Injuries have limited Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips to just 20 games over the past two years.
In 2020, Phillips, who now is in his fourth season, played 290 coverage snaps over the course of 12 games, while missing four games with a groin injury.
If he can stay healthy, Phillips may well be on his way to becoming one of the best his position has to offer.
“This is a guy who is on the rise,” Nick Shook of Around the NFL told Dan Hoard in the latest addition of the Bengals Booth Podcast. “I think he’s one to continue watching in a secondary that’s probably going to need to rely on him a little bit more going forward.”
According to Next Gen Stats, Phillips is already one of the top 10 cover guys, or would be if he met the criteria to qualify (a minimum of 300 coverage snaps and a minimum of 40 targets).
As it stands, Phillips finished the season rated third in the NFL in Ball Hawk rate and fourth in Tight Window rate.
Tight window rate is a factor of “how well they put themselves in a position to make a play on the ball,” Shook explained. “How close are they to the targeted receiver when the pass arrives? Usually, you want to be within three yards.
“Forcing a tight window on a consistent basis tells us what we already see with our eyes, which is ‘he’s all over him. He’s a blanket cover guy, even potentially a shutdown corner guy.’
Despite the injury, Phillips still managed to force a pair of fumbles, recorded an interception and had 12 passes defended, which tied for 17th-best in the league. For the most part, Phillips was where he needed to be when he needed to be there.
According to Shook, “ball hawk rate is where, in that situation, that player is going to end up making a play on the ball. It’s kind of the next step in the process. A play on the ball could be a pass defended or it could be an interception.”
Phillips finished with four interceptions and seven passes defended in 2019, despite playing in only eight games.
If Shook is right, and Phillips does in fact get more opportunities this season, that number is only going to go up.
“If you have a high ball hawk rate and a high tight window rate that means that you, more often than most defensive backs in the NFL, are very close to the receiver who’s targeted and you’re making a play on the ball more often than most guys,” Shook said. “I think ball hawk rate is very important, provided that you have enough of a base line of targets over the season.”
A lot of that will depend on whether Phillips can stay healthy this season. If he can, Cincinnati’s defensive backfield could turn out to be one of the better units in the league.