Grading the ‘Boys in 2010, Part VI: Cornerbacks
So far this offseason, I have handed out grades to the Cowboys’ defensive line, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, safeties, and tight ends for their 2010 play. Today, I’ll take a look at the cornerbacks.
As is the case with every position in football, the success of the defensive backs is very dependent on the play of other positions, particularly those rushing the passer. Thus, it can become difficult when comparing CBs from different teams because the efficiency of their respective pass-rushers is directly correlated to the cornerbacks’ own success.
It is easier to compare cornerbacks on the same team, particularly if they do not match up with specific receivers. This is the case on the Cowboys, as Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins generally play one side of the field regardless of where the opposition’s receivers line up.
Playing in the slot can be a bit different, and so we must be careful when comparing Orlando Scandrick’s stats with those of Newman and Jenkins. The percentage of snaps that Scandrick is targeted, for example, will be higher than the starting cornerbacks because he is on the field in all passing situations, but not necessarily on running downs.
Still, we can gather the numbers and effectively isolate a player’s success to the best of our ability. Below are the results of the Dallas cornerbacks’ 2010 play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.
- Chart Key: TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
- The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
- Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
- The final chart details my own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating. It incorporates the factors I believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a cornerback. The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score. For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
- The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.
- Terence Newman
Pass Defense: C-
Despite being targeted less often in 2010, Newman yielded more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than in 2009. Over 65 percent of balls thrown his way were completed, which was sadly the top rate of any cornerback. That alone tells you everything you need to know about the Cowboys’ cornerbacks in 2010, as the worst completion percentage yielded in ’09 (62.9 percent by Scandrick) was still better than the best this past season.
Newman was targeted on 11 percent of snaps–a bit higher than in ’09. The amount of yards he allowed per attempt (9.33) and snap (1.03) were also far worse than in 2009 (when they were 7.66 and 0.72, respectively).
Newman’s Pass Defense Rating (below) was 170.3–a far fry from the 236.4 mark he posted in ’09.
Run Defense: A-
Some people don’t seem sold on Newman’s tackling ability, but I’m not one of those people. Newman has long shown he’s capable of making difficult tackles in the open field. Although he isn’t a punishing hitter, that’s one of the primary reasons I believe he could benefit from a move to free safety. Newman missed only 5.1 percent of tackles he attempted in 2010.
- Mike Jenkins
Pass Defense: D
I gave Newman a “C-” for his pass defense this season, and Jenkins was worse in just about every category. His 11.17 yards-per-attempt-against is horrific, as is the 1.07 yards-per-snap number. Jenkins was still able to get his hands on some balls, but he wasn’t able to reel them in as he secured only one interception. On top of all that, Jenkins’ seven penalties nearly led the league and is a huge sign that he was frequently out of position.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of Jenkins’ decline is the fact that he allowed over two-thirds of passes his way to be complete after yielded just 49.1 percent in 2009.
In my opinion, Jenkins became overconfident after his stellar ’09 campaign. He disregarded technique and thought he could get by on pure talent. He found out the hard way that’s not how it works.
Run Defense: D-
The only reason I didn’t give Jenkins an “F” for his run defense is that, after the game in Green Bay, we did see an increase in effort. Should we see 100 percent effort all the time? Of course, but the fact that Jenkins took responsibility and played decently against the run for the remainder of the year is a good sign. Plus, he actually missed tackles at a lower rate than in 2009.
- Orlando Scandrick
Pass Defense: B
Scandrick began the season poorly, but his play really picked up over the final 10 weeks or so. His Pass Defense Rating is the worst of any cornerback, but that’s really due to the nature of his position. He’s on the field during passing situations, meaning the rate of passes he is targeted will naturally be higher. The 0.88 yards-per-snap that he surrendered was down from 0.95 in 2009.
Run Defense: C+
Scandrick tallied 11 less tackles last season as compared to ’09, but part of the reason for that is that he gave up fewer receptions. His 11.4 percent missed tackle rate is neither stellar nor horrendous, although it could certainly improve.
Final 2010 Cornerback Grades
1. Orlando Scandrick: B- (83.4)
2. Terence Newman: C+ (77.0)
3. Mike Jenkins: D (64.6)
The Cowboys clearly need an upgrade at the cornerback position. Newman will be 33 this season and has already begun what appears to be a sharp decline. While others may not like the idea, I think he could move to free safety. He still has speed and he’s already a better tackler than Alan Ball. Plus, it isn’t like he needs to be a wrecking ball back there. A sound tackler who can be the team’s last line of defense is fine.
Also at free safety, Newman would be asked to do little man coverage and would be free to face the quarterback. The majority of his struggles seem to come when his back is turned to the passer. He has trouble turning, locating the football, and still maintain proper position to make a play on it. Being “free” to read the quarterback and drive up on passes could help him.
Jenkins’ 2010 struggles are perplexing. He certainly has the skill set to thrive, so the key with him will be regaining mental focus and confidence. And he absolutely needs to become a more willing tackler.
I liked Scandrick’s improvement over the course of the season, but I believe any thoughts of placing him in the starting lineup are a misinterpretation of his skill set. He’s a small, quick player who is really suited to play the slot. I think he could get abused outside.
The Cowboys will certainly be looking for an upgrade at cornerback during the draft. An early-round pick at the position seems likely. First-round options include LSU’s Patrick Peterson (although he will probably be off the board) and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. The ‘Boys could also trade down and still secure a player like Miami’s Brandon Harris.
I personally believe the easiest way to obtain better cornerback play is to get to the quarterback faster. Thus, acquiring a pass-rushing defensive lineman might aid the secondary just as much as a fresh face at cornerback. Whatever method the Cowboys employ, an improvement from the secondary is absolutely vital to their 2011 playoff hopes.