After having read a post detailing on the worst drafts of the decade and reading a specific comment noting that Vontae Davis is the worst starting cornerback in the AFC East (not to mention that the same person stated that he would not be surprised if Davis was relegated to the bench as an NFL player within a few seasons), I've decided to address this topic with my thoughts. Note: to that person who made that comment, I'm sure you know who you are. Once you read this post, please realize my intention wasn't to call you out, I just wanted to use that comment as an example from which to build off of with my subsequent point. I respect you, as I do most of the fans on this site, enough not to do this without having a reason for it.
Matty himself brought up a stat in another post showing that Vontae allowed 60% of passes thrown his way to go for completions. Yes, this is an awful percentage. A starting CB in the NFL who hopes to be successful at a high level should not be allowing such holes in coverage. You know what? In this case, I completely disagree with the common cliche that "stats don't lie." I firmly believe that even if Davis does not develop into the "shutdown corner" that a Nnamdi Asomugha is (or, that Sean Smith seems to be heading toward with proper coaching and further seasoning), he will still be one of the top corners in this league given similar coaching and seasoning, for our system, period.
Vontae Davis is faster than Sean Smith, on paper. He's also smaller. Sean Smith has the build, speed, quickness, and ball-hawking potential to be a shut-down, Pro Bowl corner. You can argue for or against that all day, but that's not the message of this post. Sean Smith has also already displayed that he is a "better" corner and shows more "potential" than our first round corner. Fact, or fiction?
Cue "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" phrase and image.
Vontae Davis is not better than Sean Smith, no. Nor is he worse. Let me explain how I see it: Sean Smith is, and will be, the better player as a pure pass-defender. He will likely be the lesser of the two in terms of ball-hawking, but merely because he will become a player in the mold of an Awesome-Wah (Asomugha). He will be respected more by quarterbacks and will not have the chances to make those plays as often. Otherwise, Smith will be the better pass-defense corner of the two. Where the common misperception comes in is this: Vontae Davis is not as good as Smith because he isn't as "good" in pass defense.
This is, to put it nicely, bogus.
Case in point: Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, Gibril Wilson, Yeremiah Bell, Jason Taylor, Joey Porter, Cameron Wake, etc., etc. Not a single one of these players are spectacular in pass coverage. Bell is decent, both ILBs are awful, Wilson seems to be awful as he is a natural SS, Taylor and Porter are average-to-below average in coverage (understandably), and Wake doesn't even really know how to drop back yet. Our entire defense, less Sean Smith, is the reason our defense is so bad: we cannot defend against the pass due to a lack of proper personnel and talent. Vontae Davis is not lumped into that group, however. Notice how is conspicuously absent? There's a reason for that. Why?
Vontae Davis does not, and should not, be a pure pass-defender. He should not be the same player as Sean Smith with a different physique. Now normally, I enjoy stats. At the very least, they complement a point. They shouldn't be used to prove one, but they complement it. Having said that, I do not know where to locate the stats I want to use to complement my point. If anybody could find that for me, I'd greatly appreciate it. No, but this time around, I'm going to throw stats out when making my point. The 60% stat does nothing to disprove my point.
So, what is my point?
Vontae Davis is and will be a great cornerback, and not for his pass-defending skills alone. Vontae Davis was drafted to be, and always will be, a hybrid pass-defending/run-stopping cornerback. And, might I add, he already plays that role VERY well. The reason I brought up the rest of our defense and how poor their coverage is, is because you cannot expect a hybrid cornerback to be put on an island (with Wilson back at FS, he might as well not have had a safety behind him on a number of plays) against the top wide receivers in the league in his rookie season and come out with spectacular numbers. That's just ridiculous.
We must all realize something, something I've mentioned but feel the need to harp on to mention another point: Vontae Davis was a rookie. He wasn't even slated to start until Will Allen went down, but that is not a damning fact. Smith won the other job outright (with Davis being sprinkled in early), while Allen was just needed there for his skill/leadership/maturity/experience. What does this mean? Neither he nor Sean Smith know how to properly play a Zone. Davis was played against most number ones due to his physicality and the staff's desire to attempt to bump said receivers off their routes or to jam them at the line. This is something he will be able to do in time, so it's good to have subjected him to this already. He gained valuable pass-defense experience in this way as well. But if people want to question why it was almost always Davis on the opposing team's number one, it's because they're rookies who need to get certain fundamentals and experience down before asking them to switch to the other side of the field or to play more advanced techniques (e.g. a zone).
I'm sure most Dolphins fans know or realize this. What some of us may not realize is that Davis is the perfect complement to Smith because of his run-defense ability. Smith is the shut-down cover corner. On run plays, Davis will add another line of defense and even set-up teammates for a nice stop. He alone will add another dimension to our run defense, making them instantly better at run defense, given enough NFL "time." A cover FS will allow Davis to play the run more often, making them a stronger defense. The ability to switch sides with Smith and play a zone technique will allow Davis to cover more of the field while still being able to watch the run. A cover FS instantly makes Davis better. Linebackers who can drop back instantly make Davis better. It's a wonder Smith played so well considering how little help these two had in defending these star wideouts and pass-catching tight ends. You give Davis more room to roam, more back-up, and he can take more risks and take more of an initiative to make plays in the backfield (including blitzing the QB--he'd be a monster in a blitz package--or stops for losses).
To sum things up, Vontae Davis is excellent. Vontae Davis will BE excellent. He may never go to the Pro Bowl, if only because his pass-defense skills and stats (primary "counting" stats for corners) may never be at the top of the league. He does not need to. As a hybrid, his pass-defending and ball-hawking are already above-average for a rookie. His run-defense is already equally solid. He will only get better at both. To call him worse than Smith, or even the "worst CB in the league," is pre-mature and completely mis-stated. He's just better suited to play a mixed role at the position, automatically requiring that we judge him in a different light than the "top" corners in the league.
A final note: I could be entirely wrong, but I'm almost positive Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain weren't both pure shut-down corners. My mind seems to recall one of the two being better suited to stop the run, and that's why the two were so dominant together: their skill sets just complemented each other perfectly.
Why do you think Parcells would draft both? Yes, draft two and hope one sticks, but it's more complex than that. He's not a drafting genius solely because he makes sure he gets at least one starter out of those two players: he knows Davis has a different skill set than a Darius Butler or Sean Smith, somebody they are likely targetting past that first round.
Yet another reason I really don't "care" who we draft. If Parcells is leading it, he can draft whoever he feels will better this team, and I'll be satisfied.
Thoughts welcome below.