The term "shut-down corner" has been thrown around a lot as of late. Unfortunately, there is really no such thing as a shut-down corner in the NFL today.
The last guys who could have been considered as such were Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders. While the NFL still has some great corners, a shut-down corner does not exist.
The loss of the shut-down corner is not due to a drop off in talent, but a change in scheme over the past decade. A corner who is relied on to absolutely shut down his man on every play really does not exist any longer.
The sophistication of offenses has resulted in teams playing a lot more zone coverage, and a corner cannot be a shut-down guy in the zone.
These guys come as close to a shut-down corner as the NFL has to offer.
Honorable Mention: Darrelle Revis (New York Jets)
32 games started, 1 sack, 8 INTs, 1 TD, 33 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 119 tackles, one-time Pro Bowler
Revis is a young guy who's starting to get some whispers around the league because of his fantastic play.
Only two years in the league and he's already earned himself a Pro Bowl selection, racked up eight interceptions, and scored his first touchdown.
He's got great size for a corner these days—standing at 6' and 205 pounds allows him to stay with nearly any receiver in the game today. He's also not afraid to hit, as evidenced by his 119 tackles over the past two seasons.
With a guy like Rex Ryan calling the shots in New York, we could see Revis go from relative unknown to All Pro.
5. Antonio Cromartie (San Diego Chargers)
23 games started, 12 INTs, 3 TDs, 32 passes defended, 119 tackles, one-time Pro Bowler, and one-time All-Pro
Were it not for the injury bug catching up to Cromartie last season, he may find himself a few spots higher on this list.
In 2007, Cromartie was hands down the very best corner in the game. His ten interceptions were the most in the game, and his cover skills and long arms surprised opposing quarterbacks.
Even last season, while playing through a hip injury, Cromartie snagged two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
If Cromartie can stay healthy in 2009, look for him to snag between six and eight interceptions while making his way back to the Pro Bowl.
4. Charles Woodson (Green Bay Packers)
149 games started, 9.5 sacks, 36 INTs, 7 TDs, 82 passes defended, 18 forced fumbles, 549 tackles, five-time Pro Bowler, and one-time All-Pro
Woodson had a wonderful start to his career, earning four Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro nod in his second season in the NFL.
The next seven seasons, however, were not nearly as good.
He did not make it to the Pro Bowl in any of those years, even though he most certainly deserved it in a couple of them. Playing for a bad Oakland team saw him get swept under the rug and overlooked when that time came around.
He finally got out of Oakland after the 2005 season, and got a fresh start in Green Bay where he already has more interceptions in his three years there than he did during his eight years in Oakland (17 in Oakland, 19 in Green Bay).
With his first Pro Bowl nod in seven years coming last season, Woodson looks like he's getting better with age, rather than worse. He's a prime candidate to move to safety and be a Pro Bowler there in a couple years when his speed begins to leave him.
3. Champ Bailey (Denver Broncos)
150 games started, 2 sacks, 43 INTs, 4 TDs, 124 passes defended, 5 forced fumbles, 601 tackles, eight-time Pro Bowler, and three-time All-Pro
It was tough to put Champ Bailey this low on the list, but last season was not a good one, and he may be starting to show his age.
He's only 30, but after not missing a game for the first six years of his career, he started missing a game or two here and there. Last season he missed seven games and did not appear to have the same speed or agility that he possessed in the past.
Still one of the best in the game, but only one interception is not going to get it done. On top of only one interception, for the first time in his career we actually saw receivers getting behind Bailey.
Perhaps it was just the injury, in fact, we all hope it was just the injury. Bailey has been the best corner this decade and has been incredible to watch, but he gets beaten out by two young guys.
So is the life of an NFL player.
2. Asante Samuel (Philadelphia Eagles)
68 games started, 26 INTs, 4 TDs, 101 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles, 242 tackles, two-time Pro Bowler, and one-time All-Pro
Not everyone was as sold on Samuel as the Eagles were when he entered free agency a year ago. However, those teams are probably kicking themselves right now.
After being passed up for the Pro Bowl in 2006 after recording 10 interceptions, Samuel has been to two consecutively and even earned an All-Pro nod in 2007.
Many analysts and other experts claimed that his success came from the system in New England and that transitioning to Philadelphia would exploit him.
Four regular season interceptions, and two playoff interceptions (to go along with one touchdown in the regular season and one in the playoffs) later, and he's silenced the critics.
The scary thing is, he said that he was just getting comfortable in the system. Another training camp under his belt and he'll be even better than last season. Look for another Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro nod for Asante Samuel.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland Raiders)
69 games started, 2 sacks, 10 INTs, 1 TD, 52 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 225 tackles, one-time Pro Bowler, and one-time All-Pro
While the stats don't look great, any real football fan understands why Asomugha is tops on this list.
While it's not an officially kept stat, I've found that Asomugha was only thrown at between 25 and 31 times during the entire 2008 season, with only about 10 completions allowed during that same time span.
After his eight interception season in 2006, teams figured out that it was better to just throw to the other side of the field rather than test Asomugha anymore.
Even with only about 30 passes thrown his way, he still came away with an interception and nine passes defended.
Asomugha is about as close as they come to a shut-down corner, and may be as close as we'll ever see again.
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