As Buccaneers fans look over the possible free agent acquisitions at the cornerback position this offseason, one name that will catch the attention of many a fan is that of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. And for good reason. The Philadelphia Eagles defensive back is an athletic freak, standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and running a sub 4.3 second 40 yard dash. He was a player the Eagles pursued after seeing his successes as a young player in Arizona, making big plays in the passing game and scoring a total of four touchdowns on interception returns in his first 3 seasons. Rodgers-Cromartie would play nickel corner for the Eagles at first, and seemed out of place. In 2012, he moved into a starting position across from Nnamdi Asomugha, and the NFL world got another chance to see DRC putting on a show as a starting NFL cornerback.
The results did not impress me.
There were definitely some positives to Rodgers-Cromartie’s game in 2012. He started off the season on a very high note, playing against Brandon Weeden and the Browns, and matched up against Travis Benjamin most of the game. DRC would haul in two interceptions, both on deep balls intended for Benjamin. Neither pass was thrown well, but Dominique did position himself well and stay in perfect defensive position. Bucs fans got to see another of the Eagles corners’ best moments of 2012, as he stayed in stride with Mike Williams, and recovered to come over Williams’ back to break up a long pass play. However, DRC did show one of his weaknesses on that play, allowing Williams to get inside position and leave DRC in no-mans land between the receiver and the sideline. DRC can get good position against lesser receivers, but against higher quality opponents like Mike Williams, or the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant (who he played against frequently), he struggled to keep himself in a good place to make a defensive play.
If he were to make his way to Tampa, he would find himself matched up against the Saints and Falcons four times each year. The Eagles played both New Orleans and Atlanta this season, so we can look at how he dealt with those offenses and see how he would do in the NFC South. Against the Falcons, DRC got off to a bad start against Julio Jones. Late in the first quarter, he embarrasses himself trying to cover Julio Jones. He plays off of him, but steps up and tries to make contact about 10 yards downfield, and incurs a holding penalty. The holding does not slow down Julio, who continues on his route and receives a back shoulder throw from Matt Ryan. Not only had Rodgers-Cromartie made a horrible attempt at playing Jones close within the first ten yards, but he failed to take advantage of his initial hold, and was terribly out of position. He was deeper than Jones, and to the inside, but was not in a location to make a play on anything but a pass thrown over Julio’s head. The back shoulder throw was more than DRC could defend, so he simply ran through Jones to try and play the ball, and drew his second penalty of the play for pass interference. While this is only one play, it shows us two things about Dominique that will impact his ability to fit in with the Bucs:
- After that play, DRC found himself matched up on Roddy White more often. This meant that the slower, but technically superior Nnamdi Asomugha was left to cover Julio Jones, who would later victimize Nnamdi for a long touchdown. As a Buccaneer, Dominique would have to lock down Julio Jones, as he would be the most logical matchup considering the speed of Jones.
- Rodgers-Cromartie was the second most penalized cornerback in the NFL in 2012. For a Buccaneers team that is just starting to recover from chronic penalty problems, bringing in a high-risk corner with a propensity to break the rules is not the most logical move. The same can be said about Xavier Rhodes, as Patrik Nohe pointed out in an interview with The Pewter Plank. These players might have the skill, but drawing flags for illegal contact and interference renders even the best coverage irrelevant.
Another concern with Rodgers-Cromartie is his lack of burst when changing direction. Lance Moore of the Saints put this shortcoming on display, burning the Eagles defender with multiple double moves in the middle of the field during the teams’ Monday Night Football matchup. Moore would simply run his route, then break off towards the sideline, and DRC was unable to stop his momentum and get back to the play. So while Rodgers-Cromartie is certainly fast, he lacks the change of direction that takes advantage of his elite speed in coverage situations. This lack of closing speed causes doubt for the corner, and sets him up for being victimized by a stop-and-go. Dez Bryant was able to put the most brief of fake stop moves on DRC, and leave him frozen as the Cowboy receiver blew past him.
The final concern about DRC is also the most correctable, and therefore the most frustrating. I will defer to John Lynch when it comes to defensive back tackling, and he said Rodgers-Cromartie’s effort in terms of tackling is sickening, and disrespectful to the game. He showed an example clip in which DRC gave up on pursuing Miles Austin, and allowed a score. He would prove Lynch right during the Bucs/Eagles game during which the former Bucs safety made that statement. On a Vincent Jackson reception inside the 10, Rodgers-Cromartie came up to make a tackle near the goal line, and whiffed, launching himself past the formidable receiver and allowing the score. The frustration comes from watching DRC earlier in the same game, as he chased down Doug Martin and made an excellent open field tackle. The ability is clearly there, and not many human beings can close down a runner faster than Dominique. The effort and know-how to make the tackle and take the correct angle needs work, and that is a concern if he were to move into a Buccaneers defense that relies upon corners to be involved in run defense and make sure tackles in one-on-one coverage.
The free agent corner’s season could be summarized as a frustrating mix of excellent coverages, mental lapses, effort-lacking pursuits, and frustrating penalties. He has all the skills to stay with the best receivers all the way down the field. But he can’t translate that speed into a second or third direction in short order, and finds himself caught out on plays that extend past a 3 to 5 step drop. DRC graded out as a bottom 20 cornerback in 2012, mostly due to poor games against high calibre passing offenses like the Falcons, Cowboys, and Saints. Two of those three teams would be on the schedule every season if he were in red and pewter, and as a result, I don’t believe that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is going to be worth the financial investment he will command on the open market. The Buccaneers need to improve the defensive backfield, but the system and culture in Tampa Bay would not be conducive to Rodgers-Cromartie’s success.