Only 24 cornerbacks drafted since 2000 have been named first team All-Pro this century (including 2000) and now Patrick Surtain has joined that elite club. Two are named each season, but few have done it in repeat years. Only seven have been named first team more than once since 2000. 32 in total have been named, but some, like Champ Bailey were drafted before 2000 and many only received the honor once.
|2021||1||9||Patrick Surtain II||CB||1|
Unlike Pro Bowl selection, which is now a joke, first team All-Pro still has a great deal of meaning, both for the players and for their pocketbooks (salary negotiations). You should note that in the table above all but three players were taken in the first or second round of the draft. The exceptions are Asante Samuel (drafted in the 4th) and Richard Sherman and Josh Norman (both 5th round picks).
The Surtains also become the only father and son CBs to ever make first team All-Pro (dad in 2002). Making first team All-Pro multiple times is difficult as CB. The year by year list of who made it is below (starting in 2000). For clarity this is AP first team All-Pro, not Sporting News or PFF. I have also not included CBs who made first team All-Pro as returners. Patrick Peterson made it as a returner as a rookie and then made it twice as a CB later. I can’t figure out 2004. It appears that three guys were named first team All-Pro at CB. According to PFR, Lito Sheppard, Champ Bailey and Ronde Barber were all named and none were as returners.
|2000||Samari Rolle||Sam Madison|
|2001||Ronde Barber||Sam Madison|
|2002||Troy Vincent||Patrick Surtain|
|2003||Chris McAlister||Ty Law|
|2004||Ronde Barber||Champ Bailey, Lito Sheppard|
|2005||Ronde Barber||Champ Bailey|
|2006||RaShean Mathis||Champ Bailey|
|2007||Antonio Cromartie||Asante Samuel|
|2008||Nnamdi Asomugha||Cortland Finnegan|
|2009||Darrelle Revis||Charles Woodson|
|2010||Darrelle Revis||Nnamdi Asomugha|
|2011||Darrelle Revis||Charles Woodson|
|2012||Charles Tillman||Richard Sherman|
|2013||Patrick Peterson||Richard Sherman|
|2014||Darrelle Revis||Richard Sherman|
|2015||Patrick Peterson||Josh Norman|
|2016||Aqib Talib||Marcus Peters|
|2017||Jalen Ramsey||Xavier Rhodes|
|2018||Kyle Fuller||Stephon Gilmore|
|2019||Tre'Davious White||Stephon Gilmore|
|2020||Jalen Ramsey||Xavien Howard|
|2021||Jalen Ramsey||Trevon Diggs|
|2022||Patrick Surtain II||Sauce Gardner|
The list of CBs this century who have made it in consecutive years is a fairly short list
- Sam Madison (2000-1)
- Ronde Barber (2004-5)
- Champ Bailey (2004-6)
- Darrelle Revis (2009-11)
- Richard Sherman (2012-2014)
- Jalen Ramsey (2020-1)
There are way more “one and done” guys than there are guys who did it in consecutive years or guys who made it in non-consecutive years. Patrick’s father only made it once, but making it multiple times or in consecutive years is a very good way of cementing yourself as one of the best CBs in your generation, like Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman did. The jury is still out on Jalen Ramsey.
But what makes a CB a first team All-Pro? The obvious answer is interceptions, but these are fleeting and going down year over year. Six players tied for the league lead with six INTs - Justin Simmons was one of them, but only one out of every 43 passes ended as an INT in 2022 which was close to a historic low.
Additionally in the past, many of the best CBs in the league didn’t get targeted - because QBs avoided them, but that has changed in the modern NFL. If you look at the CBs who started 8 or more games, the smallest number of targets per game was Isaiah Rogers whose man was only targeted 1.9 times per game (29 total targets). Only three starting CBs had fewer than 3.0 targets per game. The other two were Darren Hall (2.2) and Eric Stokes (2.8). If you bring in guys who didn’t start many games (fewer than eight) than you find that there were a few more who weren’t targeted often (see below)
In the modern NFL no CB is good enough to be targeted highly infrequently if they are playing every defensive snap. If we look at the guys named to the Pro Bowl this season, we find that, in general, they were targeted somewhere between four and five times per game - and these are supposedly the best of the best at CB. The two first team All-Pros were targeted 4.5 (Surtain) and 5.1 (Sauce Gardner) times per game (and they only gave up 6.1 and 5.3 yards per target). So even the best of the best at CB will be tested in the modern NFL. This is not like 20 or 30 years ago, when teams wouldn’t challenge Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey or Darrelle Revis at all in their prime of their careers.
To state in another way, NFL QBs in 2022 targeted guys even if they were being covered by the best CBs in the league. Sauce Gardner’s man was targeted 86 times. PS2’s man was targeted 77 times. Former first team All-Pro, Jalen Ramsey, saw his man targeted 91 times, which was the 9th most in the league.
PFR has data on targets for defenders going back to 2018. So we can look at how often the first team All-Pro CBs were targeted in the seasons when they made it.
|2018||Kyle Fuller||121||Stephon Gilmore||95|
|2019||Tre'Davious White||90||Stephon Gilmore||101|
|2020||Jalen Ramsey||71||Xavien Howard||101|
|2021||Jalen Ramsey||98||Trevon Diggs||103|
|2022||Patrick Surtain II||77||Sauce Gardner||86|
Over the last five NFL seasons, the first team All-Pro CBs have been targeted 94.3 times on average. Since most teams face somewhere between 500 and 600 passes a year, that means that even the best CBs in the league are getting thrown at somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the time. Kyle Fuller was the most targeted defender in the league in 2018 with 121 targets. His 121 targets is one of the highest values in the league over the five seasons for which PFR has data. The highest is Malcolm Butler’s 127 in 2020 as a member of the Titans.
|Cornerback||Yds/Tgt||COMP% Allowed||Passer Rating Allowed|
|Asante Samuel Jr.||7.2||55.2%||95.3|
|Greg Newsome II||5.9||58.0%||84.6|
|Patrick Surtain II*+||6.1||58.4%||82.6|
|Derek Stingley Jr.||7.6||63.0%||78.4|
Another thing that helps a player make first team AP All-Pro is playing on a winning team. As PS2 proved this year, you can make it on a losing team, but it is easier to do so on a winning club. When Madison made it in back-to-back years his teams went 9-7 and 11-5. For Ronde Barber that was 5-11 and 11-5. Revis - 9-7, 11-5, and 8-8. Sherman - 11-5, 13-3, and 12-4. Ramsey 10-6, 12-5. So it seems it would be good for PS2’s chances of making it in back-to-back years if the Broncos have a winning season in 2023.
For those who like plots, I have plotted all CBs with 20 or more targets by completion percentage allowed (y-axis) and yards per target allowed (x-axis) (see below). I have highlighted Surtain and Damarri Matthis. I was unable to highlight K’Waun Williams because he is right under three other CBs, but he is really close to Surtain on the plot (59.6% and 6.1). CBs want to be in the bottom left quadrant. The other first team All-Pro, Sauce Gardner (53.5%, 5.3) is below PS2 and a little to the left.
No other Bronco CBs, beside Mathis and PS2, had more than 20 targets this season. Essang Bassey (66.7%, 6.2) and Ronald Darby (38.9%, 4.1) both had 18 targets. If Darby had played the rest of the season like he did prior to his injury, he would have been the best CB in the league according to this graph (closest to the origin). Chidobe Awuzie had a similar season in that he was elite when he was on the field; however, he missed the second half of the season due to injury.
Two other Bronco CB had more ten or more targets - Ja’Quan McMillian was targeted 12 times - all in one game (50%, 7.8), which was his only game played, and Lamar Jackson (not the QB) was targeted 10 times in the three games he played for Denver (40%, 8.8). Both guys allowed a very low completion percentage and only allowed a moderate level of yards per target.
Undrafted rookie Ja’Quan McMillian’s twelve targets in one game is pretty crazy. The defensive back targeted the most in 2022 was Kader Kohou of the Dolphins whose man was targeted 115 times in the 15 games he played (7.7 targets per game). That was the highest targets per game for any player with more than 12 targets. Remember that Justin Herbert threw 37 passes in that game where McMillian played, so almost exactly one third of the passes Herbert threw were targeting McMillian’s man. That is a serious trial by fire, one that plenty of previous rookie Bronco CBs have failed. Think back to Mathis first game where he was thrust into the spotlight because of the injury to Darby, in that loss to the Chargers. Mathis’ man was targeted 11 times, but four plays were nullified by defensive pass interference calls.
Getting targeted more than 10 times in one game is rare and it means that the opposing team is making a concerted effort to attack you as the defender. It also means that you are doing a decent enough job to not be replaced by the coaches, or that you are the last CB standing because of injury (both can be true).
In terms of defensive targets per game on the Broncos in 2022 among starters, Josey Jewell had almost the exact same number as Mathis (5.08 vs 5.06) while Alex Singleton had the exact same number as PS2 (4.53 - 77 targets in 17 games).
For what it’s worth Matthis was called for DPI four times in one game (three were bogus IMO) and then not called again for DPI the rest of the season. There were only nine DPI calls against the Broncos this season according to NFLpenalties.com and four came in one game. The Falcons somehow made it through the season with only one DPI called against their defense while there were 15 called against the Chiefs (league high).
There were six defensive holding calls against the Broncos (one was against DJ Jones though, so only five were on the DBs). There were also four illegal contact calls against the defense (one on Randy Gregory, one on PJ Locke and two on Damarri Mathis).
The three most penalized Broncos this season were Graham Glasgow, DJ Jones and Damarri Mathis. All had seven penalties called against them. Glasgow had four holding calls, three false starts and an ineligible downfield. Jones had two facemasks, two neutral zone infractions, and one of each (illegal use of hands, holding and unsportsmanlike conduct). Matthis’ seven have already been discussed except for his one illegal block above the waist which was on a punt return IIRC.
Back to our CBs and their play, the Broncos had a really strong group of CBs in 2022 and a really deep one at that. It’s widely expected that Ronald Darby will be let go as a salary cap move, but with Surtain, Mathis, Williams, and McMillian all under contract for 2023 and Essang Bassey easily brought in for cheap, the CB group appears to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, position groups on the team for next season. This is a good thing with Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and potentially Aaron Rodgers all in the division next season. Our CBs will be tested early and often and have plenty of chances to test their mettle.
So as not to seem like a PS2 apologist, Surtain’s passer rating allowed was not what I would expect from a first team All-Pro. Among players that PFR lists as CB or DB, PS2 was 77th in passer rating allowed at 82.6, mainly because passer rating is heavily dependent on touchdowns and interceptions. PS2 allowed four TDs and only had two INTs. Compare that to Tariq Woolen who allowed three TDs, but had six INTs. Woolen allowed a passer rating of 48.7. In fact if you look at the nexus of high targets (50 or more), and low PR allowed (60 or below) there are only three guys who did that in 2022 - Woolen, Awuzie and James Bradbury of the Eagles.
If we move that bar to a PR allowed of 65 of lower, then we also include Gardner, Jaire Alexander, Cameron Sutton, Alontae Taylor, Jaycee Horn, Von Bell, and Ryan Neal (some of whom are safeties not CBs).
Do you think Patrick Surtain II will make first team All-Pro again in 2023?
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