By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Last year, Stephon Gilmore was without a doubt the best cornerback in the NFL. That much was made clear when he became the first cornerback in a decade to win Defensive Player of the Year.

In the 2020 season, though, Gilmore is not playing at nearly the same level. He’s committed four penalties — three pass interference penalties and one defensive holding penalty in the end zone — and he’s allowed receptions at a clip that just didn’t happen last year. Most recently, George Kittle notably beat him in a 1-on-1 situation on a third down during Sunday’s 49ers win over the Patriots.

While the setback seems undeniable, former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said Wednesday that Gilmore’s still one of the very best cornerbacks in the entire NFL.

“Now it’s not spectacular like the Defensive Player of the Year last year,” Talib said on “Toucher & Rich” on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “That’s why if you play the way you played last year, you get a trophy for it. So I mean this year I think he’s still one of the top three corners in the league right now. I would still pick Gilmore probably first out of every corner in the league right now. I’d pick him first right now.”

The hosts presented Talib with a stat that said Gilmore has allowed the fourth-highest passer rating among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least half of their team’s snaps. Talib was not at all interested in that statistic, and he gave a good reason why.

“Nah, statistically, if he gets three balls thrown to him and they catch two, that’s a high passer rating. But that could be 15 yards. Like, who cares?” Talib said. “You could throw three passes my way and catch all three of them, and if I’m guarding Julio Jones and you went 5-for-5 and you got 75 yards, the passer rating is going to say 105 against me. But the coaches are gonna say, ‘Great job, ‘Qib. Number one receiver has 70 yards. That’s perfect. That’s all we wanna do.’ So I mean passer ratings tell a lot, but they don’t tell a lot.”

As for why Gilmore’s passer rating allowed compares poorly to other NFL cornerbacks, Talib noted that nobody else has the weekly degree of difficulty that Gilmore faces.

“But everybody else in the league is not shadowing around the best guy on the field,” Talib said. “No receiver really did nothing to Gilmore except for D.K. [Metcalf]. D.K. was the only guy who got deep, D.K. was the only guy who ended up with a hundred yards and a touchdown. Besides that, everybody he’s shadowed has been quiet. So I mean, 60 yards for a number one receiver is a win to me. If he had five catches for 60 yards, that’s a win for me. So we’re basing this off passer rating, and as DBs, we don’t really care about the passer rating. We care about the guy’s numbers at the end of the game. And I think Gilmore’s doing his job.”

Considering that Gilmore actually played that long bomb to Metcalf as well as possible …

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

… Talib’s commentary does help frame Gilmore’s “struggles” in 2020 in proper perspective.

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