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Bashaud Breeland may prove to be a better starting cornerback than Steve Nelson in 2019

The Chiefs will have a new No. 2 cornerback in 2019.

Washington Redskins v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Two notable moves happened in the Kansas City Chiefs cornerback room in the matter of one week’s time. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed away unrestricted free agent Steve Nelson to a three-year deal worth $25.5 million, and the Chiefs signed Bashaud Breeland to a one-year deal with a maximum value of $5 million.

Nelson’s Steelers cap hit will be $4 million in 2019, then bump up to $10.75 million in each of the next two seasons.

In contrast, Breeland’s contract is a one-year, prove-it deal worth a no more than $5 million.

Nelson’s departure from Kansas City opened up one of their starting cornerback positions, with the only capable options currently on the roster being second-year players Charvarius Ward and Tremon Smith.

Bringing on Breeland, who is still looking to find his way back to that once-on-the-books three-year, $24 million contract, is a low-risk move that in 2019, could prove to give the Chiefs a better starting cornerback than they would have had in Nelson had they retained him.

Football analytics website Pro Football Focus provided some numbers comparing the two cornerbacks on Monday.

The first thing that jumps out upon looking at the numbers is sample size. Whereas Nelson was healthy all last year (16 starts), Breeland didn’t sign with the Packers until Week 4, and his lack of conditioning led to a hamstring injury that sidelined him until Week 9. A groin injury later in the season limited Breeland to just five starts and 330 snaps in 2018.

Because of the stark difference in sample size, let’s focus only the numbers based upon averages. When doing that, Breeland and Nelson aren’t all that different.

  • Breeland: 8.21 yards allowed per target | Nelson: 7.51 yards allowed per target
  • Breeland: 6.47 yards after the catch allowed per reception | Nelson: 2.84 yards after the catch allowed per reception
  • Breeland: 1 pass breakup per 11 targets | Nelson: 1 pass breakup per 11 targets
  • Breeland: 1 missed tackle per 5.5 attempts | Nelson: 1 missed tackle per 8.9 attempts

It is worth noting that Breeland’s averages, which are indeed worse than Nelson, came after an offseason in which Breeland participated in no OTAs, training camp or preseason games. It seems Breeland has learned from his mistake as that won’t be the case in 2019.

The Packers featured Breeland in the slot more than any other year of his career, PFF also noted.

Breeland’s best season was 2015, when he guarded the slot 80 times out of 921 snaps. His role should be similar in Kansas City, where the Chiefs already have their slot cornerback in Kendall Fuller. Tyrann Mathieu will also be around to help in that regard.

The combination of a few things—Breeland having an offseason, likely no longer manning the slot and it being a full contract year—makes me think that there is a real chance Breeland could be a better starter than Nelson. If he isn’t, it sounds like the Chiefs won’t owe him much money at all, anyway.

The one-year deal also gives Breeland a chance to prove it, and his money comes off the books in time to give the Chiefs room as they prepare for next offseason’s historic quarterback contract for Patrick Mahomes.


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