Analysis

Jalen Ramsey, Trevon Diggs Among Underperforming Cornerbacks

Trevon Diggs vs Mike Evans

Playing cornerback isn’t easy. The rules favor wide receivers in an NFL that is increasingly focused on high-powered offenses. Still, it’s essential to look at which cornerbacks are underperforming since their role in stopping those same high-powered offenses is so crucial. 

The 2022 NFL Draft featured two cornerbacks in the first four picks — Derek Stingley Jr. going to the Houston Texans and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner going to the New York Jets. They both presented elite athleticism and mirroring ability allowing them to shut down opposing receivers and excel in press coverage.

It’s been only three weeks, but they haven’t shown that shutdown ability so far. They both rank in the top-15 for most Expected Points Added (EPA) per target with a minimum of 10 targets.

They’ve each yielded most of their production to one receiver.

Gardner allowed four first downs on four targets against Amari Cooper in Week 2. He also allowed a deep ball against Tee Higgins in Week 3. Stingley Jr. also allowed four first downs in Week 2 against Courtland Sutton, but he was targeted eight times.

Most EPA per target allowed, 2022 CB (minimum 10 targets)

Player Team Targets EPA/Tgt
Kyler Gordon Bears 15 1.09
Rashad Fenton Chiefs 11 0.76
Michael Davis Chargers 13 0.67
Mike Hughes Lions 12 0.58
Cameron Dantzler Sr. Vikings 15 0.57
Ahmad Gardner Jets 14 0.54
Avonte Maddox Eagles 10 0.52
Denzel Ward Browns 15 0.48
Roger McCreary Titans 12 0.36
Kenny Moore II Colts 11 0.32
Kendall Fuller Commanders 24 0.31
A.J. Terrell Falcons 20 0.28
Jalen Ramsey Rams 19 0.23
Eli Apple Bengals 12 0.28
Derek Stingley Jr. Texans 16 0.25
Trevon Diggs Cowboys 19 0.20

Coverage performance is somewhat volatile year-over-year, so perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, but three defensive standouts from 2021 also appear to be regressing this season. 

Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

An early 2021 Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Diggs had seven interceptions through six games and ended with three more interceptions than any other player. However, he also allowed 135 more yards in coverage than any other player, which counterbalanced things. His EPA per target allowed last year was basically zero.

This year, he has just the one pick, which was against Daniel Jones in Week 3. He gave up seven receptions (all first downs) for 80 yards and a touchdown against Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Mike Evans. 

Diggs has spent a lot of time covering the league’s best, but he has to generate turnovers to justify allowing this kind of production, regardless of who’s lined up opposite him.

A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons

Terrell was a standout in 2021. He allowed less than half a yard per coverage snap, which was second-best in the league. He was targeted 62 times, which is pretty high if you’re trying to be a shutdown corner, but he allowed the third-lowest EPA per target among players who were targeted at least 20 times.

This year, he has been targeted heavily (20 targets through three weeks), but he hasn’t clamped down like last year. His yards allowed per coverage snap allowed is in the bottom half of the league, and half of his targets have gone for first downs. If we focus just on accurate throws, his On-Target Catch Rate allowed has jumped from 66% to 77%.

Jalen Ramsey, L.A. Rams

After a year when he was arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, Ramsey has come out of the gates a little slower this year (along with the Rams as a team). In his early years with the Jaguars, he was heavily targeted (90+ each full season), and this year is starting on a similar path with 19 targets through three games.

Of course, a 53-yard touchdown from Stefon Diggs contributes substantially to his ledger, and if he had converted a dropped interception in Week 2, he’d be tied for the league lead. This season has gotten off to a start that looks more like Diggs’ 2021 than Ramsey’s.

Alex Vigderman contributed to this report. 

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