Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook.
It seems like only yesterday when Darrelle Revis was considered the NFL's premier cover corner. The seven-time Pro Bowler certainly made his mark on the game with a rugged playing style on the perimeter that deftly mixed physicality, technique and toughness to erase receivers from the passing game. Revis was so effective at neutralizing WR1s that he earned the nickname "Revis Island" for his ability to strand top receivers on the perimeter.
Although an ACL injury in 2012 robbed Revis of some of his speed and athleticism, the corner continued to blanket wideouts on the edge with a rock-solid technical game built on analyzing hash-split rules, route combinations and quarterback reads to anticipate throws in his area. Revis earned first-team All-Pro honors for the fourth time in 2014, and as recently as 2015, Revis' masterful strategies allowed him to rank as one of the top cornerbacks in the game, as evidenced by quarterbacks' 46.5 percent completion rate against him during that season.
In 2016, however, the veteran's game declined dramatically to the point where he appeared to wear a bull's-eye on his chest. Revis gave up a 66.7 percent completion rate and looked sluggish as he struggled to cover WR1s and WR2s on the outside. With Revis due to count for $15.3 million against the salary cap in 2017, the Jets decided to release the former face of the franchise this offseason. And he remains on the open market today.
Seeing Revis as a liability on the perimeter last season, many league observers have suggested that the 31-year-old should move inside to safety to extend his career. Revis himself hinted that a relocation to the deep middle might be in his future during this past season.
Now, in general, I think it is a little presumptuous to automatically assume anyone can make the transition from corner to safety. After all, the skills needed to thrive at safety are completely different than the traits required to excel at corner.
"To be a great safety, you must be great in four areas: vision, knowledge, tackling and angles," former NFL defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman told me. (Thurman, by the way, was Revis' defensive backs coach for five seasons with the Jets.) "Corners have a narrower view of the game since they play on the outside. Safety must be able to see the entire field and react to things that happen all over the field. He must be able to read angles and diagnose routes while on the move. In addition, safeties must have a complete mastery of the scheme and be able to make adjustments on the fly. That's why vision and concept comprehension is critical to their success.
"Finally, you must be a strong tackler in space. He doesn't have to be a trained killer, but he must be able to get runners down when they get into open field."
Having studied Revis' game throughout his career, I see him as a player who possesses a lot of the safety skills described above. So, yes, he does indeed strike me as a cornerback capable of making the transition to the post.
Revis has always played more of a cerebral game on the perimeter, exhibiting a combination of intelligence, awareness and diagnostic skill that sets him apart from his peers. Revis is one of the best pattern readers in the game, and his superior instincts allow him to anticipate his receiver's moves well in advance. As a tackler, he was one of the more physical players on the perimeter earlier in his career, exhibiting a "thump" mentality that would lead to big hits on receivers in the open field. Although he has abandoned some of this physicality in the latter half of his career. Still, Revis has displayed the kind of communication skills and leadership ability that would appear to make him a natural fit at safety.
"Revis is definitely a technician," Buster Skrine said on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football." "He's one of the smartest players that I've ever been around. He taught everyone in that secondary how to hit better, how to take your game to another level."
With that in mind, I believe Revis certainly could handle the responsibilities associated with moving to safety. He plays with a big-picture perspective and exhibits the communication skills to act as a traffic cop in the middle of the field.
And here's an important factor: I think Revis was humbled by his ghastly 2016 campaign. He admitted in October that he entered the season out of shape following offseason wrist surgery.
"Coming into the season, I had a little bit of a weight problem," Revis said in an interview with ESPN New York radio midway through last season. "I was trying to get my weight down. Then the first couple of games went by so fast, I couldn't really get my rhythm. Then the hamstring came."
I think he'll be recommitted this offseason and won't have that same problem. Thus, I could see his coverage skills returning more to form. And if he transitions to safety, he'll be leaving the WR1s and WR2s on the perimeter and instead taking on tight ends and slot receivers.
"There's a huge benefit to putting a former high-level cornerback with some skills at safety in today's game," an AFC personnel executive said. "Revis can be very effective covering tight ends despite losing some of his speed and athleticism. He will still have an athletic advantage over most tight ends and he's definitely capable of covering with No. 3 receivers in the slot. ... With the way offenses are trending towards more tight end mismatches, Revis could be a valuable option as a strong safety in a base defense. ... Lesser players have made the move successfully, so I don't know why he wouldn't be able to do it."
I definitely believe a player with Revis' skills and knowledge could be a huge asset at safety. Despite public perception, I believe the veteran would still be a solid CB2 -- and the move to the post would make him one of the top cover safeties in the league. Revis still holds an athletic advantage over most of the tight ends in the NFL and his savvy would allow him to play faster as a curl/flat defender or half-field/post safety in a zone. Considering how many teams are incorporating more zone concepts into their base game plans, Revis' knowledge, instincts and anticipation could make him an effective thief in the back end.
Now, Revis certainly needs to work on a few aspects of his game to successfully make the transition to safety. He must re-discover his love of contact and master angles from deep positions.
"He has to get back to tackling," Thurman said. "He used to mix it up a lot when he was younger, but he's gotten away from that as a veteran. As a safety, he must embrace the physical part of the game again or it's not going to work."
If Revis is fully committed to making the move to safety, he can follow the blueprints crafted by Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and even DeAngelo Hall. Those defenders embraced the physical and mental challenges of playing in the post, and their careers were extended due to the shift.
Although I still believe Revis has some value as a CB2 at this stage of his career, the possibility of acquiring a veteran defender with the ability to fill a hybrid role (corner-safety-nickel) could intrigue plenty of teams after the dust settles following the 2017 NFL Draft.
FIRST-ROUND BUSTS: Why do so many get a second chance?
One man's trash is another man's treasure.
I don't know how many NFL executives, scouts and coaches are well-versed in English proverbs, but nearly every decision maker in the league adheres to this idiom when it comes to acquiring players. Teams are willing to turn over every stone looking for a hidden gem, and that includes taking chances on former first-round flameouts who've grossly underachieved.
"We are always looking to upgrade the talent on the roster with minimal risk," an AFC personnel executive told me. "If you can resurrect a guy who was supposed to be a blue-chipper but failed to play up to expectations, you score major points as a team builder."
How else do you explain the Seattle Seahawks' signing of pass rusher Dion Jordan earlier this week? Jordan, who went third overall to the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 NFL Draft, hasn't suited up for a single game since 2014 due to multiple drug suspensions and injuries. Why would the 'Hawks take a chance on a bust who mustered just three sacks in the 26 games he played with the Dolphins?
"You want to give a former first-rounder every opportunity to show me that he can't play," the AFC personnel executive said. "Whether his failures were due to a poor scheme fit or personal demons, I want him to confirm why he can't play at a high level as a pro after we (talent evaluators) put big grades on him when he was coming out. ... If he does work out, it becomes a huge success story."
That's why teams continue to collect former first-round picks in the offseason as soon as they're dispatched by the squads that drafted them. While the Seahawks have garnered recent headlines for their decision to add Jordan, earlier this offseason Seattle made even more of a commitment to the player who went one pick before Jordan in the 2013 draft: Luke Joeckel. Having given Joeckel a one-year, $8 million contract -- with $7 million guaranteed -- Seattle clearly envisions the former No. 2 overall pick as a starter on an offensive line that struggled last season. Joeckel failed to live up to expectations in Jacksonville, eventually losing the left tackle role he was drafted to play and getting kicked inside to guard. The Seahawks are hoping they can fix the fifth-year pro and resurrect his career in the Pacific Northwest.
Snagging a pair of top-three picks from a draft that took place just four years ago? Sure.
"You will always see teams take chances on former first-rounders," an NFC executive told me. "There is a fear that you might miss out on a potential star. ... No matter how poorly they've played early in their career, we continue to believe that they went in the first round for a reason. Every coach thinks he can cultivate that talent in their environment."
Yes, no matter how many times these experiments fail, teams continue to gamble on the perceived blue-chip talents who didn't play up to expectations at the previous stop.
"The funny thing about these projects is that they rarely work," the NFC exec said. "How many times have we actually seen a first-round bust play up to pre-draft expectations in a new environment? They may play well enough to make a contribution, but we've rarely seen these guys become dominant players after being let go by their original teams."
While I don't entirely agree with that scout's assessment, I do understand why teams bring in failed top draft picks for an audition, even if it's only for a limited role. In a player-acquisition business where talent is coveted at a premium, it's imperative to exhaust all of your resources to discover key contributors who can help the team get over the hump. If the coach can carve out a role for the guy to maximize his skills as a situational player or solid starter, it is well worth the investigation and investment.
"The New England Patriots have made a living taking other teams' castoffs and turning them into role players," the AFC exec said. "Look at how they've been able to take guys like Shea McClellin, Barkevious Mingo, Michael Floyd and others, and put them in positions to excel. ... They understand the value of turning low-risk players into productive playmakers."
During my playing days with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, I watched Al Davis and Ron Wolf recycle plenty of former first-round picks on their respective teams in hopes of resurrecting a blue-chip talent. This was especially true in Oakland, where I played alongside guys like Harvey Williams, Aundray Bruce and Jeff George, all of whom strolled into the Raiders' locker room after being regarded as busts at their previous stops.
This offseason, the Seahawks have scooped up a pair of first-rounders from the 2013 draft, but Jordan and Joeckel aren't the only high-profile guys from that class to have worn out their welcome and consequently hit the open market. In fact, only 17 first-round picks from 2013 are still with the team that selected them. A bunch of those other 15 first-rounders have joined new teams this offseason, including Barkevious Mingo (former No. 6 overall pick, signed with the Colts this offseason), Chance Warmack (No. 10, signed with the Eagles), D.J. Hayden (No. 12, signed with the Lions), EJ Manuel (No. 16, signed with the Raiders), Sylvester Williams (No. 28, signed with the Titans) and Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 29, signed with the Raiders). It will be interesting to see how these guys perform in new environments, but a lack of success won't preclude NFL organizations from taking these kind of chances in the future.
Considering how executives, scouts and coaches love reclamation projects, we are destined to see more teams kick the tires on busts and flameouts to see if they can unlock their potential.