End the Debate; Richard Sherman is NFL's Best CB

By Cody Strahm
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m the best corner in the game,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman infamously shouted in an almost WWE-esque tirade after forcing the game-winning interception in January’s NFC Championship. Question his antics, his brashness if you’d like, but it’s difficult to argue the validity of the statement.

However, despite showcasing the ability to routinely smoother opposing receivers and make plays on the football when quarterbacks muster up the courage to test him — not only in the regular season but on the biggest stage the sport has to offer — Sherman’s doubters persist. His biggest skeptics remain his peers.

First, it was Darrelle Revis, who criticized Sherman for talking too much while poking fun at his previously inferior Twitter following back in February of 2013. After the Seahawks’ Super Bowl title, Sherman now has more than twice as many Twitter followers as Revis.

Then, it was DeAngelo Hall, who knocked Sherman’s game and his previously inferior “bank account” in March. After signing a four-year, $57.4 million contract extension earlier this month, Sherman is now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL and will make nearly $10 million more per season than Hall.

But Sherman’s doubters haven’t dissipated. Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals was the latest to question the assertion that Sherman is the best cornerback in the game. “Put [Sherman] in our system, I don’t believe he would last,” Peterson recently explained to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Obviously, his job is much easier than mine.”

Peterson, an undeniable talent who is unquestionably among the top players at the position, was referring to how Sherman typically stays put on the left side of Seattle’s formation while corners like himself shadow the opposition’s No. 1 receiver wherever they line up. But does that factor alone really devalue Sherman? It shouldn’t.

Effectiveness is effectiveness whether it comes on the right side of the formation or the left. What Sherman essentially does is shut down an entire side of the field for Seattle, which is all he’s capable of on any given play in any other system.

Regardless if he’s locking up the offense’s first or second most valuable target, he’s virtually eliminating one of the quarterback’s primary reads. And that makes life easier for the rest of the defense. It allows Seattle’s stud safety duo of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor the luxury of being more aggressive. It allows the front seven to take more chances. It improves the defense as a whole, and that impact wouldn’t be drastically enhanced if Sherman did the same while mirroring a particular receiver.

Is Peyton Manning thought any less of because he isn’t a duel-threat athlete like Cam Newton and isn’t asked to incorporate the read option in his game? Of course not. He excels at his game. He’s elite in his niche and better at what he does than anyone else at what they do.

Besides, different schemes ask players to do different things. Just because Seattle doesn’t have Sherman move around doesn’t mean he’s not capable of doing so. After employing one of the most dominant defenses the league has ever seen, the Seahawks are doing something right, particularly in the secondary.

Sherman, specifically, has exhibited superb coverage and playmaking aptitude — a rare blend considering most effective corners are either shutdown guys or ballhawks. Sherman is an extraordinary breed — he’s both. Back-to-back seasons with eight interceptions have given Sherman 20 picks since he entered the league in 2011, the most in the entire NFL over that span. That’s a remarkable feat given how seldom he’s targeted.

According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman was only thrown at once every 9.5 coverage snaps in 2013, the most efficient figure in the league. Furthermore, Sherman allowed a reception just once every 18.3 coverage snaps, which was also the most efficient ratio among those qualifying at the position.

Sherman’s coverage prowess is not only seen in his metrics, but quarterbacks’ statistics. Passers attempting to connect with Sherman’s assignment garnered an accumulative 47.3 quarterback rating in 2013 — the lowest rating versus any qualifying cornerback.

Notice a trend? The numbers don’t lie. Sherman makes the most plays while holding receivers and quarterbacks to the lowest production.

There’s a reason it’s Sherman other elite cornerbacks are targeting. Those in pursuit of the top spot don’t challenge the No. 2 or 3 best; they gun for the top dog. That’s undoubtedly Sherman. And those who so adamantly try to dispute that with nitpicking criticisms are only affirming that sentiment.

Follow Cody Strahm on Twitter.

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