As we detailed on Tuesday, a strong performance in a small sample size can sometimes point to a player destined to be more valuable with more playing time. That's true of offensive and defensive players; Cortland Finnegan, for example, stood out with just 6.3 yards allowed per pass as a rookie nickel corner for Tennessee in 2006.
By some strange quirk, the small sample size all-star pass-rushers all ended up in the NFC article Tuesday, but the AFC has all the small sample size all-star cornerbacks. Before we get into our list, let's define a couple of statistics from our game-charting project:
Success rate: The percentage of plays targeting a defensive player on which the offense did not have a successful play, defined as 45 percent of necessary yards on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third or fourth down. This means not only incomplete passes and interceptions but also short completions that do not meet the baseline for success based on the down and distance. The number is adjusted for the quality of the receiver being covered.
Yards per pass: Number of yards allowed when a defensive player is targeted on a passing play, adjusted for the quality of the receiver being covered.
Here's a list of eight AFC players who deserve more playing time based on their performance in 2011:
In the "Football Outsiders Almanac 2012," we rank cornerbacks in our charting stats if they have at least 40 pass targets or eight games started. As a rookie, Smith had just 31 targets and two games started. If he had qualified for our rankings, he would have come out with the best success rate in the NFL, 68 percent, and his 6.1 yards allowed per pass would rank in the top 20. He is a work in progress -- particularly having trouble against Malcom Floyd in Week 15 -- but the talent is obvious. He'll be a starter for Baltimore on opening day.