There’s a very interesting article about NFL cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus.com that provides some unexpected insights about the trio of Green Bay Packers cornerbacks. Overall, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and even Sam Shields compared very favorably to the rest of the cornerbacks in the NFL.
I see it as a rather ironic development, as last off-season, many Packers followers (including myself) thought cornerback to be one of the Packers’ biggest positions of need. So naturally, Ted Thompson did nothing to address it in the draft, but then miraculously struck gold with UDFA Sam Shields. The combination of Woodson, Williams and Shields would prove to be a point of strength for the Packers in 2010, surprising just about everyone.
The Pro Football Focus article ranked NFL cornerbacks based on several statistics. First, they looked at the “times thrown at per coverage snaps.” I would expect this to be reflective of a player’s reputation, and the results mostly seem to bear that out. In the top four are Nnamdi Asomugha, Sean Smith, Asante Samuel and Darelle Revis. No surprise is Charles Woodson also being in the top 20, coming in at #18.
A shocking development, however, is Sam Shields coming in at #9. How in the world was he thrown at so few times? After the first game in Philly, I wrote that Eagles fans should be furious at their coaches for not going after Shields (see the last paragraph here). I was convinced that Shields would be attacked much more frequently as the season progressed. The stats here show it just didn’t happen.
The second interesting stat in the article is the “catch percentage per coverage snaps.” This takes into account total coverage snaps, the amount of times they were thrown at and the number of receptions allowed. Guess who had the best percentage in the entire league? None other than Tramon Williams. Despite being targeted more than Charles Woodson and even Sam Shields, Tramon trounced the entire league with his coverage skills. We saw a perfect example on the Steelers last play in the Super Bowl – just fantastic coverage.
Looking at some other PFF stats (not in the article) provides even more insight into the play of the Packers’ cornerbacks. Of cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 50% of their team’s snaps, by the PFF overall ranking system, Tramon Williams was the 6th best cornerback in the league, with Sam Shields landing at 25 and Charles Woodson at 41.
Ranked by percentage of balls caught thrown in their coverage area, Tramon was the 7th best cornerback in the league, with Sam Shields at 27 and Charles Woodson at 38. The Oakland Raiders had two cornerbacks in the top five, but no other team in the NFL had 3 corners ranked higher than the Packers.
The key, of course, was Sam Shields. How a player with such little experience even playing the position, could walk in and perform as he did as an NFL rookie is blatantly amazing. Kudo’s to Shields and coach Joe Whitt, who has performed this magical offense to defense transformation before with Kerry Rhodes and Antoine Harris. I remember somewhere near the middle of the season, Joe Whitt was quoted as having said, “Write this down. Sam is going to be one of the top corners in this league in two years.” Shield is well on his way.
Based on all of the statistical evidence, what was perceived to be a potential weakness for the Packers in 2010 turned out to be the strongest unit in the entire NFL. You just never know…