Social media is a mixed bag. On one hand, it allows millions of us to connect with people we’d never meet in person. Geographical borders don’t exist in the Twitter-verse. But then, I saw a Tweet asking for unpopular opinions about the Las Vegas Raiders.
One of the first people to weigh in said a former Raiders All-Pro corner was overrated. I saw that message, and while I respect that it was an unpopular take, it made me very sad. The opinion in question was about how the brightest star from the darkest days of the Oakland Raiders has lost some of his shine. Here’s a refresher on the lost legend that was Nnamdi Asomugha.
The Philadelphia Disaster
Anyone that critiques Asomughda starts with his miserable time with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, watching film it’s clear why it happened. Asomugha’s strengths were his tall, long, lanky form and exceptional athleticism. He made his name with his ability to perfectly mirror opposing receivers. You could slap Asomugha on the opposing team’s best receiver. He would shadow them and effectively shut them down.
The Eagles don’t fall under “anyone that watches film” apparently. Back then, they asked him to play off-man and primarily zone coverage instead. Neither of which were his strengths. The Raiders repeatedly learned the same with free-agent busts like DeAngelo Hall and Sean Smith. Being great in one system doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily be a fit in another. Philadelphia pursued a big name instead of a scheme fit. Ultimately, it was a devastating failure for both parties.
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The Real Alcatraz
In his prime, Asomugha was arguably the best corner in the entire NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked the most snaps in coverage per reception in a season (minimum of 200 snaps), and Asmomugha had three of the top four (31.1 in 2010, 28.1 in 2008, and 26.3 in 2007). While interceptions are the sexy defensive stat, good cover corners don’t see many passes their way often. The quarterback makes his reads, sees the receiver is too well-covered to target, and throws elsewhere. Pass deflections and interceptions can be misleading because the opposite is true. It’s hard to lead the league in interceptions unless quarterbacks target defenders pretty often.
Someone on Twitter tried to justify Asomugha being overrated by saying the “other corner on the team was so bad” that No. 21 simply wasn’t targeted that much. This logic doesn’t make any sense to me because, by definition, Asomugha would be the better corner. His status as an elite corner shouldn’t be affected by supporting talent? And beyond that, it’s not even accurate.
In the two years before Asomugha became a starter in Oakland’s secondary, the Raiders were 23rd in passing yards allowed and 18th in passing touchdowns allowed. From 2004, when Asomugha became a starter, to 2010, his last season with the team, the Raiders improved to eighth and 12th respectively. Since then, they’ve averaged out to 23rd and 24th respectively, with highs of 16th in yards and 15th in touchdowns, both worse than most of Nnamdi’s seasons. The pass defense was putrid before him, great with him, and has been absolutely disgusting since he left.
It’s like Asomugha came into his own in 2006 with his eight interceptions, and every quarterback worth his salt realized he wasn’t someone to throw at. It’s not like teams saw that year and avoided him based on reputation. Every year, the league’s best corners are tested by quarterbacks, good and bad alike. He was only targeted 35 times in 2007, allowing 10 completions through 16. That same year, Champ Bailey allowed 37 completions on 63 attempts.
vs. Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson
If you need an example of Asomugha’s brilliance, watch the Raiders/Panthers game from 2008. Asomugha trailed future Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Smith for the entire game. In the end, he only gave up one catch for nine yards. Tell that to Jalen Ramsey, who gave up eight catches for 87 yards against a 37-year old Smith. Or three years earlier, when Smith matched up with Richard Sherman and hung up six catches for 51 yards and a score.
Larry Fitzgerald’s Cardinals only played Asomughda’s Raiders once. He did catch a touchdown, but that was in between linebacker Kirk Morrison and safety Michael Huff in the redzone. The rest of the game, Asomugha held him to one catch. I shouldn’t have to explain how good Larry Fitzgerald is, even to the most casual fan.
Texans legend Andre Johnson, faced off against No. 21 three times while the star defensive back was with the Raiders. In those three games, he caught five catches for 94 yards. That’s two catches and 31 yards a game for one of the league’s most productive receivers in his prime.
Asomugha was a four-time All-Pro, a three-time Pro Bowler, and part of Fox Sports’ 2000’s All-Decade team. Just because the Eagles didn’t know how to use an elite talent (See: Carson Wentz‘ receiving corps), we’re supposed to pretend a player that was better than Darrelle Revis in his prime wasn’t all that? I don’t think so. Maybe Raider Nation doesn’t appreciate Asomugha because he was quiet and kept to himself, unlike some more beloved former Raiders.
I know this is an unpopular opinion and Iâ€™m biased, but Iâ€™ve seen several people say that Revis had a Hall of Fame career, and I canâ€™t help but feel like Nnamdi Asomugha was better in his prime. He was horribly misused in Philly but itâ€™s not like Revis Island worked in Tampa Bay.
— smith (@RyFitHere) July 24, 2018
Also, Hall of Fame head coach and forever rival Mike Shanahan, who knows a thing or two, called Asomugha the “most underrated player he’d ever seen,” so do with that information what you will.
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Top Photo: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group