With Darrelle Revis fighting a wrist injury and age, and Richard Sherman playing more off coverage than at any time in his career, there isn’t quite the debate there once was about who is the NFL’s premier cornerback. It’s Arizona’s Patrick Peterson.
But ask Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell if he agrees with that assessment and the introspection he shows is quite impressive.
“Man, listen, if he wants to say that, he can say that. I’m pretty sure he believes that,” Maxwell said of Peterson being the best. “Just like I believe I’m the best.
“Nothing against him, he is a great cornerback. The answer depends on who you ask.”
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If two months ago you had asked anyone around the NFL — including people within the Dolphins organization — if Byron Maxwell was anywhere close to being the NFL’s best cornerback, the question would have been thought a poor joke.
Well, one person wearing a big grin is Maxwell.
“It’s not not even close of how he’s playing right now compared to before,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “He played well Sunday. He was not a guy that played soft in coverage. He was up for the challenge.
“We’ve got young guys in the back end. At one point in the game, I thought it was moving a little fast for them. It’s a big game. It’s a learning experience. It’s their first time being in a game of that magnitude, but Byron didn’t flinch. You can see he has been in big games, and he played really well again Sunday. I’ve been impressed with the guy. He’s putting the work in after practice, during practice, watching film, doing extra sprints. He has put the work in. I’m impressed by the guy.”
A little perspective: Joseph, the man now so impressed by Maxwell, is the same person who benched Maxwell prior to the Cincinnati game in September.
That was the low point. The Dolphins thought Maxwell had lost something — perhaps his spirit or desire — and didn’t know if he would regain it. So he was benched three games into his Dolphins career.
Maxwell’s performance was so head-scratching and unacceptable at that time that some people within the organization thought Maxwell might be soon discarded, having come in a trade after washing out in Philadelphia and likely getting cut as a salary cap casualty after this season.
That one-and-done possibility has all but vanished at this point. Maxwell is Miami’s best defensive back today. He worked to learn Joseph’s system and is using it to his advantage. And the results are going to keep him in the team’s plans.
“I think now he understands our system,” Joseph said. “When he first got here, he wouldn’t play to the system. Now he is, and he’s playing a lot better.”
Maxwell isn’t moved by any of this. Tell him he’s playing well and he graciously accepts the compliment but makes the point that accomplishment isn’t the goal.
He also makes the point that the critique of his rough start didn’t make him believe his goals for the season were ruined.
“Sometimes they build you up to tear you down,” Maxwell said with a shrug. “When they tear you down, all you got is your teammates and your family and yourself to come back up. It’s part of the league. It’s part of being that guy that is getting paid a lot of money, so that’s part of it.
“This league you have to stay even keeled, man. That’s one thing I’ve learned through the ups and downs, the good and the bad. You have to continue to keep moving. You ignore success and you ignore failure and criticism.”
Maxwell does not, however, ignore results.
The guy who believes himself to be the NFL’s best cornerback also insists he measures his success based on how his team does, not necessarily how he plays.
“I just worry about wins and losses, and what I can do about helping the team,” he said.
“I just try to affect the game as much as possible. I looked at the tape last week; I didn’t think I played that well. I got the ball in my hands [on a fumble recovery and an interception] but as far as technique and overall, that wasn’t good enough. My technique was bad and my eyes were bad, but the ball just didn’t come my way.”
The ball has definitely found Maxwell over the past month. He has four turnovers in the past four games, so the idea the football isn’t coming to him is debatable. The ball is coming to him and he’s making plays. It is part of the reason metrics site ProFootballFocus has Maxwell rated the NFL’s No. 8 coverage cornerback and No. 11 overall.
(PFF has Denver’s Aqib Talib rated No. 1 overall and Peterson tied for No. 9.)
“The game is about playmakers, and I’m always trying to find a way to get the ball,” Maxwell said.
“I love the ball in my hands.”
Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero