Cardinals cornerbacks Jerraud Powers (25) and Patrick Peterson (21) share a laugh during this week's OTAs.
There was a certain inevitability to the departure of Antonio Cromartie this offseason.
Fellow cornerback Patrick Peterson noted Cromartie's penchant for always talking about "freaking New York" leading up to free agency, and once the Jets offered a four-year, $32 million contract with $7 million of guaranteed money, his one-year dalliance with the Cardinals was over.
In 2014, Cromartie was a sturdy presence in the secondary, starting every game, nabbing four interceptions, returning a fumble for a score and registering a Pro Bowl nod. Without him, the Cardinals cornerback group is thinner and not as flashy. But it may not be as big of an issue as many believe.
While the idea of adding a tall, physical outside cornerback in free agency or the draft floated around earlier this
offseason, General Manager Steve Keim emerged without one. The team's most notable acquisition was the waiver wire pickup of Alfonzo Dennard.
Dennard is new to the fold and Justin Bethel has a tantalizing mixture of athleticism and youth, which makes fans excited about the prospects of both. However, the player who seems most likely to assume the No. 2 cornerback spot is an old standby.
Jerraud Powers is not a new name and not a sexy one, but he's the one running with the first team opposite Peterson, and his worth to the team is immeasurable. Coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals never doubted they could absorb the loss of Cromartie because of Powers' swiss-knife ability to fill in anywhere.
"That was easy," Arians said. "He probably played better in pass coverage than Cro did and he's a better tackler."
The advanced numbers agree with Arians' assessment. While Cromartie earned the Pro Bowl nod last season, his coverage grade was negative-1.5, according to Pro Football Focus. Powers earned a plus-5.0 coverage grade, which was the best among Cardinals cornerbacks and 23rd in the NFL, ahead of such stars as Joe Haden and Aqib Talib.
Powers' impressive numbers came mostly against slot receivers, a group the 5-foot-10, 187-pounder can better control
because they are more similar to his size. However, even in 2013 when he played almost exclusively against bigger receivers on the outside, Powers held his own with a negative-.9 coverage grade, which is just a tick below league average.
For as ballyhooed as last year's secondary was, it finished the year with the 14th-best pass defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders, while the 2013 version was rated fifth-best. There were plenty of other factors involved in 2013's success – it had a better pass rush, rangier linebackers and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu – but Powers was not a liability.
While the seventh-year veteran knows he isn't mentioned among the upper echelon NFL cornerbacks, Powers has a quiet, stern confidence in himself.
"Cro's a household name," Powers said. "He's done a lot in this league, and it's a tribute to him, as far as Pro Bowls and making a name for himself. I've always been an under-the-radar type, so whenever a big name leaves, the fans' reaction will be (concern). But I don't really listen to what the fans have to say. I wouldn't be here if people didn't know I could play, and play well.
"I think cornerback is one of the toughest positions in football, besides quarterback. Being able to play on the outside and play on the inside, whatever the case is, I can do it. You'll never hear me talking much. I always try to stay out of the media, just going unnoticed. Hopefully one day the fans will realize what they've got."
If Bethel unlocks his tools and proves ready to start, Powers will slide inside and again aim to shut down slot receivers. If not, he can play outside, where the Cardinals' main trio would likely resemble 2013 with Powers, Peterson and Mathieu.
"I don't know what the situation is going to be," Powers said. "Whatever they want me to do, I can do it. As long as I'm on the field, you won't hear me complaining."
The loss of Cromartie could test the Cardinals' depth if a top cornerback misses any action in 2015, but his departure is far from a death knell.
"At corner we're extremely comfortable," Arians said after not picking one up in the draft. "Jerraud Powers played as well, maybe better than Cro the year before. Cro played very well for us last year and allowed us to play JP inside, but I've got all the confidence in the world. I think Justin Bethel is ready to break out and allow JP to go back inside when we go into the nickel. We have so much flexibility there."