Numbers don't lie: Ravens' Webb already an elite cornerback

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb was back in Baltimore on Friday to take a physical and officially sign his new five-year, $50 million extension. Webb, who was a restricted free agent, is now under contract through the 2017 season. The Ravens gave him a lucrative contract because they feel he can become one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. But according to stats from Pro Football Focus, Webb might already be there.

As my colleague Jeff Zrebiec mentioned last week when he broke the news of Webb’s extension, Webb did not allow a touchdown pass all season and quarterbacks had a rating of just 55.6 when throwing in Webb’s direction, according to Pro Football Focus, an NFL statistics and analysis website. It was a breakout season for the 26-year-old cornerback (however, he wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl).

Pro Football Focus graded Webb as the league’s fourth-best cornerback in 2011 (including postseason) and the second-best cornerback in coverage -- trailing only Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets.

“When you delve a little deeper into his season, it becomes clear just how good he was. He played in 18 games for the Ravens, seeing a total of 638 snaps in coverage, and didn’t allow a single touchdown reception in that time,” Gordon McGuiness wrote in a Pro Football Focus article about Webb last month. “Of the 102 times he was targeted by opposing [quarterbacks], Webb got his hands on 20, with eight interceptions and 12 passes broken up throughout the regular season and two playoff games.”

In nickel packages, Webb shifted inside and Baltimore’s two taller, physical cornerbacks -- starter Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, their 2011 first-round draft pick -- challenged the outside receivers.

And as McGuiness pointed out in his piece, Webb excelled while working in the slot. In 231 snaps lined up against a slot receiver, Webb was targeted just 30 times, allowing 18 receptions for 203 yards -- that's one reception every 12.8 plays. In the AFC championship game, Webb picked off a pass from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady while covering receiver Julian Edelman out of the slot.

“Lardarius is an important player for the Ravens, and we’re very happy he will be with us for a long time,” executive vice president and general manager Ozzie Newsome said last week in a statement.

Keeping Webb in Baltimore has been the team’s most significant move in a relatively quiet offseason. The Ravens are trying to sign Williams to a contract extension, too, and Smith has three years left on his rookie deal. Going forward, it appears the Ravens have a trio of cornerbacks who can make life difficult for opposing receivers. That should allow them to take more risks in pressure packages.

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