At a time where college football is in desperate need of top-notch cornerback play all over, the country is seeing some of the worse production from the position from top to bottom. Truthfully, only offensive line is seeing worse play than the cornerback spot as truly good corners become harder and harder to find on the modern landscape.
As the rules and rulings make cornerback increasingly difficult to play and offensive systems place more importance on quality corners, coaches are having a harder time finding talented athletes to man the position.
Playing cornerback is a hard job. They don't want you to put your hands on receivers; any impeding of the progress of a receiver will draw the laundry from the officials. Essentially, cornerbacks are public enemy number one when it comes to fans and offensive coaches enjoying their day. These are the guys who stop touchdowns and limit receivers and stop quarterbacks from having the big days.
Defensive holding and pass interference are every cornerback's worst enemy, and referees are more than happy to toss the flags out when contact is made with the ball in the air, regardless of circumstances.
Which brings us to the actual game play. Right now, offenses are taxing defenses like never before. They are spreading defenses out, isolating defensive backs and forcing the tempo so that things happen quicker and more often. Teams don't just need one primary corner; they need three or four corners to play because of nickel and dime situations in response to empty sets and four wide receiver formations.
The cornerback is now being asked to cover more wide receivers, more routes, more difficult throws, more times during a game all while the rules are tightening up to make the job harder. Pick routes and back shoulder fades are the norm for the bulk of offenses now. Tackling a shifty wide receiver who runs a 4.4 is a multiple time per game occurrence, and it happens in the open field.
Modern-day corners are less about run forcing, playing deep zones and just hanging out waiting on 3rd-and-long to get involved in the game. The modern corner gets called into action on every play as teams have diverse playbooks, and throwing is not just a necessity now; it's the means of moving the ball down the field.
When you look at the landscape, you clearly need better cornerbacks than ever. These guys have to be elite athletes able to do MORE things BETTER than ever before. Unfortunately, they are getting harder and harder to come by.
Defensive backs, both corners and safeties, are a different breed. It takes a special type of cat to have the cocksure attitude to embrace knowing every mistake he makes is likely six points AND the rules of the game are setup for him to fail. So to be successful in that setting, it takes a little gumption on the part of the athlete.
Which brings us to the thinning of the guys who can do those things. One of the best cornerbacks we've never seen is a Heisman front-runner for the Oregon Ducks, De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas, like most high school elite defensive backs, played both ways in high school. He was set to become a stud corner for Lane Kiffin's Trojans; however, the Los Angeles native took Chip Kelly up on his offer of making the kid an offensive star.
Ultimately, who wouldn't?
With the new offenses skewing away from the traditional power schemes, we're seeing guys who would traditionally be playing cornerback decide to go for the shine and play offense. Armanti Edwards, the kid who beat Michigan in 2007 for Appalachian State, could have been a Clemson corner; instead, he opted for the quarterback at a lower level route.
Stockpiling good corners is next to impossible. As it stands now, only USC, LSU, Alabama and Florida State truly have elite corners and solid depth. Other schools have legit players, like Purdue, Oregon State, Washington and Virginia Tech. However, by and large, the position is lacking on the grand scale, and at a time where the sport needs it the most.
Unlike offensive lines that can be covered up by scheme or quarterback play that can be schemed for success, corners really have nowhere to hide. Whether it is zone or man, if your corners are vulnerable, the new offenses will find them, exploit them and make your scoreboard sing. The dearth of corners in the current landscape is most certainly helping teams put up the big numbers.