The battle to secure the New York Giants' slot cornerback role will have many candidates entering training camp, but only two players can realistically win the job.
They are Aaron Ross and Jayron Hosley, and while manning what, in essence, is the third cornerback spot is not the most glamorous position, it is a significant part of the Giants defense. In addition, the battle between these two players should be a good one for a few reasons.
Ross will likely win the role out of training camp due to his veteran status and experience, with Hosley taking over as the season progresses.
In today’s NFL, slot cornerback is more important than it was five to 10 years ago. With more offenses focusing on passing—mainly due to pass interference being re-emphasized before the 2004 season—the number of three and even four wide-receiver sets has increased. This is especially true on first and second down, which had been exclusively one or two receiver sets in the past.
With more offensive plays including three-plus wideouts, it is not unusual to see the slot cornerback play a third, if not half, of the defensive snaps.
For the Giants, slot cornerback also provides much-needed depth behind two somewhat shaky starters, Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster.
In the case of Amukamara, injuries are a concern, as he missed 12 games in his first two seasons.
With Webster, performance may be an issue since he is coming off a terrible 2012 season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Webster was the fourth-worst cornerback in the NFL last year with a minus-11.3 rating.
He should improve in 2013 since Amukamara, the better player at this point with his 0.5 PFF rating in 2012, will likely match up with the opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver. Also, it is hard to believe that Webster got so bad, so fast—he had a 6.9 PFF rating in 2011—even at the age of 31. Still, the eight-year veteran’s decline may continue this upcoming season.
Therefore, Big Blue’s slot cornerback may become a starter at some point in 2013, possibly for an extended period of time.
With the Giants roster currently including 11 cornerbacks, many options could become the third cornerback. Realistically, though, the only other player who can potentially enter the competition with Ross and Hosley is Terrell Thomas. The other candidates are mostly inexperienced players possessing borderline NFL talent.
A lot will have to happen, however, for Thomas to be considered a viable threat. For starters, he needs to show that he can still play in the NFL, since he is returning from a third ACL tear, which he suffered in the 2012 training camp.
Even if he demonstrates that he can play and stay healthy in training camp and preseason games, he likely won’t be at slot cornerback. Since the slot plays inside, he has to be able to change direction quickly because slot receivers usually run a lot of quick slants, stop-and-gos and other routes designed to get open in a tight space.
If Thomas does have a successful return, it might be at safety instead.
With the case made for a Ross versus Hosley duel, let’s analyze how the slot cornerback competition will play out.
Right now, Ross has the edge as he was working ahead of Hosley at minicamp. This is not a surprise considering that Ross is a six-year NFL veteran who played his first five seasons with the Giants before spending 2012 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now that he is back with New York, it makes sense that the coaching staff would favor him, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the team, over a second-year player in Hosley.
To be fair, based on the respective performances of each player in 2012, Ross deserves to be ahead of Hosley heading into training camp. As you can see in the chart below, the former was better both in the slot and overall compared to his younger counterpart:
PFF Rating as a Slot Cornerback
|PFF Rating Overall|
|Jayron Hosley|| |
232 snaps/minus-8.2 rating
465 snaps/minus-12.1 rating
|Aaron Ross (with Jaguars)|| |
104 snaps/0.1 rating
682 snaps/minus-6.2 rating
Unfortunately for Big Blue, both players were below average, though Ross was at least slightly above average in the slot, albeit in 128 less snaps than Hosley.
The good news for Hosley was that he performed well in his last two games at slot cornerback, with a 2.0 rating against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 and New Orleans Saints in Week 14. Factoring in that Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were the two opposing quarterbacks in those games makes that rating even more impressive.
The Virginia Tech product, who was drafted in the third round by the Giants in 2012, has talent.
He possesses strong straight-line speed—he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine—and turns fluidly off a receiver's break. Also, while his slender 5’10”, 178-pound frame is not conducive to playing on the outside, it fits well inside. Receivers tend to be smaller and less physical in the slot, relying more on quickness than size and strength.
Ross, on the other hand, has not lived up to the expectations that made him the Giants' first-round pick in 2007. Based on his scouting report, he had the potential to be a solid starting cornerback, but instead he is a marginal one at best.
In addition, unlike Hosley, he is not a great fit in the slot since he does not turn fluidly or react well to a receiver's break. He’ll turn 31 in mid-September, making it unlikely that he will improve in those areas.
Hosley should benefit from his second training camp. Expect him to enter the season poised to overtake Ross by the fourth or fifth game.
The competition between Hosley and Ross is a win-win situation for Big Blue. When two players need to battle for playing time and a defined role, it usually makes them sharper and better heading into the season.
And Ross will want his spot back if Hosley supplants him. Given that he is a team player with a good attitude, Ross should elevate his play in this situation, giving the Giants a solid fourth cornerback as well.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
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