By Justin Walters @SportsRuckus
The NFL season just ended, and with free agency and the draft right around the corner, a spot that teams seem to struggle to fill is the cornerback position. The NFL is a copycat league, and if you watched the Super Bowl I am sure you noticed that the two teams with arguably the best cornerback tandems were playing each other. The starting corners on both teams pretty much locked up the guys they were covering. If you really watched, the guys that played the biggest role in the NFL’s biggest game were the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th corners. This shows the importance of having quality depth at the position. Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman are 2 of the best at what they do in the last 10 years (even though they do it differently). Revis is the perfect CB height and build with above average speed but what sets him apart is his flawless technique, patience and ability to dominate a receiver at the line, get in his hip pocket and at times run the route for him. By his positioning he doesn’t even allow QBs a place to throw the ball.
Sherman on the other hand is tall and lanky with elite recognition and ball skills. He is also physical at the line, but he prefers to play outside in (which allows him to keep his eyes on the QB) & use a press-bail technique as his team plays more of a cover 3 scheme. His discipline and film study puts him on another level than players who may be better athletes than him, and it also has allowed him to bait QBs into throwing interceptions. Elite QBs have even gone as far as not even attempt to throw to his side of the field which is astounding in this passing era. Both players do a great job of eliminating other teams top targets. In my opinion, what separates Revis is his ability to travel with the other teams top guy while Sherman stays on one side. Sherman supporters may point to his ability to force turnovers, but either way we are nitpicking. As the 2015 draft approaches, teams will look to bolster their defenses with CBs who can step in and do what these guys do, but with all that being said, there is not a guy with that ability in this class. I know, all that build up for nothing.
Talent evaluators seem to struggle with pointing out what they are looking for in this crucial position. With so many bigger athletes playing the receiver position, the assumption by defensive coaches is that they need to “go large” but is that really the case? The success of Sherman has fooled many into thinking big corners are the way to go, but Sherman may be the exception, not the rule. Sherman is special not because he is long, but because he knows how to use his length, reads routes, has ball skills, etc. Having the best free safety in the NFL doesn’t hurt either. Anyway, to get back to the point, skills that I view as important for a top CB regardless of height (preferably 5-10 and above though) are patience at line of scrimmage, good feet, confidence, change of direction, competitiveness, and ball skills. Ball skills are considered by many so-called “experts” to be if the defensive back can catch the ball or jump and make a catch on a ball that’s thrown to him, which is OK, I guess. Almost anyone can catch a ball thrown directly to him, but what we look for in ball skills is: As our guy covers the receiver, when does he look back? Is he in phase? Does he use his body to wall the receiver off? Does he use the sideline as an extra defender? Can he find the ball? Then can he go about trying to figure out how to catch it or even deflect it if that’s the case. I was always taught and have taught young DBs to look and lean, and not to look back unless you can touch him. Doesn’t matter who you are, you are not out jumping Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, etc. so we are looking for guys who can cut them off and box them out. A great thing a coach once said was if he runs a 4.3 and you are standing in front of him running a 4.6, then today he’s running a 4.6.
The reason we went through the breakdown of Darelle Revis and Richard Sherman is to say that there is no exact mold for the position, there are just specific skills that set set apart the best cornerbacks.
This week we will be releasing our 2015 NFL Draft cornerback rankings along with some things we noticed on film about each prospect. Stay tuned!!!