For years the most feared cornerback in the NFL was Darrelle Revis. The incredibly athletic, intelligent and freakish secondary playmaker routinely locked down premier wide receivers as one of the few in the NFL who consistently shadowed the top offensive threat. Even in my coverage charts from 2014, Revis dominated his competition in his final season in New England with the second-best overall efficiency rate.
Though the 31-year-old is still amongst the NFL’s elite, and despite my immense respect and adoration watching him, he wasn’t the best cornerback in the league last year. A wrist injury and concussion may have slowed him down, but his drop in coverage efficiency from 82.2 percent in 2014 to 78.7 percent in 2015 was more due to slowing with age. Father Time is undefeated, and even the golden standard for technique won’t be able to combat it at some point.
Revis’ slight dip in performance isn’t enough to knock him from my top-five cornerbacks, but there’s clearly a conversation for who is the best. Denver’s Chris Harris Jr., Seattle’s Richard Sherman, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith are legitimate and terrific players, but I didn’t see a better cornerback in 2015 than Atlanta Falcons corner Desmond Trufant.
It wasn’t just that the 25-year-old improved his 2014 coverage efficiency rate from 77.35, which ranked third of all cornerbacks in raw score that year, but it’s where Trufant improved and his fit within the Falcons’ new defense under Dan Quinn. But it is extremely impressive that Trufant posted the second-best coverage rate of any cornerback I’ve charted thus far, behind only Marcus Peters.
In case you aren’t familiar with the methodology of my coverage charts, here’s a good starting point. The only adjustment I’ve made from 2014 to 2015 is that I’m sampling eight to 10 games instead of all 16, with premier matchups against the best competition coming. I found 16 games watered down the numbers too much, as most teams only face five or six game-breaking receivers a year unless they’re in the NFC East or AFC South.
Basically, how often is a cornerback within an arm’s length of the receiver at the apex of the route while in man coverage or close zone? All cornerbacks will lose, but how often they lose and the context to the situation is necessary. Some receptions allowed aren’t a loss, and some losses in coverage aren’t taken advantage of. That’s what my charting looks to eliminate.
With that in mind, Trufant’s improved efficiency rate of 79.5 percent against the New York Giants, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints (twice), Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice) helps illustrate the best pure coverage corner in the league. His breakdown can be found below.
The sample size is somewhat limited because of how much zone the Falcons played in 2015, but it didn’t matter. Even in his worst games against the Buccaneers and Allen Robinson, Trufant scored above average rates in his total. There’s only so much that can be done when great playmakers do this on a weekly basis.
Across the board, route-by-route, Trufant was close to average on curls, and well above-average everywhere else. Outside breaking routes and deep curls are the only legitimate chance offenses have to beat him, and even then, he’s ridiculously good at closing those windows. That throw had better be perfect.
The 6’0”, 190-pound corner is in his physical prime, and blends great explosion with elite speed and short-area quickness. He simply has that advantage over the older Revis, more limited Sherman and less athletic Peters and Smith. He’s much more technically sound than Peterson, leaving him on par with Harris Jr. as the most gifted corners in the NFL.
Looking at how dominant Trufant was, his brilliance literally impacted offensive game plans all season long. The Giants avoided him as much as possible, with only three matchups between Odell Beckham and Trufant. DeAndre Hopkins registered just one win in seven matchups with Trufant. The loaded and deadly passing attacks from Washington and New Orleans produced just four losses in 25 attempts in three games.
What’s more impressive is that Trufant was able to be so effective with almost zero pass-rush help and inadequate play from both the safety and linebacker groups. Fellow cornerback Robert Alford is a stud across from Trufant, but he’s not benefitting from action in front of him. This is one of two reasons for why Trufant may seem underrated in the media.
The big problem as far as public acknowledgement on Trufant is his lack of interceptions. He has six in three seasons, but only one last year. He dropped a few over the last three years, though he did tip two others that created interceptions for his teammates in 2015. Interceptions are not the best indicator of talent at the position, but they help with Pro Bowls, which matters to casual fans.
A little better luck and improved hands from Trufant would have boosted his total, but even in 2016, the Falcons pass-rush shouldn’t be quite as anemic. The more desperation balls his way, the more turnovers he’ll force. He’s just too good as a cover cornerback, and he’s constantly looking for the ball. His 44 passes defensed through three seasons helps show that.
As the 2016 approaches, keep Trufant in mind when it comes to your fantasy team. The only receivers I’d surely start on the Falcons’ schedule are Mike Evans, John Brown, Keenan Allen and possibly Larry Fitzgerald. Everyone else on their schedule has struggled against Trufant and Alford, specifically the former. Receivers who play from the slot will do damage against the middle of this defense, though.
With the season nearing, I’ll continue to play catchup from 2015 and be working on a book of data from 2014-2016 of cornerback coverage charts. More information will be made public throughout the season, but I’m looking to give unique analysis just like this to help provide an answer to questions that other analysts don’t try to tackle.
Thanks for reading,