by Carl Yedor
As promised on Monday, we will conclude our look at cornerback charting stats today with a discussion of some of the worst performing cornerbacks from the 2015 season. Again, here is a reminder about the changes to our charting in 2015. In the past, our charting came from a combination of ESPN Stats & Info data and volunteer charting. In 2015, instead of volunteers, we partnered with Sports Info Solutions to do the portions of our charting that don't come from ESPN, including charting of pass coverage and all the metrics below.
Again, the main statistics we will be looking at today, adjusted for the quality of the opposing receiver:
- Yards per pass, the average yards allowed by the corner when targeted.
- Success rate, the percentage of targets where the corner prevented a successful gain (45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or fourth down).
- Estimated Target Rate, the percentage of possible targets with the corner on the field where the corner was targeted in pass coverage by the opposing offense.
We will again be looking at plays where the cornerback was the primary defender in coverage, leaving out a few types of plays that do not properly reflect a cornerback's ability. These plays include screens, Hail Marys, balls tipped at the line or thrown away, and plays where the quarterback was hit while throwing the ball. The only defensive penalty included is defensive pass interference, and the "possible targets" from estimated target rate leave out the aforementioned omitted plays in addition to passes that were marked "uncovered" or "blown coverage." However, if a play was marked as "hole in zone," the pass play was included.
Traditionally, cornerback statistics are very volatile from year to year, and the best cornerbacks will often have worse results than expected because quarterbacks will be unlikely to target them unless they have already made a mistake. Seventy-five players met our benchmark of either starting eight games or facing 50 passes to be included on the list. One more thing to note: with the number of players ranked, the difference between ranking 50th and 60th is not all that large and is therefore not necessarily an indicator of a huge gap in talent.
In an attempt to partially solve the past problem where nickelbacks frequently ranked much higher than expected in these metrics, we made some changes to the adjustments in the statistics. In the past, adjustments for offensive Team X were done by comparing Team X's No. 1 receiver to all No. 1 receivers, Team X's No. 2 receiver to all No. 2 receivers and Team X's "other" receivers to all "other" receivers. In 2015, we adjusted instead by comparing Team X's No. 1 receiver to ALL wide receivers across the league. Hopefully, this will do a little bit more to penalize corners who only cover slot receivers and boost the adjustments given to corners who primarily cover the opposing team's top receiver.
And now, we will look at the worst players by adjusted yards per target.
|20 Worst CBs, Adjusted Yds/Target, 2015|
|Minimum 8 games started or 50 targets.|
Bringing up the rear for this category was Brandon Browner in New Orleans. This should not come as a huge surprise, given that Browner set the record for most penalties in a season. Only three of his penalties were defensive pass interference, but his general struggles in coverage resulted in an adjusted yards per target allowed of 11.0. If Browner ends up making Seattle's roster for Week 1, the Seahawks will have to hope that a change in role will allow Browner to recapture at least some of what made him a feared member of the Legion of Boom.
Following Browner in the race to the bottom were San Diego's Brandon Flowers (10.6), Indianapolis' Darius Butler (10.4), Miami's Brent Grimes (9.8), and Philadelphia's Byron Maxwell (9.5). This group speaks to the volatility of cornerback stats, given that Browner, Flowers, and Maxwell were all mentioned on the lists of either best primary corner or best supporting corner in 2014.
Maxwell in particular did not transition well from his supporting role in Seattle in 2014 to covering receivers like Julio Jones with the Eagles in 2015. After signing Maxwell to a splashy free agent contract under the leadership of Chip Kelly, the Eagles traded Maxwell to the Dolphins in a package for the eighth pick in the 2015 draft. Maxwell will not likely produce at a level commensurate with his salary, but the Dolphins will certainly hope to put Maxwell in a situation to succeed this season. Miami didn't receive Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor in the deal as well, but Maxwell's true talent level probably lies somewhere between the two extremes of 2014 and 2015.
Flowers was one of the best leading cornerbacks of 2014, so his drop-off in play was not a situation like Maxwell's where he was asked to play as a No. 1 corner when he had only ever previously played in a supporting role. In fact, Flowers finished just behind Sherman in adjusted success rate in 2014 by a fraction of a percentage point, making his drastic decline in performance from top ten to bottom ten more surprising than Maxwell's.
After Brent Grimes' wife Miko delivered her assessment of Ryan Tannehill's play on Twitter during the season, no one would have been surprised if he had been released in the offseason. Objectively, this was also a good decision from the perspective of Brent Grimes' quality of play. Grimes was effectively replaced by Maxwell in Miami, linking another one of 2015's worst cornerbacks by yards per target allowed to the former Eagle.
Darius Butler presents a slightly different case, as the seventh-year player from Connecticut was not a big-money free agent signing. His current contract only carries a $500,000 dead money hit if Butler is released, so if the Colts feel they have better options available to them at the cornerback spot across from Vontae Davis, it would be easy for them to move on from Butler without much trouble.
Next, we will take a look at the worst cornerbacks by adjusted success rate.
|20 Worst CBs, Adjusted Success Rate, 2015|
|Minimum 8 games started or 50 targets.|
As promised on Monday, here we have Pittsburgh cornerback Antwon Blake checking in with the third-worst adjusted success rate among qualifying cornerbacks. With an adjusted success rate just over 40 percent, Blake almost canceled out all the good that teammate William Gay was able to do on the other side of the field. Blake will be taking his talents to Tennessee this season on a one-year contract, so hopefully he will be able to provide more value for the Titans in 2016.
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Flowers and Grimes also both made appearances in the bottom five of adjusted success rate, at 40 percent and 42 percent, respectively. While Grimes was released and was subsequently signed by Tampa Bay, Flowers remains with the Chargers on a contract that theoretically runs through the 2018 season. San Diego can't realistically cut Flowers until after this season because of how much guaranteed money he is still owed, so this season may be Flowers' last chance to prove that he deserves to stick around in San Diego. It would not be surprising if Flowers is asked to take a pay cut at the end of the year if San Diego wants to keep him on the roster.
Former first-round pick D.J. Hayden holds the dubious distinction of having the worst adjusted success rate among qualifying corners at 38 percent. Hayden enters the last year of his rookie deal in 2016 without future financial security, given that Oakland declined to exercise his fifth-year option. Fortunately for Hayden, if he performs well this year, he will be able to test the waters of the free agent market at a premium position.
Finishing only slightly better than Hayden was Houston's Kareem Jackson, who posted an adjusted success rate just shy of 40 percent before rounding. Normally having a starting corner perform so poorly would result in a defense that would not finish eighth in defensive DVOA. Of course, normal defenses do not employ J.J. Watt.
Finally, we will take a look at the cornerbacks who opposing quarterbacks attacked the most.
|20 Worst CBs, Estimated Target Rate, 2015|
|Minimum 8 games started or 50 targets.|
In a bit of a bookend to our discussion of Patrick Peterson's fantastic year down in Arizona, one of his Cardinals teammates suffered through a rough season. Justin Bethel was targeted on 32.8 percent of possible passes in his time both on the outside and in the slot. After Tyrann Mathieu's ACL injury forced Bethel into even more extended action, we got to see part of why teams avoided throwing to Peterson whenever possible.
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Bethel beats the field by a large margin as the most-targeted corner, with Detroit's Nevin Lawson coming in second at 28.9 percent. For reference, Lawson was closer to Buffalo's Stephon Gilmore in eighth than he was to Bethel in first. Lawson was not terrible by any means, as he finished seventh in adjusted yards per target in his role as a nickel corner, but teams still consistently went after him.
Greg Toler in Indianapolis was third-most targeted, and this should not come as a huge surprise for the same reason that Bethel was so "high" on this list. Vontae Davis has been an excellent performer for the Colts for the past few seasons, so it makes sense that opponents would prefer to go after his less talented teammates.
In fourth we have Bradley Roby from Denver, which again makes sense because the other corners in the Denver defensive backfield in 2015 were Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Even with all those additional targets, Roby finished in the top 30 in the other two metrics, though that probably had at least a little to do with their studs in the front seven.
Rounding out the top five, we have a player who changed teams and still couldn't catch a break with how frequently he was targeted. David Amerson was cut by Washington in September and then signed with Oakland shortly thereafter. It was interesting that teams chose to go after him as frequently as they did, given that he finished 11th in fewest adjusted yards per target and that D.J. Hayden was in the same defensive backfield.