Inside the Numbers: Kelly Herndon

Using Football Outsiders' proprietary stats, Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar goes beyond the official numbers and investigates the wisdom of Kelly Herndon's release. Was his tackling ability as good as we thought, and did his liabilities in pass coverage make that tackling ability a moot point?

When the Seahawks lost the services of cornerback Ken Lucas to the Carolina Panthers, who signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract in March of 2005, they brought in two stopgaps for the secondary – Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon. Seattle released Dyson in March of 2006, and Herndon’s release was announced on Friday. This cost-cutting measure further reflects the Seahawks’ desire to grow their own cornerback talent, becoming faster and more flexible at the position.

Herndon, a Toledo graduate and undrafted free agent, was signed to a five-year, $15 million contract by the Seahawks before the 2005 season. He was set to make $2.5 million in base salary in 2007. By releasing him, the Seahawks will be charged $2.16 million instead of the $3.22 million spent by keeping him on the roster.

In his two seasons in Seattle, Herndon started 22 of 32 regular-season games, including all 16 in 2006. He was regarded by most observers as a physical, heady player with limited coverage ability. In their past two drafts, the Seahawks have made a cornerback their first selection - Miami's Kelly Jennings in 2006, and Maryland's Josh Wilson in 2007. Starting cornerback Marcus Trufant was the team’s first-round pick in 2003.

The NFL’s official stats tell us that in his two seasons in Seattle, Herndon amassed 121 tackles (99 solo), three interceptions, and 21 passes defensed.

According to Football Outsiders’ proprietary stats for the 2006 season, Herndon was targeted 19 percent of the time, tied with Trufant for most in the secondary. He led the secondary in Defeats (the total number of plays by a defensive player that prevent the offense from gaining first down yardage on third or fourth down, stop the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or result in a turnover) with 23, and only safety Ken Hamlin was close with 14.

Herndon’s Stop Rate of 59% against the run was equally impressive, and spoke to his ability as a tackler (Stop Rate is the total percentage of plays by a defensive player that prevent a successful play by the offense, defined as 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, and 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down.)

However, the numbers also show his liabilities in coverage. Herndon’s Success Rate of 55% against the pass (value of a play determined by both the total yards gained and the yards gained as a percentage of distance needed for a first down) was decent, but his 8.2 passing yards allowed per play ranked 57th among defensive backs.

The Seahawks didn’t want to pay Herndon starter’s money when he wasn’t going to start, and having so many young cornerbacks who must pay draft dividends sooner than later sealed Herndon’s fate. A team looking for a decent third or fourth cornerback who can tackle would be wise to take a flyer on him, but his full-time starting days are most likely at an end unless he hits with a team that really needs help in the defensive backfield.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a regular contributor to Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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