Breakout Player Recap: Defensive Backs

temp20130929-_MG_1283-nfl_mezz_1280_10241Due in large part to the increased volume of the passing game, it seems more defensive backs are breaking out each and every year. Unlike other positions though, it can be hard to sometimes tell if a defensive back actually broke out as stats don’t always tell the whole story. For instance, some cornerbacks may not have many interceptions but that could be as a result of only two or three passes thrown their way per game. What I wrote about these players entering this past season can be found here.

Kenny Vaccaro, Saints: On paper, Vaccaro’s 2014 counting statistics are similar to those he had in his impressive rookie campaign. However, that is just one more example of how the eye test is still a huge factor in player evaluation. Due to what he later attributed to injuries (two quad tears and a hamstring injury), Vaccaro struggled. One issue that could be related to that was how frequently he missed tackles as he was credited for missing 18 just this past season.

Penalties were also an issue as Vaccaro had nine called on him in 2014. The Saints defense as a whole struggled in 2014, and the struggles of a player who was supposed to take his game to the next level certainly didn’t help. With Jairus Byrd figuring to be healthier, Vaccaro will be able to spend more time playing closer to the line of scrimmage in 2015. 2014 was far from a true indication of Vaccaro’s talent, so a bounce-back season could be on the horizon.

Hit or miss: Miss

Johnathan Cyprien, Jaguars: After an impressive second half to close out his rookie season, it appeared Cyprien was ready to make a leap in 2014. While Cyprien did see an increase in total tackles, the year as a whole wasn’t what was expected. A lot of which could be attributed to his pass coverage where he was a liability. A strong safety (Cyprien’s position) usually plays closer to the line of scrimmage than a free safety (think an Earl Thomas type) would.

Because the Jaguars really lacked in the free safety department last year, Cyprien was used more in coverage than expected. While the coverage element can improve, the caliber of free safety next to Cyprien is really going to determine how valuable a player he becomes. On a positive note, his run defense the last few games of the year was excellent. If the Jaguars get the production they’re hoping from out of Sergio Brown, we’ll start to see Cyprien show what the Jaguars expected from him after selecting him 33rd overall in 2013.

Hit or miss: Push

Desmond Trufant, Falcons: Every year there are a few players that have their true breakout season when I select them, but the media and casual fans catch on the following year. Trufant is going to be one of those guys in 2015. After mentioning his 2013 rookie campaign was similar to those of Darrelle Revis and Joe Haden, Trufant didn’t disappoint as he is now one of the league’s top cover corners.A scary thing to note is how Trufant managed to do all this with such little talent around him.

The Falcons pass rush was dreadful last season which in return gives both opposing quarterbacks and their receiver time to improvise leaving corners on an island. That should improve this year as new head coach Dan Quinn has addressed the pass rush which should be beneficial to Trufant and the rest of the Falcons secondary. With top-tier quickness, an incredible ability to break back on the ball and sit on receivers routes, we’re going to be hearing Trufant’s name for a while.

Hit or miss: Hit

Byron Maxwell, Seahawks: Maxwell was fantastic down the stretch in 2013 when he got the chance to start, and didn’t disappoint in a full-time capacity in 2014. Despite being targeted heavily each week due to starting opposite Richard Sherman, Maxwell continued to show the coverage skills and physicality which made me so high on him in the first place.

This offseason, Maxwell got paid in a big way signing a six year contract worth $63 million with the Eagles. While the fit works scheme wise, it will be interesting to see how Maxwell fares shadowing number one receivers with a less talented supporting cast around him. The size and ability is there to matchup with divisional foes like a Dez Bryant is definitely apparent, but it will be interesting to see what kind of influence he has on the secondary as a whole. Regardless, Eagles fans will be pleased with Maxwell solely off knowing they won’t be dealing with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams again.

Hit or miss: Hit

Stephon Gilmore, Bills: With the size and speed you’d look for in a top cover corner in today’s NFL, it could be only a matter of time until Gilmore’s a household name. After a rough start to 2014, Gilmore finished strong down the stretch and had some numbers that were in line with the league’s elite. Gilmore has already received a vote of confidence from new head coach Rex Ryan who believes he can become a top tier corner in the league.

Under Ryan, Gilmore is going to take on the Darrelle Revis role of shadowing opposing number one receivers each week. With an incredibly talented front seven that will make things easier, the time is now for Gilmore. The supporting cast and skillset is all in place, now it just comes down to how he performs on Sundays.

Hit or miss: Push

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