Sunday Morning Bloody Mary: Crowded at Cornerback

Today, we've got a couple of great games on the NFL playoff schedule, with the Chiefs and Ravens facing off at 1:00 PM, with the Packers and Eagles facing off at 4:30 PM in an NFC wildcard match-up.

Still, I thought it might be a good time to have a little discussion about the Patriots' roster, specifically at the cornerback position.  Currently, the Patriots' top three cornerbacks are Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, and Darius Butler.  McCourty is the hands down starter at one cornerback spot, while Arrington is the start at the other.  Recently though, the 2009 second round pick Darius Butler has seen some more time on the outside, as well as in the slot.  For the postseason, the Patriots' cornerback position seems pretty set.

But what about in 2011?

You see, the thing is, next season the Patriots have both Leigh Bodden and Jonathan Wilhite returning from injury.  Presumably, Leigh Bodden will fight to earn back a starting spot, meaning the boundary cornerbacks could be him and Devin McCourty.  But do guys such as Arrington and Butler compete to wrestle that starting spot away from him?  

Those that have followed my blog know that I'm a big fan of Leigh Bodden, and I love the physicality he brings to the cornerback position.  With him and McCourty holding down the cornerback spots, the Patriots will be pretty tough to throw against.  But in that scenario, what happens to a guy like Kyle Arrington?  Arrington is a physical cornerback who can play well against the run, but is very average in coverage, and can get abused by elite wide receivers and quarterbacks.  According to Profootballfocus.com, Arrington was targeted 73 times in 2010, 48 of which were completed, good for a 65.8% rate, and a 111.4 quarterback rating.  Most of the completions he allows seem to be down the field.  He isn't a liability by any stretch, but certainly isn't great.

Then there's Darius Butler.  He could presumably see time at slot or boundary cornerback.  After struggling tremendously to start the season (15 completions in 18 targets, including two touchdowns), he really improved later on in the season after seeing a huge dip in playing time.  Butler allowed only 12 completions in his final 28 targets.  He allowed one touchdown following having an interception called back on a questionable pass interference call in the season finale.  Overall, quarterbacks completed just 59.6% of passes against him, and he was rated the 18th best cover cornerback in the league (according to Pro Football Focus).

Of course, the forgotten man here is Jonathan Wilhite.  Wilhite, before going down for the season, was playing some improved football over 2009.  He didn't allow a touchdown or a completion of more than 20 yards in 25 targets in nine games.  Overall, he averaged allowing 6.72 yards per attempt when targeted.  If Wilhite is restricted to just nickel or dime duties as a slot cornerback, he's a solid player.  But, like the others, where does he fit in next season?

Overall, you've got five pretty good cornerbacks heading into 2011.  One of them is elite #1, one of them is a very solid #1, and the rest are capable players with room to grow.  How do you think the position will shape out come next year?  Will someone be dealt?  Who will start?  Who will play in sub-packages?  Feel free to discuss! 

ENJOY WITH ABSOLUT RESPONSIBILITY®

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