When you think of Johnathan Joseph, what comes to mind? Right now. He's a free agent, perhaps the team's top free agent priority. Could be argued as the best cornerback on the team; perhaps the best cornerback the Bengals have had in the past 15 years (I said argued).
Yet Joseph isn't viewed favorably by NFL.com's Pat Kirwan. The long-time NFL.com writer ranks active cornerbacks into groups of five with Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis, Asante Samuel and Charles Woodson designed as Group A. Alright. So it's nearly impossible to argue Joseph being a better cornerback than any of those players. As you scroll down through Group B, Group C and Group D you start believing you made a mistake, taking your mouse scroll and flicking it upward. That's when you do the People's Eyebrow and slowly scroll downward again.
There he is. Group E.
23. Jonathan Joseph, Bengals (>): Joseph could become be a free agent and would be very much sought after as a player with both man and zone skills. He allowed three touchdowns in about 70 targets last season and is a solid tackler after the catch.
And below Joseph in Group F sits the Bengals other starting cornerback, who could be the primary cornerback in 2011.
26. Leon Hall, Bengals (>): Hall has already had what could be considered a productive career in his first four years with 18 interceptions, 71 passes defended and five forced fumbles in 58 starts.
But is Kirwan right?
Let's face facts, Joseph is a tremendous cornerback and the Bengals are right to designate him as the team's free agent priority. Healthy through all 16 games in 2009, the Bengals defense ranked fourth in the NFL, largely because the pass defense was strong enough even without an effective pass rush. During his five seasons in Cincinnati, Joseph has played a full 16-game schedule twice. Maybe that's not fair. He played 15 games in 2007, missing one game due to a suspension, not injury. Yet in two of the past three seasons, Joseph has missed 12 games; played eight games in 2008 and 12 games in 2010 -- both seasons in which the Bengals only won four games. Just saying.
Another point to consider. Champ Bailey (4), Devin McCourty (4), Courtland Finnegan (5) allowed more touchdowns than Joseph. According to Pro Football Focus, DeAngelo Hall, who Kirwan ranked in the same "group" as Joseph, allowed eight touchdowns and an opposing quarterback rating of 105.8. Terrell Thomas, cornerback for the New York Giants, was listed two (TWO!) groups ahead of Joseph and Thomas allowed seven touchdowns.
We understand that interceptions are rather important when it comes to cornerbacks. Yet, unless those interceptions are converted into touchdowns, wouldn't it be a mark against a cornerback that allows more touchdowns than interceptions?
The truth is we're not ripping into Kirwan here. The truth is both Bengals cornerbacks are listed in Kirwan's top-30 players at the position. Percentage-wise, that's pretty good. But let's give Joseph some credit here. Even with an injured ankle for much of the 2010 season, he never allowed a single 100-yard receiver, allowed less touchdowns than cornerbacks rated as better than he and and gave up four passes all year of 20 yards or more. Four. All the while defending against quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers last season.