Revis the best Jet? Namath: Not yet

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Darrelle Revis is only 26 years old, but his reputation already is starting to outgrow the current NFL. It's widely accepted that he's the top cornerback in the league and the best player on the New York Jets, but it's fair -- and fun -- to wonder:

Historically, where does he fit in?

Rex Ryan believes Revis has redefined the cornerback position and will go down as the greatest Jet ever. The man who holds that unofficial title -- Joe Namath -- isn't ready to abdicate that pedestal just yet.

The legendary quarterback is a Revis fan, more than ever after last Monday night's performance, but Namath said it's difficult to compare players from different generations. He used a Derek Jeter-Babe Ruth analogy.

Championships matter, too, according to Namath.

Namath has his Super Bowl bling; Revis and the current Jets still are chasing the ring in Ryan's mind.

"I'm hoping for him, let's put it that way," Namath told ESPNNewYork.com, commenting on whether he thinks Revis will transcend his legacy some day. "It's all relative to people's perspective. Derek Jeter is sensational. Is he the greatest Yankee ever? Sure, to these generations, but what about Babe Ruth? Records are made to be broken, that kind of thing."

Broadway Joe added, "Most importantly, it's about winning a championship and I know Darrelle wants to do that above all."

During the offseason, Ryan told the NFL Network on its top-100 show that Revis will be "the best Jet in the history of the New York Jet franchise." That raised some eyebrows, especially among the old-school types.

Some might consider it heresy, projecting another player above the beloved Namath, but -- guess what? -- Ryan isn't backing down. The outspoken coach has more ammunition than ever, with Revis off to perhaps the best start of his five-year career.

Does Namath agree with Ryan's claim? They haven't agreed on a lot lately, with Namath creating a firestorm recently with criticism about Ryan's coaching.

"You're asking me something that's more to do with Rex than it is to do with Darrelle," said Namath, perhaps envisioning the headlines. "God bless him. If that's the way Rex thinks, that's terrific."

Yeah, that's what Rex thinks. And, of course, he's not bashful about saying what he thinks.

"No disrespect to Joe Namath, who of course is the charismatic guy, the Hall of Fame quarterback," Ryan told ESPNNewYork.com. "Don Maynard is a Hall of Famer, too, and Winston Hill probably should be in the Hall of Fame. I'm not trying to be disrespectful to any Jet, past or present, but when it's all said and done, when you're rating guys, I don't know where you're going to stop. Maybe you don't stop at all when you think about Darrelle Revis."

Revis is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time All-Pro and an NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year runner-up (2009). With three interceptions in six games, including a 100-yard touchdown return, he's an early favorite for the defensive honor.

He's heard the Namath comparisons and the "best Jet ever" talk, but he downplayed that stuff. He cracked, "You've got to ask that when I've won a couple of Super Bowls and I'm a second-string defensive back" in the twilight of his career.

For the most part, Revis is humble, certainly not a flamboyant, look-at-me player, but he's not afraid to think big. No man is an island -- not even on Revis Island -- but he wants to stand alone.

"It's always a dream, trying to be the best (cornerback) ever," he said. "I'm sure the Lester Hayneses and the Mel Blounts thought the same thing. Why not? I think you control your destiny as a player."

It's hard to compare players from different eras, especially cornerbacks, a position in which stats are often misleading. The trendy statistic is "burn percentage," which tracks completed passes versus the number of times targeted.

Revis led the league with a 35.4 percent in 2009 and 2010, and he ranks second this season with a 32.3 mark, according to STATS LLC. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ike Taylor (20.0) is the leader.

Impressive stuff, but Ryan believes those numbers don't tell the entire story because Revis is often assigned to the opposing team's best receiver with "zero" coverage on his side of the field -- meaning no help from a safety.

That, Ryan said, is a revolutionary approach, one they began in 2009.

"The first year we got here, we did something that's never been done in the history of the NFL -- that's what this guy has done," Ryan said. "It used to be, if you had an elite corner like Deion Sanders or Willie Brown, you'd put them on the second receiver and say, 'OK, we're going to lock him up and roll coverage to the good receiver.

"We put him on the best guy with no help, and it's never been done in the history of the game."

Namath has always appreciated Revis as a player, but he admitted that "it's really taken me up to this season to recognize all of his talents." They jumped off the screen last Monday night, when Revis intercepted two passes and broke up two others while covering the Miami Dolphins' Brandon Marshall.

"I tell you what, against Miami, the thing I recognized was how quickly he was able to get his eyes on the ball," Namath said. "You see so many cornerbacks turn their heads late, not finding the ball. He finds the darn ball as quick as anyone I've ever seen. Boy, he gets that head around and the eyes, and he's in position to get his hands on the ball and knock it down. His technique is wonderful."

Former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Torry Holt made a career of studying cornerbacks, and he said there are two things that jump out about Revis, whom he faced in 2008.

"He's grown-man strong and he knows how to cut down angles, and beat you to the point you're trying to go," said Holt, an NFL Network analyst.

Revis often knows where the receiver is going because he spends an inordinate amount of time breaking down tape, studying everything from body language to feet and hand placement. That part of his game -- his cerebral approach -- often is overlooked.

"He's playing a game of chess with you, and you're playing a game of chess with him," Holt said. "The problem is, he's playing chess better than anybody in the league."

Holt didn't single out one player when asked to name the best cornerback he's faced or observed -- he named several -- but he believes Revis will join the list if he can stay healthy and play well for another five years.

Ryan said Revis already belongs with the best of the best.

"Maybe it's him with Deion Sanders and Willie Brown," said Ryan, referring to two Hall of Famers. "I don't know how you would compare him to anybody else. He has to be in that company. ... He really is that special."

To appreciate Revis, skip past the interception total. He doesn't have a lot, but he has built a reputation for delivering in the clutch. (Think back to Namath's Jeter comparison.) Of his 17 career interceptions, he's made 10 in the fourth quarter. Since 2007, only one player has more -- the Green Bay Packers' Charles Woodson (10).

Revis won the season opener with a late interception against the Dallas Cowboys and, although it didn't occur in the fourth quarter, his 100-yard interception return last week changed the game and perhaps the season for the Jets.

"He's like Superman, coming in to save the day," teammate Sione Pouha said. "He starts out like Clark Kent. Sometimes you don't hear about him; sometimes people don't throw to him. But when he's needed, or people try to test him, he shows the cape."

Asked if he's ever surprised by anything Revis does on the field, Pouha thought for a moment.

"I'm never surprised," he said, "but he never ceases to amaze me."