Seahawks' Tariq Woolen or Jets' Sauce Gardner: The answer is...
I can tell you that yes, Gardner was very good in man coverage, at least through November 15th. On that date the NFL Media Research Department - you know, part of the league, not just some goof like me - tweeted that Gardner had allowed 26 passing yards in man coverage for the lowest total in the league to that point. Helpfully, they added that he allowed 4.3 yards per reception and 1.6 yards per target. Hurray for context!
So Sauce allowed six catches on sixteen targets in man coverage through the first nine games of the season. So we're more than halfway through his Rookie of the Year campaign and Gardner was only targeted 16 times in man coverage, or just under twice per game. That's not exactly the stuff of legend that some people would have you believe.
One thing we haven't touched on yet is penalties. As a loyal 12, I'm sorry to say that Gardner has the edge here as well. He was flagged five times with three of those declined. So Gardner wound up with one penalty for pass interference for 34 yards and one call for holding for five yards.
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Woolen was flagged nine times with one called back and one offset. He was hit with two pass interference calls for a total of 52 yards, Both of those were in game one versus Denver, and were his last PI calls of the season. He also got tagged with defensive holding three times (one declined), illegal use of hands once, offside twice, and one facemask penalty. Overall, Woolen's penalties amounted to 87 yards. It's worth noting - at least to me - that more than half the yardage came in that first contest. He only had one other game with more than a single penalty, which was the wild shootout with the Lions.
Does Gardner get away with holding at times? Sure he does, and so does every other CB not named Bradberry. Listen, I'm not knocking him, and you shouldn't either. I'm pretty sure if Sauce Gardner was wearing Action Green instead of that ugly pickle color they wear in New York we'd all be cheering wildly every time Number One gets away with a handful of jersey. The fact he plays for the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets just makes it more egregious.
Alright, enough of this. Since no one can agree on targets, catches, or yards, it makes the comparison a little tricky. Not to be Captain Obvious, but there's a pretty big difference between a corner who allows 404 yards and the guy who gets torched for 547. Both were Woolen, depending on who you believe.
I'm left with the pass defenses, interceptions, and touchdowns allowed. Those three TDs our guy gave up are the biggest mark against him. Advantage Gardner. But Woolen scored one on his own so that cuts the deficit on the scoreboard to 6 points. Throw in the blocked kick that Mike Jackson scored on, and they're dead even. Okay, give Tariq three points for that, since he didn't actually score the TD, but it certainly doesn't happen without him. Throw in those six interceptions versus two, and that's a big advantage for Woolen.
Because of the interceptions, I have to go with Woolen, but it's very very close. Frankly, it was closer than I thought it would be. I had assumed much of the hype about Gardner was just that, hype, but he's clearly a legit shutdown corner. Yes, he's been torched a few times, but so has Woolen. Every corner will get singed; it's the nature of the position. As for their stats, Gardner could easily have more picks this year, and Woolen more pass defenses. I wouldn't be too upset if the Seahawks had Gardner - and be honest, neither would you - but I'm thrilled that Tariq Woolen is our guy.