“Intercepted. Greg Toler, who’s been all over the field.” – Bill Macatee, CBS Sports NFL
With reports of Sean Smith demanding a king’s ransom for his services as a cornerback, perhaps it’s time for us to consider the cornerbacks on the market that the Buccaneers might target who will come with a more affordable price tag, but could still provide a boost to the defense. One such player is Greg Toler, a widely unknown player who hails from Saint Paul’s College in Virginia (a school that had to close its athletics programs in 2011 due to financial concerns).
Toler has had quite the interesting path to being an NFL player. Coming out of high school, Toler had the skill to make a Division I roster, but not the grades. He wound up working at a J.C. Penney out of high school, biding his time until his next opportunity. Saint Paul’s was able to offer him a chance due to the less stringent academic requirements at the Division II level, and Toler knew that the opportunity was a blessing. He had this to say about his time spent playing Semi-Pro football after high school, and missing out on college football (facts and quote courtesy azcentral.com):
“It was humbling, it was a kick in the backside. My friends had all moved on, and I was playing semi-pro football. All I knew is that job wasn’t something I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
Since then, Toler has worked hard to earn his place as a starting cornerback in the NFL, and even with recent injury struggles, he was able to contribute as a part of the rotation of cornerbacks in Arizona in 2012. He had a breakout game against the Miami Dolphins in week 4, reading Ryan Tannehill like a book and making a big tackle on Reggie Bush for a loss. These big plays came in the third quarter, when the Cardinals began their comeback that would end in an overtime victory. He would be matched up on Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano on any given play, and made very sure tackles and played them well. I would be dishonest if I didn’t mention that Hartline had 253 receiving yards on the day, however, Hartline’s biggest plays did not come as a result of Toler’s lack of coverage. On a 57 yard bomb to the receiver in the first half, Toler was not involved, and it was William Gay who was victimized. Hartline would have a late 80 yard score, and while Toler had Hartline at the line of scrimmage, he handed him off to a safety who failed to pick him up, and Hartline was gone.
Toler would add a 102 yard interception return for a score later in the season against the Lions, and it was another example of his ability to read the quarterback, and then use pure speed to make sure he got six points. Toler certainly benefited from a miscommunication between Matthew Stafford and Kris Durham, but kept his eyes on the play and took advantage of the mistake. He would also play excellent coverage on Durham in other instances, and showed more solid tackling in this game, as well.
One interesting statistic about the Cardinals’ cornerback is how well he grades out according to Pro Football Focus’ grading tool. Of the available cornerbacks heading into free agency this offseason, Toler ranks 6th, and the 5 ahead of him aren’t the players you would expect. The grading system obviously isn’t perfect, but for a player who played only 308 snaps in 2012, to register 26 tackles, 8 passes defended, 2 interceptions, and a tackle for loss is pretty impressive and worthy of a good grade in anyone’s book.
Greg Toler is not the greatest cornerback in NFL history. He’s not going to come to Tampa Bay and be the new savior of Buccaneer football. That said, he is very quick, a capable tackler, and a hard worker. He knows how to limit big plays, and has the speed to make up for some of the mistakes he does make. His draft profile from 2009 points out that he has no off-field issues, and is a quiet young man who leads by example. He was compared to Marcus Trufant, and I think most Buccaneers fans would be happy with a player of that calibre signed to a reasonable contract. So rather than spending 10 million dollars on a cornerback with some questions of his own, why not sit down with a player like Greg Toler, and see if he’d be a fit in Coach Schiano’s system?