As Oakland continues to toil along at its four-win-per-season pace, there's at least one player Raiders fans can be proud to call one of of their own.
The player? Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who continues to slide under the radar as one of the game's best defensive backs. Football people in the know recognize Asomugha as an underrated player, hidden in the never-ending chaos that is Raiders football, but Denver head coach Mike Shanahan has taken the underrated label even farther. To an all-time level, actually.
From Adam Schefter of the NFL Network:
"He is the most underrated football player in the history of the game," Shanahan said of Asomugha. "I can't believe this guy hasn't been to the Pro Bowl or people don't talk about him all the time. He is off the charts and as good as it gets. He doesn't get the attention for the way he plays consistently. He is the most underrated football player that I have ever seen in my coaching career."In the history of the game? I always felt Curtis Martin was the most underrated player in the history of the game, but I suppose a rather convincing argument could be made in favor of Asomugha.
Ever since Deion Sanders was doing his "primetime" thing with the Falcons, Cowboys and 49ers, essentially cutting the football field in half with his coverage skills, the term "shutdown cornerback" has been thrown around by the Mel Kipers of the world like it's nothing. Every reasonably talented corner that's projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft, it seems, is touted as some sort of shutdown corner.
But with the way defensive backs are forced to take a hands-off approach to covering a receiver, and given the fact that a flag flies out of a refs' pocket every time a defender so much as breathes on an opposing player, there really aren't many (if any) true "shutdown corners" in today's game.
Having said that, Asomugha might be the closest thing the NFL has to such a player, even if the raw stats don't show it. Through the Raiders' first ten games this season he's recorded only one interception, which matches the total he had for the entire 2007 season. Over the same time span he's only been credited with 12 passes defended. Not exactly numbers that jump off the page at you. But there's a very good reason for that -- nobody throws to his side of the field. That's the ultimate sign of respect for a corner.
It was reported by Raiders beat writer Jerry McDonald a few weeks ago that Asomugha had only 35 passes thrown his way during the 2007 season (that's just a little more than two per game) and was on pace to cut that number almost in half during this season.
So, why doesn't anybody talk about him as one of the league's best players, when he clearly is? Good question. In today's current sports climate where fantasy football can change a fan's rooting interest, combined with the ESPN mindset of everything is better when it's louder, Asomugha doesn't register huge stats, and he, for the most part, quietly goes about his business. That's probably why his former teammate, DeAngelo Hall, was once upon a time considered one of those mythical shutdown corners, even though he kind of sucked (and still does). But, hey, he gets a lot of interceptions and talks a good game.
This week, Oakland travels to Denver, where Asomugha will be seeing plenty of Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall. If recent history is any indicator, I'm guessing Marshall won't be having one of his better games.