Chris Owens was not—is not—a popular man in Atlanta.
There are many reasons for that, most of them having to do with Owens' propensity for coverage mistakes. When the Falcons selected him in 2008, Owens was a promising, speedy young cornerback with some upside. Through the first couple of years, that narrative mostly stood, and he totally outdueled Terrell Owens in 2009 for an impressive interception. The kid was going places.
There were little things that began to add up in 2010—a bad angle, not turning his head for the ball, a whiffed tackle—and Owens started to get a reputation. That reputation was sealed in carbonite in the Green Bay Packers game, when Owens was unquestionably bad in coverage. The Packers scored on him early and often, and he earned himself a -3.5 from Pro Football Focus for the game.
That was basically it for Owens. I noticed that each time I said something nice about Owens on Twitter this season, I got two types of responses:
- Owens sucks!
- Sure, that play was pretty good, but Owens still sucks!
Atlanta is not alone in its pillorying of players who have bad moments. As a native New Englander, I can tell you that Bill Buckner earned about 20 years of enmity for one bad play, a bad play that never would've happened if his manager had been smarter. And while the scale and the venom are not the same, Owens was essentially undone by his performance against the Green Bay Packers.
It takes a certain inner reserve to keep battling when the entire world seems to expect you to fail. A lot of athletes have it, so I'm not exactly arguing that Owens is unique. But after what was, in essence, one terrible game, Owens had to deal with an enormous amount of vitriol and doubt coming his way.
Ultimately, I thought he acquitted himself well in 2011, despite a few gaffes. His two spectacular special teams tackles saved touchdowns, and he's continued to grow as a cover corner. A bit miscast in BVG's particular brand of zone defense, Owens will probably be a better fit for the tighter schemes Mike Nolan deploys because he can fly and can hit, though his tackling could still get better. It's not impossible to envision him starting outside in 2012 if Brent Grimes heads elsewhere in free agency, frankly, and it's not impossible to imagine that he might do pretty well.
I'll open up the can of worms now. What do you think of Chris Owens as a player?