AFC East: Tramon Williams

Revis, McCourty and then Davis at corner

June, 21, 2011
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NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan continues to roll out his positional evaluations.

Next up are cornerbacks.

Only three AFC East players made Kirwan's rundown of the league's 30 best cornerbacks. Kirwan breaks down each position into sets of five (along with a corresponding trend arrow), and you can guess who's in the "A" quintet.

New York Jets star Darrelle Revis is there and still trending upward. Also in the group are Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey, Asante Samuel and Charles Woodson.

New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty is in the "B" group, ranking him somewhere between sixth and 10th along with Cortland Finnegan, Dunta Robinson, Tramon Williams and Antoine Winfield. McCourty's arrow is pointing up, too.

Vontae Davis of the Miami Dolphins fell into the "D" group and is tending upward in Kirwan's book.

Polamalu secondary to Revis on DB list

June, 7, 2011
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General consensus says Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is the NFL's best defensive player.

He was voted The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. ESPN.com's Power Rankings panel made him the unanimous choice when voting on the best defenders last month.

But in a segment for the NFL Network, a pair of opinionated and decorated veterans didn't rate Polamalu even the best defensive back in the game.

New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber assembled their top-10 list of the greatest defensive backs. With one safety and one corner compiling the order, there was no positional bias.

This is what Sharper and Barber came up with:
  1. Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback
  2. Troy Polamalu, Steelers safety
  3. Ed Reed, Ravens safety
  4. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders cornerback
  5. Charles Woodson, Packers cornerback
  6. Champ Bailey, Broncos cornerback
  7. Nick Collins, Packers safety
  8. Adrian Wilson, Rams safety
  9. Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback
  10. Aqib Talib, Buccaneers cornerback

I believe Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL, but it's a little strange to see him rated higher than Polamalu, who's coming off such a great season.

That's also an impressive showing for McCourty after one NFL season. Sharper and Barber ranked him the fifth-best cornerback ahead of guys like Asante Samuel, Antoine Winfield and Tramon Williams.

McCourty can't tip Power Rankings scales

April, 19, 2011
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Power Rankings should not be a career-achievement award. They are a snapshot of a given moment, the here and now.

Since we're in the offseason -- or purgatory, if you will -- I've been forced to alter the perception of the moment when compiling my positional Power Rankings ballots for ESPN.com's weekly series.

I've taken into account not only last year's production, but also how I perceive players entering the 2011 season.

With that in mind, I can't fathom how New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty didn't get more respect from our panel when rating the NFL's best at his position. He came in eighth on the overall list, one point behind Tramon Williams.

I rated him fifth on my ballot. Nobody else had him higher than NFC West blogger Mike Sando at eighth. Three bloggers ranked McCourty ninth, two had him 10th. NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas didn't list him at all.

Yasinskas reasoned it was because McCourty was a rookie who needs to put together another brilliant season to be considered among the best.

"One great season does not make a great career," Yasinskas said in the story written by AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky. "Let's see him do it again. I'm not saying he's got to do it for 10 or 15 years. ... But you have to be consistently at the top for at least a few years before you get on a top 10 list."

That's where Yasinskas and I have philosophical differences.

It didn't matter that McCourty was a rookie when the Associated Press voted him second-team All-Pro, when the Sporting News named him first-team All-Pro, when the fans, coaches and players voted McCourty a Pro Bowl starter.

McCourty tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. He ranked fourth in team tackles with 83 and led with 17 passes defensed (by the Patriots' count; the NFL had him down for 24). He also recorded a sack and two forced fumbles.

The NFL community clearly considered McCourty elite. That's good enough for me.

Furthermore, he was New England's left cornerback, forced into the critical role of defending the opposition's top receiver when Leigh Bodden was placed on injured reserve right before the season began. McCourty performed under pressure.

For the record, this was my ballot:
  1. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
  2. Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders
  3. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
  4. Asante Samuel, Philadelphia Eagles
  5. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
  6. Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings
  7. Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos
  8. DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins
  9. Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons
  10. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs

Most of the list is self-explanatory. Where I was most out of line with the other voters -- aside from McCourty -- was Bailey. I ranked him lower than any other panelist.

Then again, McCourty took one of my lofty spots they were reluctant to give. I also had Winfield sixth, exactly the same as four other panelists.

So Bailey makes sense at No. 7 when McCourty gets a little more respect.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 17, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes
Al Bello/Getty ImagesReceiver Santonio Holmes will be facing his former team, the Steelers, for the first time as a New York Jet.
Santonio Holmes can wipe out his droptastic game with a successful homecoming. Holmes committed one of the worst gaffes of the season when he wasted a perfectly thrown Mark Sanchez pass in the left corner of the end zone against the Dolphins last week. Holmes can erase that memory and help the Jets move on from two weeks of turmoil with a big game Sunday against his old team. The Steelers traded the Super Bowl MVP for a fifth-round draft pick because they were tired of dealing with him at a time when Ben Roethlisberger was embarrassing the organization, too. Holmes had been suspended four games for violating the NFL's drug policy. But he still felt betrayed to be dumped. "It's been on my mind for quite some time, and I just never let it play a factor until now," Holmes said. "Now is the time to get a chance to play against these guys. I spent four years there. It's definitely time to show these guys 'Why let me go?' "

Brains are working overtime to find a formula to beat the Patriots. In this week's "Hot Read" feature, ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber explores how the seemingly invincible Patriots can be beaten. The formula looks simple:

  • Harass or confuse Tom Brady into making mistakes.
  • Win the turnover battle.
  • Run the ball effectively to limit Patriots possessions.
  • Score enough points against a middling defense.

"That's the magic formula," ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi told Garber with a laugh. "Easier said than done." ESPN Insider contributor KC Joyner also tried to crack the Patriots' offensive code with some suggestions for the Packers on Sunday. He advises them to get Wes Welker into traffic, put cover corner Tramon Williams on Deion Branch and defend rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez like a receiver.

Don't worry about Cameron Wake not being higher in the Pro Bowl voting. I've noticed some resentment from South Florida regarding Wake's lack of Pro Bowl votes among outside linebackers. He entered the week fifth behind James Harrison, Terrell Suggs, LaMarr Woodley and Shaun Phillips. Fret not, Dolfans. Wake not only will make the roster, but he will generate attention for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Wake leads the league with 14 sacks and should add to his total Sunday against the Bills. There's no denying his impact.

Thanks to Sal Alosi's bad trip, Brian Schottenheimer has avoided the spotlight this week. The controversy Alosi kicked up with his trip of Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll eclipsed the aggravation Jets fans have developed with Schottenheimer. Jets head coach Rex Ryan was subjected to chants to fire Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator after losing back-to-back games without a touchdown. Not only has Sanchez crumbled, but the run game also has disappeared. Schottenheimer owned up Thursday at a news conference. "Overall I'm in charge of the offense," Schottenheimer said. "I take a lot of pride in that. I take a lot of pride in my job. I take a lot of pride in our unit, and we're not playing very well. It's my job to put the players in position to make plays. It's my job along with the staff to get them to do the fundamentals right."

If Ryan Fitzpatrick can remain upright Sunday, then the Bills will have a chance. The Bills' offensive line is in rough shape and is about to face one of the NFL's stingiest teams. The Dolphins rank fifth in total defense, seventh in run defense and sixth in pass defense. Fitzpatrick has shown he can make good decisions. Despite the Bills' record and the fact they're often playing from behind, Fitzpatrick has thrown 21 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. But he won't have receiver Lee Evans to loosen up coverages, and will face a pass rush that registered six sacks against of the Jets, who own one of the NFL's better offensive lines. Wake will be matched up against Mansfield Wrotto, a third-year pro who was out of work until October.

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