FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For eight seasons, Darrelle Revis was beyond reproach on the football field. The only criticism he generated stemmed from his hard-line stances at the bargaining table. As a cornerback, he was nearly flawless, arguably the most dominant player at his position over that span.
This year, for the first time, Revis is facing questions about his performance. ESPN analyst Darren Woodson, a former All-Pro safety, fueled the narrative last month, claiming the New York Jets' star no longer is an elite corner. Revis gave legs to the theory with one of the worst games of his career Nov. 22 against the Houston Texans. He hasn't played since because of a concussion. When he returns, probably Sunday, he will be scrutinized like never before.
So is the criticism legit? Is Revis, 30, starting to show signs of slippage?
Looking for an answer, ESPN.com interviewed six experts -- two opposing wide receivers, two talent evaluators, an opposing coach and a former star cornerback-turned-analyst. Two themes emerged:
Revis, a Super Bowl champion and a four-time All-Pro, still is universally revered for his past accomplishments and for implementing a press-coverage technique that revolutionized the position. As for the current state of his game, the opinions were mixed. He received strong support from Sammy Watkins of the Buffalo Bills and Pierre Garcon of the Washington Redskins, but the non-players, including both evaluators, said they've noticed a fractional decline.
"I think it's fair to pose that opinion," said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "After evaluating [his] games, there's been a small degree of that. Where he once was elite, he may now be a rung below that. He's still a winning player, but I think occasional signs have emerged to pose that opinion."
Desperate for secondary help and box-office appeal, the Jets lured Revis back to New York with a stunning five-year, $70 million contract, including $39 million fully guaranteed. Expectations soared, especially after he appeared on national-magazine covers and a "60 Minutes" feature. "Revis Island" was bigger than ever.
Maybe Revis set an impossible standard to uphold. When he surrenders a completion, people take notice. When he gets beat for a touchdown (it has happened twice this season), it creates a stir. He's supposed to be perfect, and he hasn't been. This isn't 2009 and 2010, when he may have been the best defensive player in the sport.
"He's a 30-year-old, nine-year veteran with an ACL repair -- no way he can be the same player he was five seasons ago," the opposing coach said. "He's still one of the top-five corners in the game, in my opinion. Maybe not No. 1, however. ... He's one of the all-time greats, but he's on the decline."
Watkins, who beat Revis on a critical third-down conversion last month to seal a win, seemed surprised when asked if he detected a falloff in Revis. He said he doesn't understand why it's an issue.
"Guys get beat, first of all. You don't see him get beat a lot," Watkins said. "I don’t think he's slipped at all. Players make plays and sometimes it's great calls, sometimes he's not in the right position. As far as [a] slip, I still think he's one of the best corners in the league. I don't understand or know about what anybody sees or looks at. But this whole year, he's probably only got maybe 11 balls caught on him in 12, 13 games. I don't think he's slipped at all."
Cornerback statistics are subjective, but Revis has allowed 28 completions out of 59 targets, according to Pro Football Focus research. Quarterbacks have a 58.7 passer rating against him, which ranks sixth among corners.
Revis forced six takeaways in the first five games, but it was in the fifth game in which he suffered his first hiccup. He guessed wrong on a quick slant and got beat for a touchdown by Garcon. Asked this week about Revis, Garcon was complimentary, saying, "He's still a good player, still a great defender, great DB. One of the tops in the league still. Everybody gets old, but still [a] very, very good player.”
What about a drop-off?
"It's hard to say if you see any drop-off," Garcon said. "Not really, no."
The low point came Nov. 22 in Houston, where Revis ran into DeAndre Hopkins, one of the top young receivers in the league. Revis got burned on a 61-yard touchdown in single coverage with no safety help. There was no pass-rushing, giving Hopkins plenty of time to get open downfield. Quarterback T.J. Yates had nearly four seconds to throw the ball, an eternity in those situations.
Revis supporters say it was a bad defensive call, claiming the strategy put him in an impossible situation. Critics say it was precisely the position in which he built his reputation, making hot-shot receivers disappear on his island.
"It was simply man-to-man," the personnel executive said. "He got beat deep, but there were pictures through the season where that deep speed was tested before that. When you pay that freight, you have the expectation of lockdown."
Hopkins brought more attention to the play by mocking Revis in his postgame interview. He used air quotes when mentioning "Revis Island," practically an act of heresy.
Former Philadelphia Eagles star Eric Allen, a staunch Revis supporter, said it was a "very difficult" play for any cornerback. Allen suspects the Houston coaches spent time during the week trying to script a specific play to create a situation in which Revis was vulnerable.
"Teams are doing that now, setting up a play to beat Revis," said Allen, an ESPN analyst. "They're modifying their offense to beat one guy. When you do that, you're elite."
Allen said he doesn't put any stock in the recent chatter about Revis' alleged decline. For five minutes in a phone conversation, he gave a passionate defense of Revis, pointing out subtle traits in his skill set that no other corners possess. He doesn't believe the inevitable decline in speed will affect Revis as much as other corners because his game never was predicated on speed.
How much does he respect Revis? Allen has studied three years of tape, and he's so impressed that he teaches specific aspects of Revis' repertoire to young cornerbacks, including his high school-age son.
Allen believes Revis has "revolutionized bump-and-run coverage," specifically the second phase of the technique. Allen said Revis will give two to three yards of cushion, a little more than most, but he can close quickly because of his impeccable route recognition. He can force the receiver to run where he wants him to go.
So, no, Allen doesn't buy the talk about slippage.
"He's still an elite corner," he said. "He still can dictate and dominate a football game."
Coach Todd Bowles has professed his faith in Revis, who obviously doesn't appreciate the whispers about a possible decline. The great ones never do.
"I think I'm doing fine," he said Thursday. "I'm not getting demoted or anything."
There's a fine line between elite and very good, and experts may disagree on where he stands. But there's no disputing his stature in league circles. Addressing the recent negativity toward Revis, the unnamed coach said, "You guys give him the respect he deserves, please."
NFL Nation reporters Mike Rodak (Buffalo) and John Keim (Washington) contributed.