NFL Network’s meaningless and flawed Top 100 list provides a framework for potentially meaningful debates. As recently noted by Scott Allen of the Washington Post, the placement of cornerback Josh Norman at No. 11 sparked an on-air conversation between Norman and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
With no other cornerbacks higher on the list than Norman, Tomlinson used that fact to support his argument that the NFL currently has no shutdown cornerbacks.
“If you say there are no shutdown corners, well there’s no game-changing running backs today,” Norman said to Tomlinson. “I was just with a guy named A.P. [Adrian Peterson], so I know he’s a game-changing running back, you ain’t got to tell me.”
Apparently, however, Tomlinson’s argument doesn’t flow from the absence of quality corners but from the absence of a clear-cut, no-debate, No. 1 guy.
“To me, when you talk about a top corner, you only name one guy, usually,” Tomlinson said. “If someone says, ‘Who is the top corner?’ one name is going to jump off the board. In years past, it’s always been Darrelle Revis. This was the first year that we can actually say, ‘Okay, maybe it’s Josh, maybe it’s Richard [Sherman], maybe it’s Darrelle [Revis], maybe it’s Patrick [Peterson]. We’ve got too many guys, that’s my point.”
But that’s not exactly the point Tomlinson made back in March, when he first applied the oven mitts as he served up his piping hot take.
“There are no shutdown corners, at all,” Tomlinson said, initially. “There are none in the National Football League. . . . At this point they’re not shutdown corners.”
In a subsequent on-air debate with Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., Tomlinson focused on completion percentages allowed by the game’s top corners in 2015, comparing those numbers to Darrelle Revis in his prime to make the case that today’s corners just aren’t good enough to earn the label.
Now, Tomlinson’s argument seems to be that, because there isn’t a consensus best cornerback in the league at this moment, there is no “shutdown corner.” That’s like saying there are no franchise quarterbacks because, currently, there isn’t one guy who is clearly the best quarterback in the NFL.
Tomlinson’s revised point has merit, since reasonable minds can differ as to whether Norman, Sherman, Revis, Peterson, Harris, or someone else is the best cornerback in the league. His original point, however, is harder to sell — especially as pro football skews more and more toward the passing game.
It’s not easy to play corner in today’s NFL, with the rules continuing to favor completing, not defending, passes. Also, receivers are getting better and better, since they’re typically entering the league much better prepared to run routes and catch balls after all the time that is devoted to the passing game at the lower levels of the sport and the many 7-on-7 camps and other developmental programs aimed at crafting quarterbacks.