When both Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond faced suspensions heading into December of 2013, 12s could not be blamed for wondering how well our Legion of Boom could hold up going into the final month of the season. Few knew the sixth-round draft pick sporting the Seahawks’ number 41 and that ever-so-slightly tilted face mask. Upon filling the void left by those suspensions though, Byron Maxwell started the remaining eight games of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, evidently proving himself to defensive back-whisperer Pete Carroll, as well as Carroll’s coaching staff.
While selling Carroll on his skills had to be Maxwell’s top priority, experts are not all convinced that the 6’1″ cornerback has what it takes to perform at a high level going into 2014.
One critic recently watched every regular season and playoff start by Maxwell in 2013 and concluded, “I really like Byron Maxwell, but man is he overrated.”
Cian Fahey is as smart an NFL analyst as they come, and he especially enjoys examining cornerback play. After watching every Seahawks defensive play from Maxwell’s Week 13 start against the Saints all the way through their Super Bowl XLVIII blowout, Fahey determined that Maxwell played inconsistently and made dozens of mistakes, particularly in man coverage. According to Fahey, Maxwell failed at man coverage on over 40 percent of his opportunities.
Fahey acknowledges that the limited number of Maxwell’s snaps in the NFL make predicting the cornerback’s value a fool’s errand. Based on what Maxwell’s put on tape up to this point, though, Fahey remains doubtful of how well Maxwell will play in this, the final year of his rookie contract.
So is Maxwell overrated and inconsistent? The stats wizards at Pro Football Focus also took on Maxwell’s 2013 performance and reached a completely different conclusion.
From Week 13 through the Seahawks’ entire playoff run, PFF graded Maxwell as the second-best cornerback in the NFL. During that period, quarterbacks throwing to Maxwell’s side of the field were limited to a quarterback rating of 38.1. (Those throwing against Sherman only achieved a quarterback rating of six. Yes, just six. Nice decision-making, there, Kap!) PFF also notes that the completion percentage Maxwell allowed was 40 percent– just a few points behind Sherm’s 35 percent completion rate over the same period.
PFF’s conclusion: Maxwell’s “clutch performance down the stretch made him both a Super Bowl Champion and a Secret Superstar.”
The key difference between the analyses by Fahey and PFF is what they’re looking at to grade Maxwell. Fahey looked at each pass play where Maxwell was on the field from Week 13 onward. The folks at PFF, though, are not even looking at Maxwell’s play directly — they looked at how quarterbacks performed when throwing to his side of the field. So Maxwell might benefit from the strength of Earl Thomas and the Seahawks incredible defense, generally, in PFF’s analysis.
Fahey’s preference for individually examining every single play might be preferable to PFF’s grades based on quarterback performance. We don’t have to just let the experts do all the thinking on this, though, and there are two factors that they both overlooked.
Check out video below of Maxwell’s 2013 highlights, and the first thing you’ll see is Maxwell putting big, strong human beings on their backs. Sure, Maxwell’s limited number of snaps might not be enough to write his name onto a Hall of Fame ballot. But when he’s on the field, opposing players feel his presence.
The first time he lays down the wood in this highlight reel, it’s against Anquan Boldin, who never demonstrated blazing speed, but whose entire value at this point in his career is being a big body with hands. We also saw Maxwell upend both Demaryius Thomas and Adrian Peterson, neither of whom have reputations as wilting flowers. So we can’t say that Maxwell’s always been a hitter, and will always be a hitter. What we can say, though, is that when Maxwell is on the field, even big bodies on the other team should fear the Boom.
The other factor overlooked by both Fahey and PFF might be even more valuable to the Legion of Boom than the Boom itself. Maxwell’s ball skills — especially his ability to punch the ball out of offensive players hands — are remarkable.
We all remember what would have been the Denver Broncos’ longest offensive play of Super Bowl XLVIII. You know, the one where Maxwell peals back off of his man to charge down Demaryius Thomas and rocks the ball loose for a Malcom Smith recovery?
If you think that was a lucky break for Maxwell and the Hawks, you’re missing how intentional that punch looks. And you’re also forgetting that this was not the first or even the second time that Maxwell snuck in a punch to force the ball loose last season.
So, if everyone is accurately reporting the facts, here’s what the Seahawks have in sixth-round draft pick Byron Maxwell:
- A solid zone corner and inconsistent man-to-man defender;
- The second-best cornerback in the league, judging by quarterback rating;
- A guy who limits opponents to a 40% completion rating, and who snagged 4 interceptions in just 8 games started; and
- The kind of hitter and ball hawk around which the Seahawks have built a historic secondary.
All of this is good enough for me to say that Maxwell is a star just waiting for his turn in the spotlight behind many other Seahawk stars. Maxwell’s contributions to this secondary are significant, especially when you consider that quarterbacks are generally more inclined to challenge him that Sherman. More often than not, he’s met that challenge.