The following is part 1 of a 2-part series, where we take a look at the two most likely candidates to be the Cowboys top target in free agency as they attempt to fix their cornerback issues. Tomorrow, we will break down Cortland Finnegan in the same manner, and attempt to render a decision.
Brandon Carr - Grand Valley State - Born: May 19, 1986
As the 5th round of the 2008 NFL Draft was starting, most football fans had found something else to do with their time. Drafts carry big ratings numbers and intrigue early on, but the late stages are only for the hardest of hard core folks, and the people that make or break their personnel department careers on finding gems when 135 players have already been picked over in the first 4 rounds.
The Cowboys picked 8th in the 5th round, and had already taken a cornerback in the 1st round (Mike Jenkins) and wanted to find some more depth now in the 5th. The fifth pick of the round was Kansas City, who also selected a cornerback earlier in the weekend, when they snagged Brandon Flowers with the 35th pick of the draft. And with pick #140, they found their other starting corner for the next 4 years, another Brandon, Brandon Carr of Grand Valley State. Zack Bowman went to the Bears at #142 and then the Cowboys took Orlando Scandrick at #143. We will never know if the Cowboys were annoyed Carr or Bowman were gone when they went on the clock, but now the possibility exists that the Cowboys top 3 corners in 2012 could all be from the 2008 draft.
Carr was so underwhelming as a small college prospect that he was not invited to the 2008 NFL Combine, nor did he warrant even a mention in the Our Lads Draft Guide for the 2008 season. They did list his 40 time from his pro day as 4.47, his height at 6'0 and his weight at 205. Here is a brief synopsis of his draft scouting report from the league's website:
Positives: Prototypical size for corner, tall with decent build and nice arm span. ... Shows good hands for the interception and can high-point the ball. ... Turns and runs with receivers well, showing good speed and the ability to maintain position. ... Plays in the slot at times, but is best on the outside.
Negatives: A better athlete than football player. ... Does not play as physically or aggressively as you'd like with his size. ... He does not press much and is only adequate coming up in run support or getting off receiver blocks. ... Marginal backpedal, and plays a bit high. ... Rough transition against smaller, quicker receivers.
Since draft day of 2008, he has played 4,242 snaps for the Chiefs as a starting corner who has hardly left the field. He has been healthy, effective, and improving each season. In 2009, league QB's had a 99.7 rating when passing at him. IN 2010, it dropped to below the league average at 80.4, and this year it was way near the bottom at 61.7. Cynics will point out that he has enjoyed a steady diet of QBs from Oakland and Denver recently, including two Tim Tebow starts as well as a chance to play Curtis Painter, Caleb Hanie, and even Donovan McNabb in Minnesota. But, the counter to that is that this season the Chiefs also dealt with Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and of course, Phil Rivers twice each season.
I will be the first to admit that my NFC leanings have not led me to very much of his work that comes quickly to mind, so I took it upon myself to spend the last few days watching as many of his snaps and moments in 2011 that I could fit in. Easily viewing hundreds of his snaps has allowed me to draw some conclusions from both the television copies and some time with the "full 22" copies so that we can see how he looks when he leaves the screen of the networks. I am certainly no football coach, but I have learned that simply observing a player with your own eyes and ideas of what the position calls for can help anyone figure out their own opinion of a player rather than counting on someone else to do it for them and regurgitate opinions or try to apply meaning to statistics.
Carr is a very impressive player, and as anyone who follows the Cowboys can imagine, his 6'0 frame while weighing almost 210 is a welcome change from the normally 5'9 corners the Cowboys seem to routinely run out over the last few seasons. Size matters in this league and although the Eagles employ midget receivers, the Giants do not, and Hakeem Nicks is just 10 months older than Dez Bryant, so he is not going anywhere for a while. It might make a lot of sense to get a corner who has a nice combination of size and speed.
Carr has real good wheels for a player his size and was only beaten over the top one time all season from what I saw. Devin Aromashodu did beat him for a perfectly executed "go" route in Week 4 as McNabb laid a great pass over the top, but that was it. Otherwise, most completions against Carr were either quick outs when the Chiefs were in a soft zone or comebacks as Carr cheats to the over-the-top moves (which is always a reasonable plan when you have no safety help). The other thing that teams seemed to use against him were simple drag routes and the Patriots ran plenty of tight ends at him on the Monday Night in Foxboro.
He had just one game all season where at team found over 60 yards at his expense. Detroit completed 4 of 6 passes at Carr for 70 yards, but otherwise, he held everyone to very little. Brandon Marshall gave Carr issues with his underneath work due to Marshall's strength, but Carr can overpower just about everyone who was thrown at him.
As the season went along (perhaps the coaching change influenced this, but I do not pretend to know all the nuances of the Chiefs' 2011 season), Kansas City switched their coverages from plenty of zone to a ton of press coverage man-to-man. Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr both look better in the press situations, and maybe his best game was against the Jets where he was pressing Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress all day and held the Jets to no completions at him the entire game. Then, the next week, Aaron Rodgers threw 6 balls at Carr, completing just 1 for 8 yards. His final 5 weeks totaled the following incredible stat-line: 5 completions surrendered on 21 attempts at his man, for just 51 yards total and 2 Interceptions for a QB rating of 0. That's right, 0, against Caleb Hanie, Mark Sanchez, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, and Tim Tebow.
Carr is a strong cover man, but we should be clear that he is not a blitzing player on any level. He rushed the passer 1 time in 2011 in 1,030 snaps. The Chiefs just left their two outside corners out to cover (Flowers never blitzed).
Another thing, I have heard many people bring up Brandon Flowers as the Chiefs true #1 corner. And that is clear when they paid him last September with a 6-year, $49.3 million deal. But, on the field, Flowers wasn't always taking the best receiver. The Chiefs lined up Flowers to the left side and Carr to the right side on virtually every snap I watched. There was no straight match-ups, it was purely based on the side of the field, so I don't buy that Flowers always took the #1 receiver. I saw Carr against everyone.
Carr is just 25 years old, and he will turn 26 in May. He is not completely perfect, as his interest in being a big contributor in stopping the run seems to be modest at best. He will tackle when called upon, but he is certainly not pushing people out of the way to get a running back to the ground. But, he is a press corner who seems to enjoy turning and running with a receiver as a shadow.
I am a little concerned about his 4 year trend (see below) as it speaks of either a contract year performance or the natural progression of a corner figuring things out as he becomes a veteran. Unfortunately, you will need to pay between $40 and $50 million to find out which it is. Stats courtesy of www.profootballfocus.com
So, is he as good as he was in 2011 at the age of 25? And can we consider those numbers relevant in the NFC East?
Summary: He is not Darrell Revis. The idea that signing him would instantly make the Cowboys a team that has Deion Sanders in his prime shutting down one side of the field is silly. But, he would be a great addition as a big corner who loves press coverage and that won't back down to physical receivers, but also doesn't seem to get beat over the top. He is not going to shut them down, but he will hold his own. He is going to be very expensive as he has everything going for him, including position scarcity, size, and age. It seems the going rate for strong corners in free agency is about 5 years/$50 million, and I believe he will get close to that. if the Cowboys get him in here, I think they will be very pleased.
But, is he the perfect and ideal fit? Let's look at Cortland Finnegan tomorrow, before we answer that last question.