Best corner duo? Sorry, Mr. Davis, it isn't in Miami

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Sorry, Vontae Davis, but you're not one-half of the NFL's best cornerback tandem. As a matter of fact, you don't crack the top three. That's not an opinion; it's a fact of life.

Davis and Dolphins teammate Sean Smith are good, but they're not Darrelle Revis- Antonio Cromartie good. Nor are they on the same pedestal with Green Bay's Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. And now that Philadelphia has Nnamdi Asomugha teamed with Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, it's clear where that puts Davis and Smith.

Uh-huh, off the medal stand.

"We are at one," Woodson said.

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That's the bold statement Davis made last week, but it takes on new meaning when someone like Woodson puts it out there because ... well, because Woodson has the resume to back it up. Not only was he the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, he is a former Defensive Rookie of the Year, a six-time All-Pro, a seven-time Pro Bowler, a member of the All-Decade team and a critical part of the defending Super Bowl champions -- a team propelled through the playoffs by its defense in general and its cornerbacks in particular.

In fact, you could argue that Williams -- Woodson's partner -- was the MVP of the 2010 postseason. He made a game-saving interception in the end zone to preserve a victory over Philadelphia. He made two more interceptions against Atlanta, one that saved a score and the other that he turned into a 70-yard touchdown. And he clinched Super Bowl XLV by batting down Ben Roethlisberger's last pass.

"Anytime you perform at that level in the playoffs you're going to open some eyes," Williams said.

Williams did. In fact, when Samuels bowed out of the Pro Bowl, it was Williams who was added to the roster. So now that we've established that Tramon Williams is one of the league's most qualified cornerbacks, here's my question: Is he good enough to elevate him and Woodson to numero uno among the league's tandems?

I told Williams his partner thought it did. No, I told him he was certain it did. Williams smiled.

"I have the same belief," he said. "Trio, too, because we have Sam Shields."

Oh, yeah, Sam Shields. Like Williams, he was undrafted. Like Williams, he excelled in the playoffs, with two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble in the Packers' NFC championship victory over Chicago -- an NFL first for a rookie in a playoff game. The Packers' nickel back, he could start on most NFL clubs.

So, let's see, that's Woodson, Williams and Shields at the same position ... a pretty decent combination that Woodson believes makes Green Bay an easy choice at the top of the list.

"You just have to watch the games," he said. "Watch the film. There are some good tandems out there, [but] I just don't see anyone better than us."

Me? I don't see anyone better than them in Miami. What I'm not so sure about is where the Jets and Philadelphia fit in. The Jets have the best cornerback in the game, and the Eagles might have the runner-up. Each has a credible supporting partner, which makes the dialogue worth pursuing -- and that's exactly what I did this summer.

But instead of asking other cornerbacks how these guys stack up, I consulted a couple of outside experts on the subject -- Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, two of the game's best wide receivers. They weren't definitive in their responses, but they did point me in the right direction ... and it wasn't to Miami.

"I haven't played against Nnamdi," said Johnson, "and he's over there with Samuels. So they have a couple of good ones. Green Bay has a good tandem, too. But it's definitely the Jets.

"They have one tall, rangy corner [Cromartie], and then Revis tracks the ball real well in the air. He's a good corner and bigger than most people think. I know he's bigger than I thought at first. The thing about him is that he's real knowledgeable. It seems like he watches a lot of film.

"Of all the ones we played last year, I'd say the Jets have a real good tandem. Not to take anything away from Green Bay, especially after it won the Super Bowl, but the Jets definitely have a good tandem."

So it's the Jets, right? Not so fast, said Fitzgerald.

"I only had a chance to play against one of them, and that's Green Bay," he said. "I played against Nnamdi when he was in Oakland. I played against Asante when he was in New England. I played against Revis when he was in his second year. And I played against Cromartie, but when he was in San Diego.

"So it has never been the complete package, like Green Bay has, and those guys are the truth, man. What makes them so special is Clay Matthews and [B.J.] Raji. Really, as a cornerback, I don't care how good you are. If your pass rush is not hitting home, and [the quarterback] has five seconds to maneuver, you can make something happen. But when guys are coming off the edge and really working, you have an advantage."

Well, then, that makes it Green Bay or the Jets, and take your pick. Both ranked in the top six pass defenses in 2010, and both have reputations for attacking the pocket, with the Packers second in sacks last season and the Jets eighth.

But one word of warning: Don't forget Philadelphia. Yeah, I know their pass rush wilted as last year wore on, but they just signed free agents Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, both of whom know how to collapse a pocket. If nothing else, they should help put their cornerbacks in the conversation ... and Vontae Davis and Sean Smith out of it.

"The film don't lie," Revis said last week.

I'll second that.

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