For the longest time, nobody talked about Brent Grimes.
In baseball, the shortest guys get endlessly praised for their hustle, scrappiness and gumption, even if they're not actually very good at the game. David Eckstein has cornered the market on sportswriter adulation. Basketball fans are endlessly fascinated by players like Muggsy Bogues. But here in football, that most physical of sports, we have a story better than any of those.
Yes, Grimey is starting to get recognition for being one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL at the moment. It's an absolutely stunning turnaround in perception for a defender who struggled to overcome his undrafted status, his height and the idea that he was all physical talent and no coverage skills. Dude has to be laughing about that now.
In honor of his burgeoning reputation, I thought we could take a trip down memory lane and see how Grimey got here. I've drawn on his stats, his history as a player and his historical mentions on The Falcoholic to put this one together. Follow along after the jump.
The Brent Grimes story might never have been. Listed at 5'10" but almost certainly a shade shorter, Grimes played at Division II Shippensburg University and drew zero interest in the NFL Draft in 2006. Raw, small school products at cornerback aren't highly coveted by NFL teams, so Grimes might've ended up somewhere else.
Instead, the Falcons saw something they liked in him and snapped him up as an undrafted free agent in 2006. He was waived once along the way, but Grimes found a way to hold on to a practice squad spot for almost two full seasons, finally getting a call-up in December 2007.
My awareness of Grimes was fairly limited. I spoke of him winning a roster spot in August 2007, but he flew under my radar for pretty much the entire season. I was fond enough of Wilrey Fontenot to trumpet that his drafting might mean the end of the Grimes era in Atlanta. Then, suddenly, Grimes was a possibility to start.
What amuses me most, looking back at that May 2008 post, is how surprised I was by the fact that he could be considered above Chevis Jackson, David Irons and Von Hutchins. Now it seems incredibly obvious, but I was a huge fan of both Jackson and Irons back in the day, and Hutchins was veteran depth. Ironically, only Jackson is still hanging around the league now, two short years later.
His ascension to the starting lineup was met with cautious optimism around these parts, as you can see by my faint praise of Grimes and my not-so-faint damnation of Chris Houston. After suffering through some nagging injuries and average play, Grimey hit the bench when Domonique Foxworth was signed. I predicted Falcons fans had not yet seen the last of him.
The next off-season, Foxworth was gone, and Grimes once again proved to be a front-runner for a starting job. At this point, it was becoming clear that he was a tenacious corner and a hard worker, but I still thought his long-term role was probably as a nickel back. Grimes spent the season fending off Chris Owens and Tye Hill (!), but quietly put together a great season, picking six passes, making a few nice plays in the backfield and generally looking like a different cornerback than the guy who lost his job to Foxworth a season earlier.
It was the end of the Chris Houston era that really brought Grimes to the forefront. Without our notoriously frustrating "NUMBER ONE" corner, Grimes got the chance to start full-time and really thrived. Despite all that, I was incredibly excited by what I saw in Chris Owens and placed him ahead of Grimes on my pre-season depth chart.
Several months later, here we are. Grimes has a starting job and he's latched onto it like a leech on a stuffed Count Dracula. In the span of four seasons, he's gone from an undrafted practice squad cornerback to a guy who pundits are whispering may be one of the tops in the league. Along the way, we heard countless times from Debilah, Brent's mom, who told us all not to doubt Grimes. I spent three seasons doing exactly that, but the time for doubts has ended.
Brent Grimes is here to stay.