Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
NFL executives look at a few positions right away when they are building a team.
They look for quarterbacks, cornerbacks, left tackles and superstar pass-rushers. Finding a shutdown cornerback is one of the most difficult things to do in the NFL. If available, they're pounced on.
That's why I jumped on Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha while drafting 10 AFC West players as part of an ESPN Blog Network exercise to build a Super Bowl team. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is the only player I chose ahead of him.
Asomugha could step into any defensive meeting room in the NFL and become an instant impact player. He is the definition of a shutdown cornerback. Opposing offenses rarely threw his way in 2008. As a result, Asomugha shut down virtually half the field for Oakland on a weekly basis.
"Nnamdi is special," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "He is definitely a big part of what we do."
The Raiders valued Asomugha enough to give him a three-year, $45 million contract this year, making him the highest-paid cornerback and one of the highest-paid players in the league overall.
For Asomugha, 2009 will be a tad different. Expectations will be high.
"I know all eyes will be on me this year," Asomugha said. "But I expect more from me than anyone else does or will."
After the publicity he received for his remarkable 2008 season, Asomugha is becoming a household name in both the NFL and video-game worlds. Asomugha, who will turn 28 next month, was tied for first place as the No. 1-rated defensive player for the next Madden video game.
It has been a surreal ride after a slow start to his NFL career. Asomugha was a surprise first-round pick out of California in 2003. He started eight games over his first two NFL seasons before becoming a staple of Oakland's secondary in 2005. He made quarterbacks pay for going after him in 2006, snaring eight interceptions.
"It's been interesting," Asomugha said. "I think in 2005, Raiders fans really started to recognize me. Then, in 2006, hard-core NFL fans knew who I was. In 2008, it got kind of crazy because of all the talk about quarterbacks not throwing at me. Now, with the new contract, I'm sure it will hit a new level. But I can handle it."
The biggest question about Asomugha in 2009 is whether he'll get a chance to show off his full arsenal of abilities.
"I'm interested in seeing if quarterbacks will throw at me too," Asomugha said. "I have to go into the season, into every game and into every play thinking I'll be thrown at. That's how I train and practice. Once I start not expecting to be passed on, that's when it will start happening and I won't be prepared. That's not going to happen."
Last year, Asomugha said it was a task to stay focused with so few passes coming his way. But he worked on tackling and run support to help him become a more complete player. There are few flaws in Asomugha's game, both physically and mentally. He is one of the most astute cornerbacks in the league.
He's the full package. That's why he would be such a coveted player if I was trying to build a Super Bowl winner.
Asomugha believes it is his job to parlay his talents into helping Oakland become a Super Bowl contender again. The Raiders lost the Super Bowl months before Asomugha was drafted. In his six seasons in Oakland, the Raiders have had the worst record of any team in the history of the game over a six-season span -- 24-72 since 2003.
Still, Asomugha is an eternal optimist.
"I really hope we take the league by storm," he said. "I feel that way every year. Every year, I think it's going to be a big year and then it's a 2-14 season or a 4-12 season. But I stay focused on winning and that's how I feel going into this year."