Richard Sherman is standard for elite NFL cornerbacks

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Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, No. 154 overall. When players are selected in that area of the draft, teams hope for a reliable backup and special teams contributor.

Seattle got a whole lot more than that. Sherman is arguably the NFL’s best cornerback.

Since he entered the NFL in 2011, no player has had more interceptions (30) or passes defended (92) than him.

Known for his outspoken personality and trash-talking on the field, he backs it up with lockdown coverage skills and big plays.

A four-time All-Pro selection, he was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl in 2016.

What makes Sherman such a dominant player? I took a deep dive into his film to identify specific components of his game that make him great.

He is an ultra-competitive player. He takes every situation presented to him to portray his alpha characteristics and sacrifices his body to impose his will on opponents. Playing alongside Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, it’s no wonder the Seattle secondary is nicknamed the Legion of Boom.

The following rep illustrates perfectly what I’m talking about.

Nonchalantly galloping down the field after picking up a first down with his feet, Rams quarterback Jared Goff is met by Sherman with a powerful collision along the sideline. NFL quarterbacks are taught to protect their bodies and mitigate the hits they take, especially when they can easily be avoided.

The goal of a first down was achieved and Goff should have went out of bounds. He didn’t, and Sherman made him pay. Sherman could have eased him out of bounds but instead makes a perfectly legal hit to send a message to the Rams young quarterback. Lesson learned for Goff but Sherman isn’t going to pass up these opportunities. His physical play demeanor is a big part of what makes him great. 

Sherman is an extremely smart player who diagnoses and anticipates route combinations as if it’s second nature to him. he is also a dominant press corner who makes it difficult for receivers to get a clean release off the line of scrimmage and into their route stem. He disrupts play designs and timing in the contact window.

This next rep illustrates those components. The inside receiver on the clip is designed to lift coverage off Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald to create space for an easy completion. It didn’t work.

Because Sherman crowds and stalks the route early with outstanding play strength, the space is never created. He quickly recognizes the route combination and drives off his back foot to close on the football and jar the ball loose from Fitzgerald. His click-and-close skills are terrific.

There are plenty of examples on film where it seems Sherman is running the route for the receiver. His anticipation and pattern-matching skills are outstanding. When combined with his physicality and ball skills, it’s hard to complete a pass against his coverage.

According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a reception only once every 14.9 coverage snaps, which led the NFL. It was the third time in the last five seasons that Sherman led the league in this ratio. In 2016, quarterbacks only completed 51.3 percent of their passes against his coverage.

This rep next clip brings together several components of what makes Sherman a special player. Again using outstanding press technique, Sherman initiates legal first contact with his hands and forces New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall to be reactive. He is balanced and fluid through the initial contact and flips his hips and hand checks before Marshall can even square his shoulders after the initial contact. Sherman completely manipulates the route. From there, Sherman gets his head around, positions himself to compete at the catch point and secures the interception.

Sherman has exceptional ball skills. When it’s in the air, he knows how to go get it to create turnovers and disrupt at the catch point.

This rep illustrates how well Sherman tracks the football. When presented chances to finish and create an interception, he rarely misses. While this is an obvious overthrow by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Sherman identifies the football in the air, adjusts his course to the trajectory of the ball and beats the receiver to it. He finishes with a clean over-the-shoulder catch 60 yards from where the ball was released.

Sherman will play the 2017 season at 29 years old and still is among NFL players performing at the highest level at their positions. There are no signs of him slowing down. His technique, intelligence, reactionary skills, physicality and ball skills make him one of the best defensive players in football.

Sherman is the standard for elite cornerbacks in the game today.