In our continuing series of New York Giants position-by-position breakdowns let's turn our attention to a defensive position where the news is not all bad. It isn't great, either, but it's not all bad. That position would be corner back.
The good news is there is talent to work with at corner with Terrell Thomas, Corey Webster, Bruce Johnson and Aaron Ross. The bad news, of course, is that not all of those guys played well -- or much at all -- in 2009.
Let's look at each player individually.
Terrell Thomas: Let's dispense with the thought of moving Thomas to safety right now. I think that would be a terrible mistake by the Giants. Yes, maybe Thomas has the skills to play safety. And yes, the Giants need help there. But Thomas just had a breakout season that placed him among the best corner backs in the league. Do you really want to mess with that? I don't.
Why try to solve one problem by creating another one? Do you really trust Aaron Ross as a starting corner back? I didn't think so. Personally, I think keeping Ross at safety might be the best idea. Or sliding him into the nickel corner role. But, I will discuss that more later. Back to Thomas.
Pro Football Focus (yes, I love to refer to PFF stats to judge defensive players) graded Thomas the 8th best corner in the league for 2009, with a +8.6 rating. Incidentally, that is one spot below Denver's Champ Bailey and FOUR SPOTS AHEAD of Oakland's renowned shut down corner Nnamdi Asomugha (+5.0).
Thomas, in his second season, had 85 tackles, six interceptions and 11 passes defensed. He was pretty much the only Giants defensive back who seemed to have a clue how to make a play on the ball. PFF's quarterback rating for balls thrown into Thomas' coverage area was 71.3, placing him 16th in the league. Just for grins, Asomugha was 35th (98.2).
So, with Thomas looking like a budding star at corner why would you mess with that? Leave him alone, and corner back is one spot the Giants should not have to worry about for a while.
Corey Webster: Webster had a breakout season in 2008 following his terrific play in the 2007 post-season. In 2008 he was an elite, shut-down corner. According to PFF, he was easily the league's highest-rated cover corner at +23.2. Darrelle Revis of the Jets was second at +12.5. Quarterbacks throwing at Webster in 2008 had only a 41.2 rating.
In 2009, however, Webster did not repeat his stellar performance of the previous season. Without looking at the numbers, we can remember he got torched by several elite receivers when then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan trusted him in one-on-one match-ups. He ended the season with 51 tackles, just one interception and 12 passes defensed.
His coverage grade slipped to +3.9, 25th in the league. Not bad, but not what the Giants expected. Or needed.
Perhaps in 2010 some of those big, physical receivers who seem to trouble Webster will be handled by Thomas. Whether that is the case or not, the Giants need better, more opportunistic play from him in 2010.
Kevin Dockery: A four-year veteran who probably played his way out of New York by losing his job to undrafted free agent Bruce Johnson. At 5-foot-8, 188 pounds Dockery is a smallish corner who has never really been a huge play maker and should not be that difficult to replace.
Aaron Ross: The past couple of seasons have not been kind to Ross. In 2009, a series of hamstring injuries limited the 2007 No. 1 pick to just three games, all at safety. In 2008, Ross played 15 games but did not perform particularly well. If you recall, it seems he spent most of the season a step or two behind trying desperately to catch up to receivers who already had the ball.
In 2009, PFF rated Ross 102nd out of 114 graded corners overall, with a poor mark of -10.9. On coverage skills alone, Ross was 86th with a -4.0 rating.
I am not willing to completely give up on Ross, the 20th pick in the 2007 draft. But I think you have to face the reality that he is not going to be the top-flight corner the Giants envisioned. What hurts more is that Revis was taken 14th in the same draft by the Jets, just a few picks ahead of Ross.
I see two roles for Ross in 2010. As the nickel corner. Or, staying at safety where he saw some time in 2009. We would definitely upgrade the speed and coverage ability at that spot. Possibly, Ross will end up in an R.W. McQuarters type role, playing some at both spots.
Bruce Johnson: The undrafted rookie free agent from Miami played a lot more than anyone could have expected. He got burned on occasion, but did OK. He beat out Dockery and finished the season with an adequate +0.3 rating. He probably gets a chance to make the team as an extra corner in 2010.
D.J. Johnson: Played some inconsequential snaps at the end of the season. Did not show much to my recollection. If he is back in 2010 it is likely as a training camp body. I don't see a role for him on the 53-man roster in 2010.
Keep: Webster, Thomas, Ross, Bruce Johnson
Dump: Dockery, D.J. Johnson
Draft/Free Agency Priority (1 being the highest, 5 the lowest): 3. If a talented corner is on the board at some point that the Giants feel they can't pass up I'm fine with that. I would think that at the least a veteran corner who is an upgrade from Dockery is necessary. This priority is also subject to change if the Giants decide to keep Ross at safety.
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