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The David Amerson film review: depth, depth, depth

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NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

David Amerson presents an interesting challenge in film review.

A quick review of the notes on Amerson reveals that he played the majority of 2017 hurt before he was shut down for the year. That makes any film in 2017 at least somewhat suspect. Further review shows that he played left cornerback exclusively in 2016 (after the arrival of Sean Smith, who plays exclusively RCB)... BUT played both left and right in 2015, universally heralded as his “best” year.

So we’ve got reasons to look at three different years of film on the Chiefs new corner. Which means, naturally, that I took a quick look in all three years because I have issues.

The news of Amerson’s signing took me by surprise.

Given the issues the Raiders had on defense last year, I didn’t imagine the Chiefs would be interested in him. The few memories I have of Amerson are some Raider fans telling me he’s great a few years ago, then watching Tyreek Hill run by him like he was standing still (to be fair, Hill does that to everyone).

Amerson was due a great deal of money from the Raiders, which made his release fairly inevitable. Naturally, the first thing I wanted to know was exactly how much money was being given up by the Chiefs to sign him. When news first broke, it was a one-year, $6 million season, which I was less than thrilled with.

However, the incomparable Terez Paylor pointed out later that Amerson’s base salary is only $2.25 million, with another $3.75 million that can be earned through incentives. That changed a whole lot about what I think the Chiefs are expecting or even hoping for from Amerson.

One-year “prove it” deals are my favorite kind of veteran deal (unless you’re talking about a superstar). There’s an incredible amount of incentive for a player to approach the season with as much focus as possible. In Amerson’s case, that incentive is both practical (him reaching his incentives is the difference of an extra $3.75 million, hardly chump change even in the NFL), and far-reaching (him reaching his incentives means he’s going to get P-A-I-D in a year).

We’ll come back to the structure of this deal, which I loved more and more as I watched Amerson’s film. Because once you get past that icky Raider black he’s always wearing, there are some things to like about him. I reviewed a game in 2015, a game in 2017, and three games in 2016 to try and get a full idea of who Amerson has been these last few years. Is he the guy with great ball skills that Raiders fans were raving about two years ago?

Or is he the guy who Raider fans are happy to see go?

If you’ve never read a corner review by me, click here to get a comprehensive look at the process used. In short, I review every coverage snap, charting it as a success, failure, or neutral. I chart targets, catches, yards and passes defensed as well. The big thing to watch for is failure rate. All corners are going to lose sometimes. generally, I want a corner that loses less than 20 to 25 percent. That’s the “acceptable” rate for me. More is concerning. Obviously, the lower you get the better.

On a quick note... Amerson played a whole bunch of zone coverage in Oakland and the corners away from him got targeted a great deal (the Raiders’ secondary was quite bad), so I think these numbers may skew a bit in his favor with the number of neutral snaps. Just something worth noting.

Let’s look at some numbers, then talk film.

So what do those numbers mean? Well... again, I need to stress from the start that the Raiders uniquely high use of zone (at least in the games I reviewed) resulted in a larger-than-normal “neutral” snaps in which Amerson wasn’t required to do a whole lot. As I stated earlier, this artificially decreased his “fail percentage,” in my opinion. Keep that in mind.

That said, the loss percentage is solid, though not great. For a frame of reference, Kendall Fuller (whose film was significantly better, to be clear) had a fail percentage of 12 percent when I reviewed him, as well as a success percentage of 42.1 percent. However, that fail percentage stacks up decently against Sean Smith in his 2015 season, which I often use as a frame of reference.

On the flip side, Amerson’s catch percentage when targeted is quite alarming. The vast majority of the time he was targeted he gave up catches. He also gave up a staggering amount of yardage, though that was mostly due to a pair of games in which he got victimized repeatedly (San Diego and Kansas City). Again, for a frame of reference, Kendall Fuller (who to be fair, was better in 2017 than any cornerback I’ve ever charted) gave up six catches for 54 yards in 4 games... total. Obviously, that’s a significant difference, and enough to tell anyone right out of the gate that Amerson had some struggles in 2016.

It’s tough to reconcile Amerson’s solid loss percentage with such horrific catch and yardage number. However, I think that part of it was the nature of the way Amerson lost. While he was generally solid, when he DID lose, it was really rough.

You could almost think of Amerson as what we see from Eric Fisher at times... generally competent, but just horrific when he does lose.

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. The Raiders had some genuinely awful safety play. In fact, their entire coverage unit looked terrible in every game I watched. That causes me to question whether there were some serious systemic issues in Oakland (considering they ended up firing their defensive coordinator midway through 2017, that seems quite likely), which in turn leaves me wondering what Amerson would look like being coached up by Emmitt Thomas instead of the brain trust in Oakland.

At the end of the day, though, Amerson’s numbers reflect in part what I saw on film. On a snap-by-snap basis, he was pretty competent the majority of the time. When he lost, due to his own weaknesses and the issues around him, he LOST.

So what does Amerson do well? For starters, when he was able to play off man and keep the wide receiver in front of him, Amerson consistently demonstrated good, aggressive ball skills.

Amerson is almost a different corner depending on what you ask him to do. On snaps in which he plays off man and is asked to read the receivers with cushion to spare, he does pretty well. In those situations, he reads routes solidly (both his own in man as well as in zone coverage) and is often able to jump routes or re-direct the receiver.

In those situations (off man, getting to read the receiver with his eyes before making contact), he was also often able to turn and run with the receivers without much of an issue. His top speed isn’t great, but it’s acceptable. His quickness isn’t what I’d generally like, though that also varied depending on whether the receiver was in front of him (and he could break downhill) or if he had to try and mirror the route while running with the receiver.

Amerson also seems savvy and assignment-sure. Again, when in off-man and with his eyes on the quarterback and wide receiver, he consistently was in the right place at the right time. He was even able to make up for deficiencies elsewhere on the Raiders defense (and there were a lot of them) due to his awareness.

That play is Amerson at his peak. Footwork isn’t great (it’s not his strength, generally), but you see him reading the receivers and quarterback, confidently and decisively breaking on the ball when the throw is made, and VERY aggressively breaking up the pass.

In that specific skill set (reading receivers in off man to break on their routes and using aggressive ball skills and physicality to make plays), Amerson reminds me of a smaller Sean Smith. Those things were major strengths of Smith during his time in Kansas City. I assume that perhaps Sutton and Veach believe they can tap into that and bring Amerson to a higher level of play in KC than Oakland could (and given Smith’s significantly inferior play in Oakland, I think that’s pretty reasonable).

And to be fair to Amerson, it’s not like he NEVER demonstrated the skill to do well in man coverage.

Watching Amerson in man coverage isn’t remotely as smooth as watching Fuller, but he was able to get the job done a fair amount of the time by being a bit physical (even grabby, though he didn’t draw penalties) and using his decent size and length to hassle receivers and redirect them. Again, I THINK what they’re seeing (and no, I don’t think Amerson signed on for a year to play safety, though that would be a better use of his skill set in my opinion) is a chance at having Smith Lite on the team (which for a third corner would work just fine for me).

With regard to tackling and run support, Amerson doesn’t appear to be particularly good in that department, but he’s definitely willing, and that’s most of the battle.

He won’t be competing with Brandon Flowers anytime soon as a run support corner, but I didn’t hate what I saw there: a guy who is willing to get dirty and lay hits.

At his best (and there were plenty of very good snaps), Amerson is a savvy, assignment-sound receiver with great ball skills who harasses receivers into dropped passes and mistimed routes. He went through entire stretches of games where he absolutely looked the part of the player who was awarded “most improved” by PFF in 2015 (to be noted: a contract year).

On the other hand, at his worst...

Amerson has some very specific weaknesses to his game that got exploited at times and demonstrated a guy you want as your No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback in my opinion.

Amerson’s “mirroring” of routes when he’s even with receivers leaves a lot to be desired. He has tight hips and isn’t very quick. This is compounded by the fact that he doesn’t possess Fuller’s ridiculously light feet and clean footwork. So when he’s asked to press at the line or mirror routes, he got embarrassed way too often. And, like I said, when he got beat it wasn’t pretty.

Additionally, when Amerson turns his back to the quarterback (this was pointed out to me by Ian Wharton, who is a great cornerback guy), he struggles to locate the ball again. It’s absolutely true.

He needs the play in front of him to be successful. Once he turns away, it can get ugly. The good news is Amerson seems aware of this, and that’s why I believe he often tries to stay in front of the wide receiver, so even when he’s running with them he can watch the quarterback. However, that leaves him vulnerable to short, quick routes resulting in immediate separation.

Amerson’s lack of quick feet and issues with his back to the quarterback will, in my opinion, forever place a ceiling on him as a cornerback (assuming he doesn’t fix those issues). However, we’ve seen that his ceiling is “solid starting CB” for more than a full season. So where does that leave us?

For me, I’m pretty pleased with the signing overall, though I’m disappointed they didn’t go the “Let’s get a guy like Kyle Fuller and go for the uber-secondary” route. Of course, given the low base salary Amerson is currently commanding (and the possibility of very little dead money on the contract), it could well be that Brett Veach isn’t done.

However, let’s assume for the moment that they are done after this and, say, re-signing Terrance Mitchell for depth. I like this signing all the same. Amerson isn’t in the same league as Kendall Fuller or Marcus Peters, but he doesn’t need to be. All he needs to be is what we’ve already seen from him: decent and consistent. What we need him to NOT be is the worst version of himself that we saw in 2017.

Again, it’s impossible to separate Amerson’s troubles from the rest of the Oakland secondary.

On this snap, Amerson doesn’t do a great job. In fact, he demonstrates a specific weakness we’ve already talked about: tight hips.

HOWEVER... the safety here makes an utterly horrific play, and in my opinion, actually worse than Amerson’s, as it appears he’s supposed to be handling a deep zone in quarter coverage. In other words, Amerson turned outside initially because he thought he had help inside. Then... well, he didn’t.

If that issue occurs in Kansas City, even last year when the safety play dropped off, I just don’t see him being THAT alone on an island most of the time. Again, it’s almost impossible to separate Amerson’s play from the overall horror show that was the Raiders secondary. Given that we know Sean Smith can play, and that his play dropped off considerably in Oakland, does that mean Amerson’s play will improve in KC? We can only hope.

Conclusion

Overall, Amerson is a very cheap flyer on a relatively young player who has shown he can play well in the NFL. That’s not a bad thing to have, especially on a one-year deal. The last time Amerson was in a contract year he had a great season. Based on what I saw on film, I think there’s every reason to believe he’s fully capable of doing the same in Kansas City. That would amount to very solid corner play from the guy who should be the No. 3 corner, IF Steven Nelson doesn’t beat him out for that spot.

And that brings me to the biggest reason I like this move. Last season, Nelson was the best non-Peters CB on the Chiefs simply by being average. With Amerson on board (assuming he plays at the same level he did in 2016 or, in a better world, 2015) that will no longer be the case. With a position like corner (much like WR), adding talent is ideal because it bumps everyone down a spot, leading to better depth (a major issue for the Chiefs last year).

In short, the Chiefs spent half of last season with Peters/Mitchell/Gaines/Acker as their CB group. They then spent part of the season with Peters/Coming-back-from-injury Nelson/Mitchell/Gaines as their CB group. Then, finally, they closed the year on the “strongest” note of Peters/Nelson/Revis/Mitchell.

Now, as the Chiefs stand, their cornerback group is Peters/Fuller/Amerson/Nelson (based on how I’d grade, I’d put Amerson as a bit above Nelson for consistency). That is a much, much improved group over what the Chiefs fielded at any point last season.

Brett Veach has clearly identified cornerback as a point of weakness on the 2017 team (which I concur) and has aggressively attacked it.

The talent level is considerably improved, and we haven’t even hit actual free agency yet. I cannot wait to see what happens next.