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Nnamdi Asomugha: The Nullifier

Nnamdi Asomugha is the best player you've never seen. And the NFL team that signs him for 2011 will have acquired the most important defensive free agent since Reggie White.

Oh, I know that if you're a knowledgeable NFL fan you're aware of Asomugha and you know that he's always in the Pro Bowl, held in awe by his peers and opposing coaches, the highest paid defender in the game, and that you should hold in some deference, but I'm willing to bet that you've never really watched him play. Other than, perhaps, to puzzle through why the #1 receiver of your favorite team played so miserably against the sorry Raiders and effectively stopped trying to run routes some time in the mid-3rd quarter.

Must be that hamstring acting up.

Well, no. Nnamdi is embarrassing him. And he quit.

The only NFL joy of living in the Bay Area and being forced to watch putrid 49er and Raider football over the past six years has been the gift of watching Nnamdi. Since 2006, I make any viewing of a Raider game a celebration of Nnamdi Asomugha. It's not that he's the best or most unusual cornerback in the NFL - he is both of those things, with all due respect to Darrelle Revis - it's that the league hasn't seen a combination of physical traits on the corner like this since the days of Night Train Lane. And his value-adds are without peer.

First, the physical.

Nnamdi is a freak in the truest sense of the word. He's a legitimate 6-2, 210 with a wing span that gives Jay Bilas a hard-on. Nnamdi doesn't have long arms so much as he appears to be a human hang glider. His pure speed is absurd - he's a true low 4.4 guy and he's one of the few in the NFL who finds that speed more or less unchanged with pads on. More important than pure speed, Nnamdi is cat quick and he has hips that you simply don't see in an athlete over 6'.

Height, your center of gravity, and hip rotation are more or less linked in a formula written in iron. As height increases, mobile hip flexibility speed decreases. Nnamdi defies that math like Matt Damon on his mop break in Good Will Hunting. His hips, the ability to turn his body completely in a half step without breaking stride, his skill at putting his hands on a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage with perfect leverage time and placement, is without peer. Deion Sanders in his prime - though not as big, could match or exceed Nnamdi's quickness profile - but was considerably weaker physically and, let's admit, a tremendous pussy in run support. Nnamdi brings the wood and he likes mixing it up in the run game.

If the physical isn't daunting enough, there's the mental. Asomugha graduated from Cal with a degree in corporate finance. Beyond his considerable intellect, his football smarts are off the charts. He was a college safety and he understands the entire defense and how the offense is trying to attack it. Thus, he is constantly matching routes on his man by peeking at the routes being run by other receivers. That's a staggering marriage of kinesthetic, geometric, and process intelligence. If that sounds like an almost impossible mental overload, it is. He's the only corner in the league that can do it.

Finally, there's character. Nnamdi was Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 2008, the NFL's Man of The Year in 2010, and rather than list his dozens of accolades, take my word for it that he may be the most prolific philanthropist-athlete in American sports. Calling him a good locker room guy is a bit like calling Raquel Welch in her prime moderately attractive.

Nnamdi doesn't contest the best receivers in the NFL. Or play them well in a game where the rules favor the passing game in every conceivable way. He destroys them. He humiliates them. He takes the elite of the NFL, puts them on an island, and embarrasses them for four quarters. Andre Johnson (who I consider the hardest cover in the league) is his bitch**, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith, Randy Moss in his New England prime, TE Tony Gonzalez - the list goes on and on.

** if you want to give a Texans fans a hard time, innocently forward this piece to one and ask how Andre Johnson does against Nnamdi - you will enjoy it. Unfortunately, your favorite receiver did no better, so be careful.

Statistics are indeed Twain's damned lie when it comes to Nnamdi. Unless you look at the right ones. When he first won a starting job at corner in 2006 (after being a college safety - an interesting story about assumptions in itself), he led the league in interceptions with 8.

Since then he's had only 3.


Because teams won't throw at him. He's matched one-on-one on the best receivers in the league each week and offensive coordinators tell their offensive superstar he won't be in the game plan.

He is the least targeted cornerback in the league. Consider this:

In 2007, Nnamdi was targeted 31 times in an entire 16 game NFL season. He gave up 10 completions.

Couldn't find 2008 numbers.

In 2009, Nnamdi was targeted 27 times. 13 completions.

In 2010, targeted was targeted 27 times. 10 completions.

Over those three years, the Oakland Raider pass defense was targeted 1500 times. Nnamdi - who always covers the other teams best receiver by himself, usually with no safety help - was targeted a mere 85 times. And yielded 33 completions. That's a 38.8% completion ratio in a league where the average is twenty points higher. So, in summary, he covers the other team's best player, is never thrown at, and in the rare instances where he is challenged, he still dominates despite the potential for boredom and knowing that his team is going to lose the game. And he hasn't surrendered a touchdown in two years.

Find me a more extraordinary contextual statistic regarding one player's direct impact. Seriously. Try.

Nnamdi is being hotly pursued by a number of teams, including the Packers, Redskins, Texans, Packers, Lions, Patriots, Cowboys and anyone else who can free the cap space. And Nnamdi's motives are not purely financial. So no one has a clue what he will do. Though most fans won't know it, the winner of that race will have made one of the most potent acquisitions in NFL history.

By the way, if you think Revis is the best, you agree with Skip Bayless.