Is Seattle's Richard Sherman the best cornerback in the NFL? Can we talk?
Welcome to the 11th installment of our throwback series where we take a look at the different positions around the NFL and draw comparisons to standouts of years gone by.
We are now down to the home stretch, which means the last line of defense. That means some of the greatest cornerbacks and safeties in the game today and whom they remind us of from another generation.
How exactly do we come up with these comparisons? The criteria are multi-faceted, and one legend doesn’t fit all. We are talking style as much as anything because after all the eye test is still the best pop quiz ever. But other factors will be taken into account when making comparisons.
One very big reminder: This is not a ranking of the six best cornerbacks in the league. For instance, performers such as Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns), Alterraun Verner (Tennessee Titans), Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets) and Tim Jennings (Chicago Bears) could be found in this year’s Pro Bowl but not on this list despite their outstanding play.
All told, these are simply some of the best players at their position and whom they remind us of from the distant or not-too distant past.
Similar To: Mike Haynes
We are just three years into the NFL career of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, and the Pro Bowl defender has already totaled 20 interceptions.
Did you hear that?
These days, far too much emphasis has been put on words rather than actions when it comes to Sherman, who totaled three tackles and knocked down one pass in the Seahawks' 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Sherman’s style and feel for the game are reminiscent of another great cornerback who got the job done when it came to blanketing wide receivers. Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes racked up 46 interceptions with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders and won a Super Bowl title with the latter 30 years ago (XVIII).
It’s also interesting to note that Haynes, who like Sherman was a solid athlete with excellent ball skills, totaled 19 interceptions in his first three NFL seasons while with the Patriots.
Will Sherman be like Haynes or eventually a cut above? Only time will tell.
Similar To: Lem Barney
If Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney couldn’t beat you with his coverage skills, he could knock you over with his vocals.
Of course, wide receivers and tight ends were singing a much different tune when it came to dealing with the 6’0”, 188-pound defender. During his stellar career, he played both sides of the field at cornerback, returned punts and kickoffs and also punted for two seasons. He totaled 56 interceptions in 11 seasons and returned seven of those thefts for scores.
Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers is two inches shorter than Barney, but like the Lions star defender, he plays bigger than his size. The six-year veteran, named to his first Pro Bowl this past season, has been a consistent part of the Chiefs secondary for six seasons, picking off at least two passes in each of those years.
While you won’t find Flowers on punt returns or even kicking, you will find him around the football. He’s totaled 22 takeaways in six seasons and just now appears to be hitting his stride in the league.
Similar To: Rod Woodson
We have seen Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson do a little bit of everything during his short NFL career.
And the vast majority of it has been extremely good.
The fifth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Peterson has picked off 12 passes and recovered nine fumbles in three seasons. As a rookie in 2011, he tied an NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl in all three of his NFL campaigns—the first as a kick returner and the last two for his play on defense.
This past season under new head coach Bruce Arians, he had a little more fun on offense, catching six passes for 54 yards in 2013.
When you think of Peterson and his athletic ability and versatility, it shouts a little Deion Sanders but screams Rod Woodson. The Hall of Famer ranks third in NFL history with 71 interceptions (a league-record 12 returned for touchdowns), but he also first went to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner.
Comparable in stature, the two players have been a handful for any quarterback throwing their way.
Similar To: Albert Lewis
While New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib has been a factor in his team reaching the AFC title game each of the last two seasons, he’s also been part of the reason the club has not advanced to the Super Bowl each time.
And, of course, it has nothing to do with anything he has done.
As has been well-documented, the Pro Bowl corner was knocked out of two straight conference championship games with injuries, and Bill Belichick’s defense suffered accordingly. The physical Talib can match up with any receiver in the league. In 2013, he totaled 41 tackles and four interceptions and led the team with 13 passes defensed despite missing three games.
Albert Lewis may have been one of the most underrated cornerbacks in recent memory. He lasted 16 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, totaling 42 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries.
The physical cornerback amassed 12.5 career sacks, with eight of those coming in his final five seasons with the Silver and Black. He and Talib stand 6’2” and weigh nearly the same. Each had the ability to outmuscle receivers, which is easier said than done in today’s game.
Similar To: Lester Hayes
There’s no consolation prize when your team fails to win a championship—much less when it finishes in last place in its division.
But Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis can take some solace in the fact that he looks like his stellar self again.
The one-time New York Jets star suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 of 2012. While the team would eventually orchestrate a deal that would send the shutdown corner to Tampa, many wondered if Revis could regain his Pro Bowl form.
The seven-year pro totaled 50 tackles and a team-high 11 passes defensed in 2013. Revis also picked off three passes and forced a pair of fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the highest-rated cornerback in the league in 2013.
Former Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes, like Revis, knows what it is like to have quarterbacks shy away from you. A year after he picked off an astonishing 13 passes in 1980, opponents kept their distance. In his final seven seasons, he totaled only 14 interceptions.
Both Hayes and Revis have been named to five Pro Bowls. The latter hopes to add to that total.
Similar To: Roger Wehrli
Yes, we understand that this series has been about throwbacks, not comebacks.
However, it’s hard to ignore the return to form of Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes.
Last season with the Atlanta Falcons, he was injured on opening weekend and missed the remainder of 2012. This past season with the Dolphins, he showed little signs of what sidelined him the previous year and capped off a terrific campaign with this second Pro Bowl invitation.
Rated the second-highest corner in the NFL in 2013 by Pro Football Focus, Grimes finished with 60 tackles and led the team with four interceptions and 16 passes defensed. He has now totaled 17 interceptions in seven seasons, with four or more picks in three of those campaigns.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Wehrli was an understated performer who surprised opponents with his nose for the ball in the same way as Grimes. Wehrli totaled 40 interceptions in 14 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. And also like Grimes, he was a right-place-at-the-right-time kind of defender.