Last year, Damarious Randall played terrible.
Some people think it was a sophomore slump.
Some people think it was the natural regression of a college safety playing a more difficult position against more challenging competition (and see this as a sign that he will never be a viable NFL corner).
Some people think that he was an ok CB2, but when Shields went down and he had to fill the CB1 role, that it was too much for him (and Ladarius Gunter) to handle.
Then there’s the people like me who think that when a cornerback tears his groin, has surgery, and then comes back the same year, while also dealing with foot and knee injuries (probably due to overcompensating for returning too quickly from groin surgery), that he probably won’t be as effective as he would have otherwise been.
Any lower body injury is tough for a corner to deal with because of, you know, all the running and cutting. When it’s severe enough to require surgery, that’s really bad news.
If you’ve ever had surgery on a tendon or ligament, you know it takes a long time to come back from and even longer to get back into football shape. Longer than the six weeks Randall missed. His body was nowhere near ready. Throw in shoulder injury and you get a guy who really shies away from contact and, no matter how tough or stubborn his is, will not look like a top end NFL corner.
His rookie year, he played tight, aggressive coverage like you would expect from a physical safety. Last year, he gave receivers a lot more cushion, struggled with quick cuts and double moves (hello, torn groin), and when he made plays (like this highlight gem against Seattle – notice how he straight-lines his return instead of trying to cut to the outside: torn groin), they came from swooping in from off coverage rather than being locked up and physical.
It was clear he was hesitant last year and any hesitation is death against double moves. Once teams see you cant hold up to a double move because of a torn groin, do you know what they do?
Call a metric sh!t ton of double moves!
Then, as a corner, knowing you can’t cut to run with a double move, and knowing a double move is coming, do you know what you do?
You play off, which means getting beat underneath a lot. It also means your defensive coordinator has to call a lot more zone (especially if your shutdown corner just ended his career with his last concussion and every other corner on the team has been hurt).
And then Julio Jones.
So I don’t believe Randall was a wasted pick. I don’t believe our defense is doomed.
He has been very outspoken about his belief that his poor play was due to injury last year.
Doubters have a way of bringing that kind of talk out of professional athletes. When the doubters are wrong, it can push players to a new level.
I think the doubters are wrong this time and I think DamRan is in for a really good year in 2017.