For all the offseason hand-wringing about the Kansas City Chiefs cornerback group, most have now recognized that they have played better than we anticipated. Now they’re gaining recognition from outside sources as well.
Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, the Chiefs hold three PFF-ranked top 35 cornerbacks. Steven Nelson (11), Kendall Fuller (23), and Orlando Scandrick (33) are all PFF darlings, and have played well in Bob Sutton’s diverse coverage schemes this year.
if you think PFF’s grading system is too subjective, you should know that the raw numbers support the argument that they’ve played well, too. Using Football Outsider’s Success Rate metric — which keeps track of the number of yards given up in particular game situations — Scandrick ranks fifth, Nelson eighth and Fuller 38th in the league.
I appreciate the Success Rate metric, because it doesn’t downgrade a player for giving up eight yards on a third and 15. So I’ve adopted it in my charting as well, and I’ve learned that recently these Chiefs cornerbacks have been improving rapidly.
Over the past four weeks, all three have increased their season success rate by a minimum of 4 percent. Nelson has been on fire in the last four games, with a 72 percent success rate over that time. Outside of a handful of penalties and a couple of deep completions, Nelson has been fantastic lately.
In just the past two weeks, we have also seen Fuller growing into his role in Sutton’s defense, posting a 73 percent success rate — just behind Nelson’s 79 percent success rate for that time period — even though the two of them were drawing the lion’s share of targets against Jarvis Landry and Larry Fitzgerald, who are not the easiest receivers to cover.
The cornerbacks still have work to do. Fuller is currently holding a success rate under 50 percent while in man coverage — but a whopping 84 percent in zone. Scandrick and Nelson have been called for several drive-extending penalties, preferring to take a 5-yard holding penalties or pass interference calls instead of getting beat. And even though Scandrick started the season white-hot, he’s starting to cool a little bit — perhaps showing his age.
In the offseason, I said multiple times that the Chiefs cornerback situation wasn’t as dire as many thought it was. While I thought it lacked some of the high-end capabilities that we had previously seen, I also thought the group would be better as a whole with more players who were focused on just doing their jobs.
We’ve now seen this come to fruition under Sutton — who has had serviceable units that included some bad cornerbacks during his tenure — and it’s been one of the few elements the Chiefs have been able to lean on in their defensive schemes.
With the pass rush now coming into its own — and the safety group getting healthier — there’s reason to think that with this cornerback group, the Chiefs defense could play well down the stretch.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to figure out how to set this article to auto-delete if the Los Angeles Rams wide receivers destroy the Chiefs cornerbacks on Monday night.