Stephon Gilmore has quietly taken over the title as the NFL’s top cornerback. According to many analytical websites covering football, the Patriots defender is considered the best at his position.
Of course, there are some pundits outside the world of analytics who might disagree with the assessment and not consider him as the league’s premier corner.
Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White, Miami’s Xavien Howard, Chicago’s Kyle Fuller and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson are also pretty good, just to throw out a few names who would be in the running.
A soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee who played the position, however, says there should be no doubt on the subject.
Ty Law doesn’t hedge. He believes everyone takes a back seat to the Patriots corner, who according to Pro Football Focus, led all cornerbacks last season in forced incompletion rate (27 percent) and was the highest graded corner in the league.
“He’s the best cornerback in football right now,” Law said. “I didn’t see anybody out there playing any better (last season).”
The three-time Super Bowl winning cornerback doesn’t need Gilmore’s statistics for verification. He knows just by watching.
“He’s really confident, and he’s taken his game to the next level,” said Law. “He’s first team All-Pro. I think he’s going to continue to do that this year. He’ll be ready to roll.”
When told of Law’s assessment Tuesday, Gilmore was clearly flattered, even if Law might be a touch biased.
“He’s a guy who played at such a high level,” said Gilmore, who just arrived in town from Charlotte, N.C. “He knows a lot about the game, so coming from someone like him, it’s a great honor to be mentioned in that category. But you have to keep it up. One thing I know about him, he did it for a long time at a high level. That’s one thing I want to do, keep playing at a high level, and help the team get to where we want to go.”
During the past two years, Law and Gilmore, who happens to wear Law’s old No. 24, have actually become good friends. Their friendship started not long after Gilmore arrived in Foxborough and signed his five-year, $65 million free agent contract in March of 2017.
Gilmore and his predecessor met out on the practice field, exchanged numbers, and have kept in touch ever since.
“We talk regularly during the season, get together when we can, and we’re going to continue to do so,” said Law. “Any way I can help him, I’ll offer advice.”
Gilmore is appreciative of having such a distinguished mentor in his corner.
“I’m a big history person. I like to know my history. I’ve watched the players who have played the game,” said Gilmore. “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now without those guys. But I met Ty at a practice and we’ve been good friends ever since. It’s an honor, really.”
Gilmore said that even though they have different body types, they play the game similarly as far as techniques.
“He’s probably a little thicker than I am,” said Gilmore. “But we play the game kind of similar. We talk about everything.”
Like knowing how to study film, reading receivers and quarterbacks, out-thinking the opponent, knowing the route before it’s run.
Given what finally transpired for the former Pats corner, Gilmore is now going to be wearing the number of a Pro Football Hall of Fame member, as Law will officially be enshrined in Canton on Aug. 3 along with seven others in the 2019 class.
Law is touched that it’s been so important to Gilmore to make sure to serve the number well. Darrelle Revis wore it for a year, and was part of a championship in 2014. Gilmore now has one ring in his Patriots collection, and wants more.
His interception of Rams quarterback Jared Goff in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII in February sealed the deal for championship No. 6. During the regular season, in the lead-up to earning that title, Gilmore had primary coverage of several of the NFL’s top receivers, namely Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (four catches, 49 yards, touchdown), Minnesota’s Stefan Diggs (five catches, 49 yards) and Green Bay’s Davante Adams (six catches, 40 yards, one TD) and locked them down.
The way Law sees it, Gilmore is building his own legacy for No. 24. It’s his number now.
“For him to take that and want the number, and not being afraid of the comparisons, and to go out there and perform the way he has, it’s tremendous,” Law said of the 28-year-old defender. “But Stephon Gilmore is his own man. I told him the torch has passed. It’s your world now. He’s representing the number well. I’m happy for him. It’s pretty awesome to see him out there playing well. It’s like there’s still a piece of me out on the field.”
Gilmore, meanwhile, took on the number because growing up, a lot of his favorite players wore it. He had No. 24 in Buffalo, and when he arrived in New England, knowing who had it before him, it made sense to carry on the tradition of great corners.
“With the history of the number, with a lot of great players having worn it here, I try to represent it as well as I can,” said Gilmore.
The bond between Law and Gilmore strengthened during a recent trip to Israel, as they were part of team owner Robert Kraft’s annual pilgrimage last month. They tweeted out pictures enjoying the trip and their time together.
“He’s the real deal. And he still seeks advice and asks questions. He’s still eager to learn,” Law said of Gilmore. “If he keeps it up, he’ll be around a long time. One day, you’ll see him in the Patriots Hall of Fame, and the NFL Hall of Fame, as well.”
He’ll be there, following Law’s lead.