A Growing Trend At Cornerback
By Cody Roche
Every week leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, we will focus on one specific position. This week, the spotlight is on CBs.
After the success of the Seahawks, many teams will be looking at how they achieved their title. Sure, their young and accurate quarterback and bruiser of a running back helped. But their defense truly paved the path to the Lombardi Trophy. Their pass rush was incredible -- truly one of the best. But what set them apart was their play in the defensive backfield.
All-Pro corner Richard Sherman is redefining the position. Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) is agile, has great change of direction skills and also possesses incredible hands as he led the NFL with eight interceptions this past season.
Having tall cornerbacks isn’t anything new. But having big cornerbacks who are extremely athletic and versatile is a growing phenomenon in the league. Players like Patrick Peterson (6-1, 219), Sean Smith (6-3, 218) and Antonio Cromartie (6-2, 210) have redefined the cornerback position in recent years.
In the past, if a player was over 6-1, it usually meant that he was too slow out of his breaks and couldn’t keep up with small, speedy receivers, thus he wouldn’t have a career at cornerback and would be moved to safety. Now, players like Sherman are able to use their long arms to jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage and then use their advanced speed to cover.
This has a trickle down effect as well; as the receivers are being adequately covered the pass rush will then have more time to get to the quarterback. Or did you not watch the Super Bowl?
Peterson is arguably the best cornerback in the league and will surely be in that discussion for years to come. He's also one of the league's best punt returners, and has found a way to use his size to help stop the leagues best pass catchers. He is also freakishly quick as he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds. This combination of size and speed is becoming more of a priority for teams as Peterson was drafted fifth overall in 2011, a very high draft spot for a cornerback.
Sherman’s teammate Brandon Browner is another example of a tall corner who has found success in the NFL. The 6-4 Browner couldn’t find a job in the NFL and was forced to play in the Canadian Football League for four years after going undrafted out of college. In 2011, he was signed to the Seahawks and made the Pro Bowl his first year, when he had six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Being as long as he was proved to be an advantage, and the league has begun to take notice.
The aforementioned Cromartie is essentially a less physical and consistent Richard Sherman, but he's an athletic anomaly nonetheless. Cromartie has a wingspan of 6-7. He also has incredible hands, as he has brought in 28 interceptions in his seven-year career. Cromartie doesn’t throw his body around as much as Sherman or Browner do, but his coverage skills and return ability rival the best in the league. If Cromartie learned how to be more physical, he would be on a Sherman-like level. He is, however, still finding success after being voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.
The bottom line is that the NFL has noticed the success of the Seahawks and how their huge corners helped shut down Peyton Manning and the rest of the league. This will undoubtedly be a growing trend as players continue to get bigger and faster. It will be still be hard for big, slow corners to get jobs, but as the corners coming into the draft grow more agile I predict we will be see each team with a corner at or over 6-1 within the next 10 seasons.
We will also start to see players getting taken before they should be just based off their size, which is what he could see this year with Nebraska’s 6-3 cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Changes are beginning to be made, and like athletic tight ends, the tall cornerback is the new preferred model at the position.