COMMENTARY | Star players get the benefit of the doubt from referees. It's not fair, but it's the way professional sports work. Ask Drew Brees and the San Francisco 49ers about it if you don't believe me.
It was made very clear on October 13 of this year that Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden is not yet viewed by some in the game as a "star." Cleveland was hosting the Detroit Lions on that Sunday afternoon, and Haden found himself involved in a bang-bang play along with Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the first quarter of that contest. Haden played perfect defense in that situation, and yet he was flagged for a pass interference penalty that ultimately resulted in the Lions finding the end zone.
There are several explanations for why Haden doesn't get star treatment while out on the field. Part of it is that he plays in Cleveland and not in a market where putting the word "Island" after his name would become a national phenomenon. It also doesn't help that the Browns haven't been respectable since 2007.
Smart people in football are beginning to come around, however, and realize that Haden isn't merely a good player. Haden is a shutdown corner, maybe the best at his position in the league. Former Baltimore Ravens head coach and current FOX NFL analyst Brian Billick recently had this to say about Haden: "It's about time to start talking about Joe Haden as the best lock-down corner in the NFL." NFL.com is warning fantasy football owners to start WRs who are facing Haden "at your own risk."
Megatron. Steve Johnson. Dwayne Bowe. A.J. Green. Talented wide receivers who line up across the line of scrimmage from Haden are having quiet outings in 2013. The stats tell the tales.
Some would reference his lack of interceptions - he has only three picks to date this season - as a reason for Haden not being atop the list of the best CBs in the NFL. There are two things that must be remembered when discussing this topic. First, you can only grab so many picks when the WR you are covering is targeted a handful of times in a game.
There's also the fact that the defense of the Browns is still a work in progress. Haden doesn't play for the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs or San Francisco 49ers. The cornerstones for a great defense are in place, but the Browns aren't yet at that elite level.
Think back to the glory days of Darrelle Revis and Revis Island. Revis was undeniably the best in the business at that time, but he also wasn't playing for what was a pretty good defense. That New York Jets defense carried the team to two AFC Championship games.
Perhaps the most important number associated with Haden is his age; 24. At 24-years old, Haden has not yet entered his prime. Why shouldn't anybody believe that Haden is, over the next couple of years, going to learn more and improve to the point where he is a Pro Bowl mainstay? Haden being the best cornerback in football is a debatable topic, but you couldn't do any better than the Cleveland CB if you were building a secondary for now and for the future.
He is today a star, and it's past time that he is treated like one.
Zac has been following Cleveland sports since a little before his birth, and thus his heart breaks a little more with every year. He has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the NFL for Yahoo Sports since 2010
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