In a time where many places are projecting their thoughts about players for the 2021 season, there are still some metrics coming in using strictly data from this past year. One such ranking is nfl.com releasing their top 10 coverage players in 2020 using Next Gen Stats.
So what exactly goes in to the statistics being used to determine this ranking? Rather than me try to explain it, here is how is explained in the article by Nick Shook of Around The NFL:
Now, some important notes about the parameters for this exercise: We set a minimum of 300 coverage snaps and 40 targets to achieve legitimate volume among qualifiers. Players also had to finish with a catch rate allowed that was below expectation, a negative targeted expected points added (a metric used to quantify how much an individual player impacted an opponents’ scoring potential), a tight window percentage of at least 20 percent (15 percent for linebackers — more on that later) — and a maximum passer rating allowed of 80. These requirements pared down the candidates to only those with the most well-rounded production.
Using a combination of those metrics — along with target rate, average separation and ballhawk rate as supplementary metrics (but most importantly, targeted EPA) — we dove into the Next Gen Stats to identify the players who were the best in coverage in 2020.
One thing in the breakdown about these rankings which was not necessarily made clear is that they were not position dependent. This was not simply ranking cornerbacks or defensive secondary players. In fact, linebacker Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers came in fourth in the rankings.
Representing the Pittsburgh Steelers on the list was cornerback Joe Haden in the 10th position. At the age of 32, Haden was the oldest player on the list and one of two players cracking the top 10 who is over the age of 30 with Xavier Rhodes of the Indianapolis Colts being the other player in the number seven position.
Here is the breakdown for Joe Haden according to Shook:
Rank: 10 Joe Haden
Pittsburgh Steelers · CB
Passer rating allowed: 76.5
Catch rate allowed below expectation: -5.8%
Tight window pct: 24.3%
Target rate: 16.9%
Average separation: 2.2 yards
Targeted expected points added: -9.3
Even in his 11th NFL season, Haden still proved to be an effective cover man. He allowed just 2.2 yards of separation per target in 2020, the fifth-lowest average in the NFL (minimum 50 targets), and the best mark he’s posted in the category during the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). The Steelers corner compiled a completion percentage allowed below expectation for the fourth straight season and is one of just four players to do so while seeing a minimum of 50 targets in each season during that span. While his numbers aren’t quite as astronomical as others on this list, Haden proved with his play and production that he’s still a strong performer at the position.
Haden was not the only player from the AFC North to make the list. Free safety Jessie Bates of the Cincinnati Bengals came in sixth in the NFL in coverage according to the Next Gen Stats.
Another player I thought who could possibly make this list for the Pittsburgh Steelers was safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Even though Shook listed another nine players who just missed the list, which included Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips and Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, Fitzpatrick did not even gain one of the honorable mentions.
Upon further research, I easily discovered why Fitzpatrick was not included: They simply set the parameters which made him an eligible. Only being targeted 26 times in 2020 according to Pro Football Reference, Fitzpatrick wasn’t anywhere close to meeting the requirements to get onto the list. Only giving up 13 completions on 26 targets along with having four interceptions, it would be very interesting to see exactly where Fitzpatrick fell compared to the other players on the list even though he didn’t meet the targets requirement.
Even if Minkah Fitzpatrick was left off the list due to quarterbacks simply avoiding throwing his way in 2020, it still does not lessen the achievement of Joe Haden. For those in Steelers’ Nation were concerned about Haden‘s age going into the 2121 season, these numbers go to show that there has not yet been a drop off in production. Hopefully, Joe Haden can have yet another successful NFL season in 2021.