WASHINGTON — Last season, the Washington Redskins had three of the top 100 performing players on their roster, with Trent Williams ranking the highest at No. 45. They start the 2016 season with four, with free agent acquisition Josh Norman coming in at No. 11, as announced this week.
The annual list serves as premium offseason content for the league’s media channels, creating debate and controversy even while players are enjoying their longest vacation away from the game.
The list’s main point of relevance is that it is peer-generated, with the final rankings decided by the players themselves. That’s why the respect for Norman, who took the league by storm last season, underscores the team’s pursuit of him this offseason.
“Being the best corner in the league, I think it always changes,” opined teammate and longtime NFL veteran Charles Tillman. “You can’t just say one year, ‘oh I’m the best corner, I’m the best corner.’ No. You have to prove it every single year.
“This year, the unanimous decision has to be Josh Norman.”
But does that mean he is automatically a shutdown corner? Norman says “yes,” but NFL Network analyst LaDanian Tomlinson says “not necessarily.”
During an April segment on the Network, Tomlinson said: “Right now, there are no shutdown corners in the league. At all. At this point, there are still no shutdown corners.”
He went on to point out that Norman, who is widely considered the NFL’s best last season, still allowed nearly half of his targets to be converted for catches. Even if Norman is the best, that doesn’t mean he is a game-changer.
On Thursday, Norman went on the set with the NFL Network crew and got a chance to address Tomlinson in person. Here is a transcript of their debate:
Tomlinson: It looks like the guys (players in the NFL) backed me up because there are no Top-10 corners, and that’s crazy–
Norman: It doesn’t mean that the guys backed you up by saying that. That’s not even what they’re saying–
Tomlinson: I will say that corner is the hardest position to play in football. I will say that. Nobody runs backwards with a man running forward. I will say that. And in today’s league, it is hard to be a shutdown corner. That’s why I said–
I would say that five or six years ago, [Darrell] Revis was a guy that was at a point where, even as an offensive guy, I would say, ‘yeah, that was shut down.’ He was only giving up something like 30 percent completion percentage. That’s shutdown. That’s tough.
Norman: Well, if there are no shutdown corners, then there are no game-changing running backs.
I was just with a guy named A.P. (Adrian Peterson), and I know he’s a game-changing running back. You ain’t gotta tell me that.
Host Amber Theoharris reminded the panel that only three times in the list’s six-year history had a cornerback appeared in the top-10. She also noted Norman’s supremacy in the only stat that matters, keeping points off the board from the other team’s best receiver.
Undeterred, Tomlinson did not concede the point, but did reiterate that Norman was the toast of the league’s cornerbacks.
Perhaps the best quote in Norman’s defense comes from Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee: “To be able to react and cover freak athletes, the athleticism is at a level that I cannot even fathom. If I was playing against Josh Norman, I probably wouldn’t get off the line and I would crap my pants.”