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Ranking the Falcons: No. 5 Asante Samuel

July 26th, 2013
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Asante Samuel

Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel ranks 5th among the team’s players. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.

Total Score: 87

Player Grade: 77 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 25 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +4

At 32 years old, Asante Samuel continues to defy the odds. The Philadelphia Eagles practically gave him away last year for a seventh round pick in a trade with the Falcons. Then the Eagles watched their pass defense struggle while that unit for the Falcons proved to be the strength of their defense thanks in large part to Samuel.

Samuel isn’t the biggest corner around, and it shows in run support. While he’s not afraid to every now and then lower his shoulder and deliver a blow to a receiver or ballcarrier, he’s going to pick and choose his spots. And he’ll create more headaches than highlights when it comes to run support. Per Moneyball, he had 9 missed tackles in 2012 that led to either first downs or touchdowns, which was second-most on the team behind only Thomas DeCoud. That was one of the reasons that the Eagles opted to ship him out of town.

But he more than makes up for it with his awareness, anticipation, and ball skills in coverage. Samuel is so good at jumping routes, that it typically leads quarterbacks to shy away from him. Using Pro Football Focus‘ targets per coverage snaps metric, he ranked in the Top 10 among the least targeted corners every year between 2009-11. He was targeted a lot more last year in Atlanta (ranking 36th by that metric), but he only allowed 53% of the passes thrown at him to be completed. That low percentage of completed passes was thanks largely to his ability to break up passes (14.5 passes defended) and create turnovers (5 interceptions).

His gambling got him into trouble a couple of times last year, as he would leave his own assignment to try and jump underneath routes, and give up some big plays. But the scales tip heavily in favor of Samuel, making more of those plays than giving up. The Falcons hope to see that continue to be the case in 2013. With the likelihood that a rookie in Desmond Trufant starts opposite Samuel at right cornerback, Samuel should see less work. But he needs to be steadier with whatever he does see and continue to take full advantage of those opportunities. The key will be staying patient, something he wasn’t always last year. If Samuel can be a touch more disciplined, then there is little reason to not expect the Falcons pass defense to once again be among the better groups in the league.

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