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Aqib Talib the 69th Best Cornerback in the NFL?

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Pro Football Focus (yes, I'm going back to these guys again) recently released their numbers for 2010 NFL cornerbacks, and two Buccaneers featured prominently on the lists: Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. Most intriguingly, Ronde Barber was only targeted 71 times on 515 snaps, which ranked 17th in the NFL. This could be an indication that teams respect Ronde Barber more than any other cornerback on the field. However, it could simply be a result of the way in which he was used. In nickel situations, Ronde Barber moves to the slot and takes on a Charles Woodson-like role. That would explain why Aqib Talib was targeted more than Ronde, despite having a far superior skillset: while Ronde was marking slot receivers and tight ends, Aqib Talib was on the opponent's top wideout. 

Intriguingly, my own numbers don't line up with Pro Football Focus's numbers for Ronde Barber. By my count he was targeted a total of 44 times, while Pro Football Focus thinks he was targeted 71 times. This is a pretty big discrepancy, but likely comes down to a difference in how zone coverage is handled. To be fair, marking who is in coverage is the least objective part of game charting, and involves a lot of judgment calls. Whichever number you choose to believe, Ronde Barber was the least targeted Buccaneer in 2010 per snap count. That's pretty amazing for a 34-year-old. 

But if we move on to Aqib Talib, the numbers appear to say something different. They think Aqib Talib was targeted 59 times, and allowed 35 catches. Interestingly, I'm not far off: I have him down for 54 targets, and 31 allowed catches. The difference is minimal, and the effect on their final 'catch percentage per coverage snaps' ranking is also minimal. Intriguingly, Talib ranks just 69th on the list, among the bottom 20 cornerbacks in the NFL in 2010. That's amazing and disturbing, although I would point to scheme as an important factor, as well as Aqib Talib's inconsistent start to the scene. Quite often Aqib Talib was asked to play off and zone coverage, both of which are exploitable with quick throws - something utilized quite often against the Bucs defense. For instance, against the Ravens Aqib Talib was playing 10 yards off Derrick Mason snap after snap, and Mason kept catching 8-yard passes. That had very little to do with Aqib Talib's skills, and more to do with what Raheem Morris was asking him to do on those plays. 

But while Aqib Talib is much better than his 69th overall ranking and has the physical talent to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, this list does tell us one thing: Aqib Talib is good player, but he's not elite - not yet.