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A New Way to Grade Cornerbacks: CBCG+

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Playing cornerback in today’s NFL is exceedingly difficult. It is the most challenging position to play on the field. With elaborate offensive schemes and explosive offensive weapons, corners face a tall task every play. From twitchy and fast slot receivers to strong and tall outside receivers, cornerbacks must prepare to take on a skill-diverse group of playmakers each and every week. Then, they could wind up facing a different one each and every down.

The receivers know the routes they are running. The corners are guessing how to stay glued to these players with all-world speed. There are no givens in the cornerback business. You can have a lockdown day and then get burnt for one play, and you’ll be remembered for the one blunder.

A slight hand-check often results in massive pass interference penalties. Cornerbacks are put under the microscope every play. Pass-catchers have never been so talented and therefore, cornerback has never been harder to play. 

INGLEWOOD, CA – NOVEMBER 15: San Francisco 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams (24) wraps up Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) during the Los Angeles Rams vs San Francisco 49ers game on Monday November 15, 2021 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With it being so hard to play the position, it is also harder than ever to judge the position. There is no black-and-white stat that represents production for cornerbacks like, say, rushing yards for running backs. Even for stats like rushing yards, context is key and it is certainly not a cut-and-dry source to demonstrate ability.

So imagine how tough it must be to judge cornerbacks when there aren’t even stats like rushing yards. Interceptions are often seen as the top stat to rate cornerbacks. Interceptions don’t paint a full picture of the cornerback position though.

A player can be terrible on a down-to-down basis and still luck into a handful of interceptions that put him towards the top of the leaderboard. Many players don’t get the chance for many interceptions due to a lack of targets. They still could be dominant in coverage.

The main problem with interceptions is they are often due to errant throws, not stout cornerback play. By no means are interceptions a bad thing, they are just extremely misleading and should not be the main factor used to rate cornerbacks. The vast majority come from mistakes by quarterbacks or a lucky tip drill, not excellent coverage, and they make up such a small portion of the plays.

Many other factors make the position unfair to simplify as well. Defensive schemes are obviously not uniform throughout the NFL, which makes it harder to identify what corners are asked to do.

ARLINGTON, TX – NOVEMBER 14: Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) celebrates after a turnover during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons on November 14, 2021 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Some schemes leave their corners on islands, while some support them with heavy safety help. Some teams have great defensive lines which create pressure on the quarterback, while others don’t. This means some opposing quarterbacks have all day to throw the ball and for the wide receivers to get open, while teams with great defensive lines end plays earlier and therefore give receivers less time to get open.

Their performance on plays in which they are not targeted is also an issue in judging cornerbacks. There is nothing that tells us how cornerbacks perform on plays when the ball is not thrown his way. Who knows if that down-to-down consistency is there even when the quarterbacks go another direction?

Perhaps the biggest issue in judging cornerback is who each cornerback is covering on every play Some corners shadow opposing #1 receivers, while others are hibernated in zone coverage. There is no statistic to figure out the caliber of wide receivers each corner plays throughout a season, and how often they are in one-on-one coverage with them.

Introduction to Cornerback Coverage Grade Plus: CBCG+

All of this has led me to create a new way to grade cornerbacks. Using three advanced statistics and weighing them differently, I have created Cornerback Coverage Grade Plus. CBCG+ is based on the following three stats.

  • Completion percentage allowed on targets
  • Yards per time targeted
  • Passer rating allowed when targeted

These three stats truly show how dominant a cornerback is on a down-to-down basis. They show how often corners allow targets to become completions and demonstrate how many yards they are allowing. They also take into account overall quarterback play when targeting specific cornerbacks.

The combination of these three statistics paints the best possible picture of the cornerback position in today’s NFL. CBCG+ is still an imperfect method as it still can not take into account things like non-targeted plays and who the cornerback is covering. However, it does give the best available way to rate cornerbacks based on their entire body of work.

It focuses on play-to-play consistency using advanced data. That makes it completely statistic-based and objective. I hope CBCG+ can help fans better judge the cornerback position as a whole. Without further ado, here is the CBCG+ rankings for the 2021 NFL season up to this point.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – NOVEMBER 08: Cornerback Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates breaking up a pass intended for tight end Jimmy Graham #80 of the Chicago Bears during the first half at Heinz Field on November 8, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

CBCG+ Leaderboard 2021

*Updated through Week 10 of the 2021 NFL Season

*Minimum 25 targets

*Ranked in order of CBCG+ (lowest is best)

Player, Team | Targets | CBCG+
1. Jamel Dean, TB 40 |32.1
2. J.C. Jackson, NE 72 |32.4
3. A.J. Terrell, ATL42 |36.8
4. Tre’Davious White, BUF57 |37.1
5. Casey Hayward, LV28 |37.1
6. Trevon Diggs, DAL58 |38.5
7. Taron Johnson, BUF42 |41.6
8. Chidobe Awuzie, CIN 56 |43.3
9. Jalen Ramsey, LAR56 |43.7
10. Patrick Surtain II, DEN 61 |43.8
11. Kristian Fulton, TEN 35 |44.0
12. Isaiah Rodgers, IND 34 |44.0
13. Robert Alford, ARI 41 |45.5
14. D.J. Reed, SEA56 |45.9
15. Emmanuel Moseley, SF 46 |46.4
16. Adoree’ Jackson, NYG 57 |46.4
17. Cameron Dantzler, MIN 36 |46.6
18. Eric Stokes, GB 54 |47.3
19. Donte Jackson, CAR 52 |47.4
20. Jaylon Johnson, CHI 50 |47.7
21. Anthony Averett, BAL77 |47.9
22. Byron Murphy Jr., ARI 58 |48.3
23. Greedy Williams, CLE 40 |48.9
24. Charvarius Ward, KC 31 |49.5
25. Anthony Brown, DAL 65 |50.1
26. Darnay Holmes, NYG 28 |50.5
27. Greg Newsome II, CLE 35 |50.8
28. Bryce Callahan, DEN 28 |51.0
29. Levi Wallace, BUF 48 |51.2
30. Denzel Ward, CLE 41 |51.7
31. Donte Deayon, LAR 27 |51.7
32. Rashad Fenton, KC 31 |52.2
33. William Jackson III, WAS 44 |52.4
34. Marshon Lattimore, NO 58 |52.4
35. Joe Haden, PIT 33 |52.5
36. Patrick Peterson, MIN 37 |52.5
37. A.J. Bouye, CAR 37 |52.6
38. Ronald Darby, DEN 44 |52.6
39. Asante Samuel Jr., LAC 41 |52.8
40. James Bradberry, NYG 57 |52.9
41. Avonte Maddox, PHI 39 |53.3
42. Sidney Jones, SEA 34 |53.4
43. Byron Jones, MIA 61 |53.5
44. Darius Slay, PHI 56 |54.1
45. Chandon Sullivan, GB 37 |54.2
46. Michael Davis, LAC 28 |54.3
47. David Long, LAR 31 |54.4
48. Darious Williams, LAR 42 |55.0
49. Marlon Humphrey, BAL 61 |55.1
50. Xavien Howard, MIA 64 |55.4
51. Carlton Davis, TB 26 |55.4
52. James Pierre, PIT 33 |55.6
53. Brandin Echols, NYJ 47 |55.7
54. Kyle Fuller, DEN 38 |55.9
55. Paulson Adebo, NO 50 |56.2
56. Kendall Fuller, WAS 67 |56.7
57. Nik Needham, MIA 45 |56.7
58. Eli Apple, CIN 48 |57.2
59. Kenny Moore II, IND 74 |58.3
60. Cameron Sutton, PIT 36 |58.8
61. Rock Ya-Sin, IND 28 |59.1
62. Mike Hughes, KC 32 |59.4
63. Tyson Campbell, JAX 40 |59.5
64. Shaquill Griffin, JAX 52 |59.5
65. Nate Hobbs, LV 38 |60.4
66. Michael Carter II, NYJ 39 |60.4
67. Amani Oruwariye, DET 41 |60.6
68. L’Jarius Sneed, KC 52 |60.7
69. Steven Nelson, PHI 46 |61.3
70. Bashaud Breeland, MIN 57 |61.3
71. Jalen Mills, NE 42 |61.4
72. Jourdan Lewis, DAL 44 |61.5
73. Janoris Jenkins, TEN 63 |61.8
74. Mike Hilton, CIN 47 |62.2
75. Fabian Moreau, ATL 57 |62.3
76. Benjamin St.-Juste, MIN 37 |62.4
77. Ross Cockrell, TB 38 |63.0
78. Bryce Hall, NYJ 52 |63.0
79. Mackensie Alexander, MIN 36 |63.6
80. Troy Hill, CLE 34 |63.8
81. Elijah Molden, TEN 38 |65.2
82. Keith Taylor, CAR 30 |65.9
83. Xavier Rhodes, IND 36 |67.8
84. Marco Wilson, ARI 60 |68.1
85. Vernon Hargreaves III, HOU 27 |68.9

Notes

  • The top of the leaderboard is not overly surprising. Jackson, Terrell, White, Hayward, Diggs, and Ramsey have been dominant this season and are regarded as such to the public eye.
  • Jamel Dean at #1 is interesting. He has not received that many targets but he has been fantastic when he has played.
  • J.C. Jackson has been one of the best cornerbacks in football this season. The statistics and the target share demonstrate his elite ability. He has shown it on film and is an interception machine as well.
  • A.J. Terrell had a below average rookie season but has become a top 5 corner in his second season. Terrell has been fantastic in every possible manner and it shows with his #3 ranking on the leaderboard.
  • Trevon Diggs leads the league in interceptions, but he is not a one-trick pony. Diggs has been lockdown this season and it shows in CBCG+. Interceptions are part of how Diggs lets up so few completions, and they correlate to his statistical dominance as well.
  • Jalen Ramsey is often regarded as the best cornerback in the NFL – and for good reason. CBCG+ ranks in the top 10 and that does not even take into account how he is generally shadowing elite receivers every single week.
  • The stat is obviously still in its early stages. At some point I hope to adjust it to a 1-100 scale and perhaps adjust the weighting of the stats.
KANSAS CITY, MO – NOVEMBER 07: Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (38) after an interception in the fourth quarter of an NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs on Nov 7, 2021 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Obscurities and Surprises

  • Xavien Howard has been one of the biggest disappointments at corner this season. Howard would’ve been the #1 ranked corner by CBCG+ last season, but he has fallen all the way to #50 this season.
  • Big name corners with esteemed reputations like Marshon Lattimore and Marlon Humphrey have fallen short of expectations this season. It will be interesting to see if they prove this first half of the season to be an anomaly and move up the rankings as the season progresses.
  • Keep an eye on the target numbers for each player. The minimum was set at 25, but remember that the bigger the sample size, the more credible the stat is.
  • Players like Carlton Davis have made the list playing in just 4 games; remarkably racking up 25 targets in that time span.
  • Casey Hayward has been fantastic this season and only been targeted 28 times in 9 games. Maybe quarterbacks are trying to not throw in his direction.
  • A CBCG+ under 50 is great, while under 40 is the truly elite. As you can see, the majority of players are in the average performance range of 50-60. Above 60 marks the well below average cornerbacks.

Thanks for reading my article on CBCG+ and cornerback play in the NFL today! A follow-up article will come out this offseason with the finalized leaderboard for the entire 2021 campaign and perhaps some adjustments to the stat!

Follow me on Twitter, @afreiberg8 for more! 

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Main Image Credit

PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 21: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Darius Slay (2) breaks up a pass to New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver Marquez Callaway (1) in the first half during the game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles on November 21, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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