Written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman
The issue of whether the Jets should trade Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie this year has been a hot topic amongst fans for some time now. But how realistic is it to even put those two names together in a sentence – much less to suggest that any NFL team might see Cromartie as a reasonable alternative to Revis?
If anything is beyond dispute in this debate, it’s that Cromartie had an outstanding campaign in 2012. When Revis fell foul of a torn ACL in Week 3, the whole organization looked to the former Seminole in the hope that he might be able to step up and fill the gaping hole that was left in the Jets secondary.
But although Cromartie did have considerable success while filling in for Revis this season, there is still good reason to suggest that he remains a long way short of deserving the ‘Shutdown Corner’ status that many fans have been quick to adorn him with, and despite his impressive numbers coupled with a gazelle-like pursuit speed, evidence abounds to indicate that he is the footballing equivalent of Fool’s Gold.
One way of distinguishing whether or not a cornerback is respected around the league is to simply consider how many times opposing quarterbacks have thrown the ball in his direction. Last year, Cromartie was targeted 87 times – which works out at an impressive average of 5.43 targets per game. This statistic even measures up against Revis’s 2011 numbers, when he was targeted 85 times.
In terms of how many times those targets resulted in a completion, things are still looking reasonably good for Cromartie – his 2012 return of 46% was only slightly worse than Revis’s 41.2% in 2011.
In most statistical categories, this pattern continues – the numbers put up by Cromartie last year are either similar to or slightly worse than those posted by Revis a year before – and so both defenders look to be glittering nicely. But then we come to a statistic which suddenly suggests an entirely different picture. Touchdowns. In 2012 Cromartie gave up 5 TDs – a number that had him tied for 91st* in the NFL alongside the likes of Buffalo’s Aaron Williams and Cleveland’s Buster Skrine. In 2011, Revis conceded one.
The numbers also prove to be consistent over the years: In 2010 Cromartie gave up 7 TDs, and in 2011 he was responsible for 6. Yet while the last 3-year spell of Cromartie’s career has resulted in him giving up a whopping 19 TDs, Revis – in his last fully-fit three years – gave up a grand total of 6. This is where Cromartie’s problem lies – when he’s defending with plenty of open field at his back, he’s fine. Yet if you throw at him in a confined space – let’s say inside the red zone, the chances are that you’ll get somewhere near the result that you’re hoping for.
The reason for this is quite simple: Cromartie is not an intelligent football player, and when faced with a split-second decision whilst in coverage he will all-too often make the incorrect choice. Fortunately he does possess outstanding speed and athletic ability, and so on deeper routes he is often able to recover his position whilst the ball is in the air. But pen him inside an area where he can’t use his phenomenal recovery speed and you’ve got a problem. (This, incidentally, was the main reason why San Diego were prepared to trade him in the first place. When they considered switching to a predominantly zone defense it became quickly apparent that Cromartie was inacapable of being effective when assigned to patrol an enclosed area of the field).
By the time the 2013 season begins, Cromartie will be 29-years-old, and while that’s by no means ancient for a cornerback, it’s most certainly getting towards the Golden Years for a player who depends almost entirely upon his speed. Even assuming that he enjoys good health over the next few years, it seems fair to say that it would be a surprise to see him as a starter much beyond 2014. Historically-speaking, the careers of players such as Cromartie don’t tend to tail off, they have a habit of dropping off cliffs.
So for all that he had an excellent campaign in 2012, don’t expect that NFL teams will be falling over themselves to give up first or second-round draft picks in exchange for Cromartie. That’s not to say that teams wouldn’t be interested – undoubtedly they would – but it would be a massive mistake to expect that they’ll cough up anywhere near the kind of booty that would be demanded in order to secure the services of a genuine Shutdown Corner.
(*To qualify, players must have taken 25% of their teams snaps.)