Asante Samuel, arguably one of the best cornerbacks in all of football, fell in at number 54 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2011 list. He’s the first corner to appear on the list, with four more to come.
Samuel first signed with the Birds in 2008, making an immediate impact on a defense that was ranked dead last in interceptions. He’s gone to the Pro Bowl every year since, leading the NFC in picks in both 2009 and 2010, despite missing two games last year. He holds the all-time record for Pick 6s in the playoffs (4), and last season was so intimidating that opposing quarterbacks threw his way only 45 times. Despite seeing less than three opportunities a week, Deuce Deuce still managed to grab seven interceptions.
He’s third among active cornerbacks with 42 career interceptions, and arguably one of the most clutch defensive players in the league. Since dropping an easy interception in Superbowl XLII, one that would have sealed the win for the Patriots, Samuel has become a two-minute-drill assassin, consistently finding ways to close out games with late-fourth-quarter interceptions, deflections and break-ups.
It’s safe to assume Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis will comprise two of the four remaining corners on the list, but the haphazard nature of the votes so far (Greg Jennings was 74) has made it hard to predict exactly who will fall were. Who else could be considered better than 22? Champ Bailey? Jonathan Joseph? Charles Woodson? I honestly don’t care who it is, none of them belong higher on this list than Asante. I’ll concede Nnamdi, as he’s played on a below-average defense for years and consistently stopped nearly every pass thrown his way. Revis might be more productive than Samuel, but he has the benefit of one of the best front sevens in all of football, whereas the Eagles’ injury plagued D-line and linebacking core has been inconsistent at best for the last few seasons. Asante changes games, either by forcing QBs to throw away from him, creating costly turnovers in key situations, or by simply knocking the bejeezus out of people.
He should be higher – way higher – on this list, but I’m sure he won’t be too concerned about it fifteen years from now, when he’s making his acceptance speech at Canton.