Poor Kyle Arrington. The New England Patriots cornerback seems to be a punching bag for many fans, and it seems like we’ve all but decided that the Patriots won’t bring him back as he hits unrestricted free agency this offseason. Arrington was deservedly criticized for a horrendous first seven games to start the season, as he was getting burned regularly and was one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL during that time span.
However, part of the reason for that was because Arrington wasn’t being utilized correctly. If you put Arrington on the outside, he’s going to get burned; it’s as simple as that. We all saw it plain as day, that Kyle Arrington does not have the skill-set to be a cornerback on the outside in this league. But we also saw that, when in the slot, Arrington has the skill-set to be one of the better slot corners that the NFL has to offer.
When playing on the outside, Arrington allowed an opposing QB Rating of over 90 on nine of 12 different occasions, per the Pro Football Focus. But in the slot? His opposing QB Rating was over 100 once, but that’s misleading. In that game against the Houston Texans, Arrington was targeted just once and that went for 22 yards. So while he did get burned on that play, that was his only mistake (Andre Johnson got that one, by the way).
Only six of eighteen attempted passes were completed (33.3%, squarely one third) when Kyle Arrington was playing as a slot cornerback. Overall, he allowed a 64.1% catch rate and was, of course, very burn prone on the outside. So why the heck did the Patriots even play him on the outside? That was because they didn’t have a better option (before the Aqib Talib trade), and both Talib and budding star Alfonzo Dennard were both injured during the end of the season.
Arrington’s biggest asset to the team is in run defense, and it’s a little bit annoying when some fans write off run defense as a negligible asset in the secondary. While run defense isn’t in high demand at the cornerback position, it is a useful tool to have and even more important for slot corners than corners on the outside. Arrington is one of the best cornerbacks in the league in run defense, and he had one of the top ten highest tackling efficiency totals among all corners (PFF) which means that he rarely misses a tackle. He finished with 64 tackles on the season in total, and there is no doubting his impact in run defense.
I hate how quickly some people have written off Arrington’s 2011 season, because it was quite similar in terms of slot performance. In fact, he actually improved in coverage in 2012. Even though he was considerably weaker on the outside and spent more time there this past season, Arrington actually had a higher grade from the Pro Football Focus in coverage this season (it was, wait for it, positive in 2012…in coverage too as well as overall). He has always been good in run defense, and the interesting thing is that Arrington actually made strides in coverage in his second season.
Although Arrington is a flawed player and cannot succeed on the outside due to talent deficiencies, over-anxious gambling, and just general burn-proneness, Arrington is actually a solid slot corner in this league. He made vast improvements there (33.3% is a staggering number even on just 18 targets of a sample as a slot back) and is consistently one of the best run-stopping CBs in the NFL.
This isn’t an argument for bringing back Kyle Arrington, but it is a devils’ advocate piece that is intended to open your eyes with regards to Arrington by using stats and facts. Arrington should never be placed on the outside, but he can definitely succeed in the slot and has proven that fact in back-to-back seasons. Don’t blame Arrington for all of the secondary’s problems, blame the depth at the beginning of the season (injuries played a role in that). There are business decisions for getting rid of Arrington, but I actually don’t think effectiveness is a legitimate reason for letting him walk.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.