The best NFL cornerback in the highest-danger area of the field in 2019 was not Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots. It wasn’t Tre’Davious White of the Buffalo Bills, who joined Gilmore on the All-Pro first team. It wasn’t Richard Sherman, Marcus Peters, Darius Slay, or any of the other Pro Bowlers and former All-Pros in the NFL.
In fact, the best cornerback in the NFL in the red zone last year is a player who is maligned by much of his own team’s fan base. That’s right: according to Pro Football Focus, Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King was the best player at his position in the league last year when defending inside the 20-yard line.
According to PFF’s grades, he beat out White and Peters for that distinction:
Highest-graded CBs in the red-zone in 2019:— PFF (@PFF) June 29, 2020
▫️ Kevin King - 90.0
▫️ Tre’Davious White/Marcus Peters - 87.5
▫️ Patrick Peterson - 83.5 pic.twitter.com/NtkqnKGDiR
King had an up-and-down season in 2019 overall. He played in 15 games and led the team with five interceptions, finishing second to Jaire Alexander in passes defended with 15. He also posted a slightly better passer rating against than Alexander, beating him by a point at 84.6 to Alexander’s 85.8. However, that passer rating stat is helped out significantly by those picks, as Alexander was much better on a per-target basis than King, allowing just 7.6 yards per target to King’s 10.2. King actually allowed more passing yardage on 25 fewer pass targets than Alexander did.
However, when looking closer to the end zone, King’s success gets better. Two of his interceptions came in the end zone, a game-clincher in week two against the Vikings and his pick of a ball that Adrian Amos tipped up in the air against Oakland. Several of his pass breakups came in the red zone as well, and most of the four touchdowns he allowed on the season were of the longer variety.
King also earned recognition from Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar earlier this offseason as one of the NFL’s best man coverage cornerbacks, while Alexander earned similar distinction for his play in zone. The same qualities that Farrer noted about King’s success in man coverage help him in the red zone: size, physicality, and short-area quickness. It’s worth adding one more thing to that: ball skills, as King has made several impressive plays on the football when the windows get tighter.
King can get burned for big plays, to be sure. And when he gets burned, it tends to be for major, explosive plays. But if he can find a way to keep those plays to a minimum in 2020 and stay healthy, he should set himself up for a solid contract in the 2021 offseason.