NFL

Is Richard Sherman Really the Best Cornerback in the NFL?

NFL: Super Bowl XLVIII-Denver Broncos vs Seattle Seahawks
Vincent Frank
Written by Vincent Frank

At first glance, the idea that anyone outside of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman could be considered the best cornerback in the National Football League makes absolutely no sense. Sherman is a dominating figure in one of the best secondaries to ever take the field. He was a primary reason why the Seahawks hoisted the Lombardi this past February. 

However, there is a graphic going around that might throw a wrench in the idea that Sherman is truly the best all-around cover guy in the league. It might not make a whole lot of sense on the surface, but the point is rather obvious.

While it might be hard to see, the idea here is that Sherman doesn’t go about following around the best receiver on the field. Instead he lines up on one side of the field 98 percent of the time, avoiding the No. 1 receiver in many different situations throughout a game.

Compare that to someone like Patrick Peterson, who seems to follow around the best receiver, and you can legitimately come to a conclusion that Sherman’s advanced statistics are skewed.

Last year is a perfect example of this. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sherman allowed a league low 47.3 quarterback rating when targeted in 2013. He gave up just two touchdowns and intercepted eight passes. In addition to that, quarterbacks completed just barely 50 percent of their passes when targeting the All-Pro cornerback.

For comparison’s sake, Peterson gave up a 84.3 quarterback rating and allowed six touchdowns while intercepting just three passes.

On the surface, Sherman is obviously the better cover guy. But is that just on the surface?

Peterson seemingly followed around the best receiver on the field, lining up on the left side of the line 52 percent of the time. This means that he was going up against the likes of Calvin Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson and DeSean Jackson, among others.

As it relates to Sherman, who played nearly the same competition in 2013, he was lining up against lesser receiver at times. Those names include Mike Williams, DeAndre Hopkins, Riley Cooper, Michael Floyd (not Larry Fitzgerald) and Hakeem Nicks (not Victor Cruz). Again, at times. Sure, Sherman was lining up against No. 1 receivers a good majority of the time, but that’s not necessarily the point.

Seattle plays corners coverage. This means that it doesn’t stray away from coverage schemes simply because an offense comes to a different pre-snap set. On the other hand, it’s obvious the likes of the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals match up their best cover guy against the opponents best wide receiver.

Why is that?

There are a few different reasons.

First off, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn trusts his other cornerbacks to do a tremendous job in coverage. Again looking at Pro Football Focus, Byron Maxwell allowed the second-lowest quarterback rating, right behind his teammate in Seattle. Having this type of faith in other players came up huge for the Seahawks.

The same simply cannot be said for Cleveland or Tampa Bay. Neither had a legitimate No. 2 cornerback on the roster last season, which forced them to move around their Pro Bowl players.

Another reason for this, and it could be pure conjecture here, Sherman might feel more comfortable lined up on one side of the field. We all know that football players have certan comfort levels based on where they play. Some receivers only line up on one side of the field. Some running backs struggle playing out of the shotgun. Some offensive tackles aren’t comfortable blocking out of the read option.

It’s just the way the game is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bETrdOFWqDM

But if you’re not following around the best receiver on the field, can you logically be considered the best cornerback on the field?

For Example, Eli Manning threw zero touchdowns compared to seven interceptions when targeting Hakeem Nicks in 2013. On the opposite end of the spectrum, he completed over 61 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions when targeting Victor Cruz. While some of that obviously had to do with Sherman’s performance against the Giants in Week 15, there is a major difference here.

You can look up and down the line at Seattle’s schedule and the same will ring true. There is a reason why some receivers are considered go-to guys, while others are secondary options. Is Sherman lining up against these secondary options at times throughout the game an indication that he’s not the best cover corner in the NFL? No. Does it lend a supporting hand to those who believe that gap isn’t as significant as some would want us to believe? Sure.

With that said, Sherman remains the best cornerback in the NFL. This doesn’t mean that we can’t debate it, and those who draw another conclusion may very well have a strong point.

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today

About the author

Vincent Frank

Vincent Frank

Editor-at-large, Sportsnaut.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi