14% 71 5.6 4 54% 31 9.1 3.7 59 5.4 2 56% 23 32
Corey Graham BAL 43 10% 86 5.7 5 62% 5 12.9 3.0 37 5.6 4 62% 6 22
Antonio Cromartie NYJ 84 21% 18 5.7 6 61% 7 15.2 2.6 21 6.2 10 60% 10 33
Carlos Rogers SF 80 17% 46 5.8 7 51% 48 9.6 2.9 36 6.3 14 51% 47 48
Chris Harris DEN 62 15% 61 6.0 8 56% 25 9.9 3.7 61 6.4 15 54% 31 33
Antoine Winfield MIN 69 15% 63 6.0 9 54% 35 9.0 2.3 9 5.9 8 50% 54 38
Brandon Flowers KC 74 21% 17 6.1 10 62% 6 12.9 3.3 49 5.7 6 62% 5 34

As was the case in 2011, this list is a list of nickelbacks that had great seasons with two or three starting corners mixed in. It's become clear over the last couple of years that these cornerback charting numbers are very inconsistent from year to year, particularly for nickelbacks but also for starters. There is the Asante Samuel run, yes, but other than that it intuitively seems like the cornerbacks who come out best in our metrics are inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. This is definitely something we need to look at. Are cornerbacks more consistent if we were to compare two-year spans rather than one-year spans? Is there something we can do to change the way we chart in order to better get consistent numbers?

Take, for instance, the 2011 version of this list. How many repeaters are there in the top 10? Zero. There are two people who make two top-10 lists if we include the 2010 stats, and one of them isn't the New York Jets cornerback you'd expect.

During Antonio Cromartie's first stint on the list, in 2010, the thought was something like "Well Darrelle Revis' shadow improved the entire scope of the team's pass defense." That probably is true, but what's also true is that Cromartie improved noticeably in the second half of 2011, as you saw if you clicked the link to those stats. So, really, we are talking about a cornerback who has spent two-and-a-half seasons playing like an absolute star, statistically. That's an interesting twist for a guy who is primarily known on the Internet for being the butt of every child support joke the unwashed masses could come up with. Cromartie was finally selected to his second Pro Bowl this year, but does that happen if Revis never gets hurt?

Beyond Cromartie, the other three cornerbacks that were oft-targeted are guys generally regarded as either stars (Brandon Browner, Brandon Flowers) or close enough to one for the benefit of the doubt (Carlos Rogers). Then there's the cadre of slot cornerbacks, led by their patron saint, and the other player who's made multiple top-10 lists, Antoine Winfield. Winfield had a phenomenal season in our charting, is a terrific defender against the run ... and couldn't even get $2 million guaranteed this offseason.

So basically, we have these fancy advanced statistics. They tell us that six of the best 10 seasons by yards per target came from guys who play inside, and the best of those guys, Winfield, got a one-year deal for $3 million. Yes, he's old. But this isn't a rarity. Brice McCain ranked second on the yards per pass list last year, and though he had a down 2012 season (46th in success rate), he should still be considered one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league, right? He signed a three-year deal worth $5.25 million. Casey Hayward spent time outside once injuries accumulated for the Packers, but he played extremely well in the slot. Are the Packers willing to put him outside if they lose a couple of yards per play?

That's an interesting dichotomy to me, because it suggests a place where statistical output and scouting input do not intersect closely at all. We are being told that slot cornerbacks are more important than ever, but they certainly haven't been valued that way. (Or, at least, they haven't been valued that way at contract time during offseasons where players have thrown the "collusion" term around and the Cowboys and Redskins were muzzled.)

Robert McClain, by the way, looks to be the 2012 version of Brice McCain. McClain was a seventh-round pick who couldn't make it with Carolina or Jacksonville before Atlanta picked him up before last season. Given the small sample size, there's a reasonable possibility that McClain's 2012 season was fluky, and an even more likely possibility that his skills in the slot wouldn't necessarily translate in a starting role.

Next, we'll look at the top cornerbacks in Success Rate. Success Rate, to remind everyone, is the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down.

Top 10 Cornerbacks in Success Rate, 2012
Defender Team Passes Tgt% Rk Yd/Pass Rk Suc% Rk PYD YAC Rk Adj Yds Rk Adj Suc Rk Rec
Casey Heyward GB 65 14% 72 5.0 2 70% 1 11.0 2.8 32 5.6 5 67% 1 26
Greg Toler ARI 40 15% 65 6.3 15 65% 2 15.7 3.9 68 6.2 9 66% 2 14
Robert McClain ATL 56 14% 69 4.7 1 63% 3 9.5 2.9 33 4.4 1 64% 3 32
Tony Carter DEN 58 14% 68 7.0 33 63% 4 15.4 3.6 56 6.7 24 63% 4 25
Corey Graham BAL 43 10% 86 5.7 5 62% 5 12.9 3.0 37 5.6 4 62% 6 22
Brandon Flowers KC 74 21% 17 6.1 10 62% 6 12.9 3.3 49 5.7 6 62% 5 34
Antonio Cromartie NYJ 84 21% 18 5.7 6 61% 7 15.2 2.6 21 6.2 10 60% 10 33
Richard Sherman SEA 88 20% 27 6.7 22 61% 8 14.0 3.1 45 7.1 30 61% 8 36
Asante Samuel ATL 71 18% 44 7.6 49 61% 9 13.8 3.4 52 7.3 37 61% 9 35
Brandon Browner SEA 64 19% 36 5.5 3 61% 10 13.6 2.5 15 5.5 3 61% 7 30

So the Broncos employ Champ Bailey, and Tony Carter, and Chris Harris. Yet they still found space to bring in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie after his dismal year. How does he fit in with them? Is he just the next Tracy Porter? Look, there's Asante Samuel, making his yearly visit to this article!

Finally, for fun, let's take a look at YAC.

Top 10 Cornerbacks in YAC, 2012
Defender Team Passes Tgt% Rk Yd/Pass Rk Suc% Rk PYD YAC Rk Adj Yds Rk Adj Suc Rk Rec
Josh Robinson MIN 69 15% 64 6.8 26 45% 73 10.9 1.6 1 6.8 27 45% 74 46
Cary Williams BAL 93 21% 15 8.2 62 42% 80 13.5 1.8 2 8.0 58 44% 79 56
Josh Norman CAR 79 18% 42 8.9 71 41% 82 12.0 1.9 3 8.3 69 42% 80 50
Champ Bailey DEN 71 16% 54 6.8 24 59% 15 13.7 2.1 4 6.6 20 59% 13 37
Ike Taylor PIT 72 21% 11 6.1 12 60% 13 15.1 2.1 5 6.4 16 56% 20 28
Dimitri Patterson 2TM 55 19% 35 6.1 11 48% 66 10.0 2.1 6 6.3 11 48% 63 31
Joselio Hanson OAK 46 12% 80 9.0 74 43% 78 10.1 2.1 7 9.2 77 45% 75 35
Nolan Carroll MIA 73 16% 55 7.6 47 46% 71 12.5 2.2 8 8.1 63 44% 77 39
Antoine Winfield MIN 69 15% 63 6.0 9 54% 35 9.0 2.3 9 5.9 8 50% 54 38
Chris Culliver SF 74 16% 57 7.2 38 54% 32 14.2 2.4 10 7.5 42 55% 27 39

We've never made much of a deal about the best cornerbacks in preventing yards after the catch. These numbers are not here to tell us deep and meaningful things, but to add some color to the results. Ike Taylor, Joselio Hanson, and Champ Bailey have all been in the top 10 for YAC allowed in two of the last three seasons.

Tomorrow: The worst cornerback charting numbers of 2012.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 06 Jun 2013

23 comments, Last at 06 Oct 2013, 2:22pm by Peter Harrison

Comments

1
by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 12:41pm

"Looking forward" to seeing exactly how many of Tampa's corners appear in the bad CB play article.

8
by Andy G (not verified) :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 6:40pm

Since the Eagles ranked dead last in pass defense DVOA, I'd expect them to "lead" the way!

2
by bernie (not verified) :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 1:09pm

I'm predicting Cassius Vaughn is going to make the top three.

3
by Peregrine :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 3:02pm

Just want to check on Tgt%. That's the passes thrown to the player's coverage assignment divided by the number of passes thrown against the defense, or something of that flavor, right?

And what the tables above don't make clear is why the Falcons used their top two picks on CBs. The plan was to replace Dunta Robinson and prepare for life after Asante Samuel. If Robert McClain can keep it up at nickel, all the better, but the brain trust doesn't seem to think that he can be moved to an outside role.

4
by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 3:33pm

Given the obviously large dependence the secondary has on the rest of the defense's ability to generate a pass rush, I find it unsurprising that the cornerback charting numbers exhibit high variability. I wonder if it would be possible to create a composite cornerback stat that combines cornerback success rate with either adjusted sack rate or otherwise adjusts success rate based on the length of time between the snap and the quarterback's release. A similar adjustment based on the number of defenders in coverage vs. on the line might also be beneficial. Not sure if the game charting project already captures this data.

5
by Perfundle :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 3:43pm

Even that has its problems, though. A 3-second pass rush on 1st-and-10 after play-action, with the quarterback comfortably protected, is quite a different situation from a 3-second pass rush on 3rd-and-11 from shotgun, with the quarterback heavily pressured. In addition, the DBs in the first scenario are probably peeking into the backfield in case of a run, and are more likely to be out of position.

6
by dcaslin :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 5:10pm

I knew Corey Graham had a good season for a random FA pickup, but, #5? Wow

12
by TomC :: Sat, 06/08/2013 - 12:35pm

Yeah, the (now-departed, Lovie-Era) Bears' brain trust gets lots of nice words for grabbing Tim Jennings off the scrap heap, but you think they might have also noticed the guy that was already on their team. On the other hand, Graham never looked comfortable when they threw him in the mix at corner, so maybe he just had an epiphany somewhere between Chicago and Baltimore.

13
by TomC :: Sat, 06/08/2013 - 12:36pm

[double post deleted]

7
by Subrata Sircar :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 6:06pm

The first question we should ask is not "Why aren't the numbers consistent?", but "Should the numbers be consistent from year-to-year?". Given the large set of disclaimers we have to add to any of these numbers, there's no reason to think that those disclaimers aren't the dominant factor in the variability of the results.

How well do the "sum" of the individual numbers correlate with adjusted sack rate and DVOA? If those correlate and are consistent from year to year, then the inconsistency is likely tied to teammate interactions and play in other phases of the game (like pass rush, offenses faced, and so forth).

9
by Brendyn (not verified) :: Thu, 06/06/2013 - 8:54pm

In the article you mention how nickel corners seem to be undervalued relative to their rankings. I don't disagree with that but I think it's also a function of the fact that a guy covered by the nickel is much more likely to be targeted short than the guy on the outside. I think if we looked at a players success rate in preventing receptions of all lengths the names might be closer to the top paid corners in the league.

10
by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 06/07/2013 - 10:37am

There does also seem to be some more consistency in success rate. There's a fair overlap between this year's list and last year's, but none with 2010.

11
by Will Allen :: Sat, 06/08/2013 - 9:01am

Antione Winfield, at a very advanced NFL age, is still a damned good corner. I know the Vikings were pressed for cap space, and he is starting to get nicked up with greater frequency, but they might have been better served by not allowing a team with money to spend to get a crack at him.

14
by DragonPie (not verified) :: Sat, 06/08/2013 - 1:12pm

As a Broncos fan, I definitely have mixed feelings about the signing of Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. Chris Harris and Tony Carter definitely played well last year and I'm afraid that he'll end up taking them off the field more often. I was really hoping for a signing of a safety which I guess kind of happened with the signing of Quentin Jammer.

I was happy when I heard that the Broncos told DRC that he would have to work on his mistakes to live up to his potential and that the Broncos developed Chris Harris and Tony Carter makes me hopeful that they can coach him up.

15
by Kayla Antle (not verified) :: Tue, 06/11/2013 - 6:51am

Glad to know these stats are analyzed to offer half-credit on plays wherever we have a tendency to list 2 defenders in double coverage, or wherever we have a tendency to listed DEFENDER1 as "Hole in Zone" however conjointly list a particular defender as to blame for that zone.

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16
by tenkev (not verified) :: Tue, 06/11/2013 - 4:04pm

What about using an expected target %, actual target %, yards/pass and expected yards/pass to come up with a composite ranking?

The corner lined up on a particular receiver who average 10 targets a game at 9 yards per target who holds him to 3 target and 10 yards per target has done a good job and most likely forced the qb to throw to a worse option.

Basically a DVOA/target and a total DYAR statistic derived from this data is totally do-able.

17
by coremill :: Wed, 06/12/2013 - 12:51pm

Well to me the obvious reason that nickelbacks and slot corners post the best numbers is that they're rarely covering the offense's #1 or even #2 receiver. And a possible source of the inconsistent year-to-year numbers could be an NFL version of the Peter Principle: really good nickelbacks and slot corners tend to get promoted to being starting CB on the outside, where a) they face better receivers, and b)they may be less competent. Is there a way to adjust for this?

Also, I haven't charted it like you guys have, but from watching a lot of Niners games the past two seasons, Carlos Rogers plays outside when SF is in base defense but frequently covers the slot guy when SF plays nickel, especially against teams with elite slot receivers like NYG/Victor Cruz (although that would be an exception to the "slot CB usually covers a weaker receiver" theory).

18
by johnbchitown (not verified) :: Fri, 06/14/2013 - 1:21pm

I like what coremill says about the level of competition, but I also wonder if there is a differential between outside corners and slot by down.

Is it possible that the nickelbacks have a higher success rate on third down because they are covering the check down who is thrown the ball on 3rd and 15 once Matt Stafford has confirmed that the other team hasn't left a 5' 8" rookie one on one with Megatron?

You guys have probably already looked at this, but it was just a thought.

19
by eaglesfan2541 :: Sat, 06/22/2013 - 3:05am

Where do you get the number of targets? I've been looking everywhere for them

20
by Jerry :: Sun, 06/23/2013 - 2:03am

"This is imperfect data based on the game charting project, which means it comes off limited television camera angles, and it is charted by a group of volunteers plus a handful of FO staff members."

21
by ABouwkamp (not verified) :: Fri, 06/28/2013 - 1:24pm

Based on these stats Seattle is really stacked now. Sherman, Browner and Winfield. What a dream set of corners. Wow.

22
by clipping path (not verified) :: Sun, 07/28/2013 - 9:26pm

this was a really quality post. In theory I'd like to write like this also - taking time and real effort to make a good article... but what can I say... I procrastinate alot and never seem to get anything done... Regards

23
by Peter Harrison (not verified) :: Sun, 10/06/2013 - 2:22pm

The combination of "Sherman, Browner and Winfield" make the difference, seriously talented.

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