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Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore somehow makes a list of best slot cornerbacks

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Must be nice to be good at everything.

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NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Eraser.

A) A kind of underrated, but still not that great Schwarzenegger movie, and also

B) A key ingredient at cornerback in a classic Bill Belichick defense that allows everyone else to ball out while knowing the enemy’s #1 and/or #2 receiver(s) should’ve packed a snack, cause it’s going to be a looooooooooooooooooooooooooong day.

(note: as the wise football knower and music knower Michael Hurley notes, you don’t need a shutdown cornerback to win a Super Bowl. Granted, it’s a hella sweet perk to have. Very useful. But not a common denominator, at all)

All that to say, is it’s not unusual to see Stephon Gilmore on an increasingly short list of cornerbacks that can credibly carry a BAMF wallet. If we’re being honest, there’s been some NFL seasons when you can count the cornerbacks that could credibly carry a BAMF wallet on one hand. After Gilmore’s 2018 season when he snagged the elusive honors of a Pro Bowl berth and Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded-cornerback - not one of the highest, THE highest of 2018 - it’d take either someone taking crazy pills or a co-host of First Take to leave Gilmore off any list of the ELITEST of cornerbacks.

What is a little weird, though, is seeing The Gilly Lock™ on a list of the NFL’s best...slot cornerbacks?

Believe it.

USA Today Sports’ and fellow classic metal enthusiast Doug Farrar, who also wrote last year’s (in my humble opinion) must-read schematic history “The Genius of Desperation” with Louis Riddick, as well as many, many columns all over the Internet, broke down his list of the 11 Best Slot Cornerbacks in the NFL this week, and not only does Stephon Gilmore make an appearance, he crashes the party in style. At #6.

(Doug, if you somehow find this, the title of this article is all in good-natured jest and you understand how a good title is half the battle. Thanks!)

Especially for the Madden players out there, it’s kind of jarring to see Gilmore on a list that includes all the usual suspects at slot corner like Chris Harris Jr (Broncos), Bryce Callahan (Bears), and arguable public enemy #1 Nickell Roby-Coleman - guys that we know are generally tasked with making life miserable for the now-mandatory slot receiver that can span anywhere from the Welkeresque to, uh, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Doesn’t Gilmore generally A) play outside CB, and B) shadow someone, whether it’s erasing the opponent’s #2 receiver while the #1 gets the Belichick double-team safety-over-top treatment or the #1 on an island?

Yes.

Where this gets really fun is that in the event that Gilmore is tasked with covering the slot, and this may shock you...he’s, and we don’t use this word lightly around here...elite at that as well.

Check it out:

Of course, Gilmore is primarily an outside cornerback, and he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to matching up against top receivers.

OK cool, so we’re on the same page here.

But he’s also dominant in the slot when the Patriots put him there—per Pro Football Focus, he had 27 slot targets in the 2018 season (including the postseason), allowing just 13 catches for 104 yards, 28 yards after the catch, one touchdown, one interception, and an opposing quarterback rating of 55.2.

My math’s not great, especially after too much snow day pond hockey as a youth, but if that’s 28 yards after the catch on 13 catches...that more or less shakes out to roughly 2 yards per catch after the catch, which would seem to imply “Dude caught the ball, but got tackled and brought down basically immediately, fell forward, and didn’t fumble”.

And of course that’s if they catch the ball in the first place, which, again, the math is rusty, but that seemingly-routine catch from the slot is only happening less than 50% of the time when Gilmore lines up across from you.

In Gilmore’s case, it’s his athleticism and savvy in man and match coverage that allows him to plaster himself to any receiver he’s covering. Slot targets can option-route him to death, and he’ll just follow them wherever they go. It’s an indispensable attribute no matter where he lines up, and were he a full-time slot man, he might make the top of the list.

Because this is a Patriots blog and the rules state we’re required to mention Wes Welker no less than six times per article...remember when he would just mercilessly torch linebackers and defensive backs alike with the option routes? Wes himself even said on his episode of “A Football Life” that he’s not that fast, he’s just “as fast as I needed to be”, and how many times did we see him do one of the two following things, or often both at the same time:

(this tangent has a point, promise)

1) Welker makes his break, puts whoever the unfortunate fool tasked with covering him is on roller skates, or

2) looks at that unfortunate fool, notes “oh, he’s playing inside/outside, there’s his leverage, I’ve seen this on film and I know exactly whether he’s going to drop, play a zone, or take me mano a mano, I think I’ll just go in the opposite direction, and Brady knows that’s what I’m going to do if we both read the coverage correctly”, and promptly ends up wide open.

What Gilmore’s doing is occasionally getting the call to cover receivers like that, and in his trademark lack of trash talk that makes Kawhi Leonard look brash by comparison, goes “OK then” and shuts them down almost as effectively as if he was on an island on the outside.

And to think, people were saying for a while that Stephon Gilmore might be the biggest faceplant that Bill Belichick has ever had in free agency. What kind of oblivious person would say that after a few bad...

....ah. Carry on then.

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images