When you build a defense that goes out and manhandles the most prolific offense in NFL history, people are going to take notice.
The Seattle Seahawks domination over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII put focus squarely on Pete Carroll's 4-3 under defense. Most notably, the Cover 3 scheme Carroll used and how his personnel in the secondary, and their size, matched his scheme.
But for Carroll this isn't new.
"I've been committed to it since N.C. State a million years ago (more accurately, 1980). It's just hard to find guys. We've been fortunate to find two guys in the same lifetime who play together."
Besides 5'10" All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, the rest of the Seahawks secondary stands over 6'0" tall. Brandon Browner may have been suspended, but he was still part of the defense Carroll was looking to build. Browner, 6'4" and Richard Sherman, 6'3", highlighted the big, physical cornerbacks Carroll was always searching for.
"There are not many tall guys that can run fast enough and have enough athleticism to play. I've been looking my whole life for these guys."
The NFL has been described as a copycat league many times before, but don't expect every team to try and build the Seahawks defense. Coaches have their schemes and what they do, but that doesn't mean there aren't certain adaptations and wrinkles they can add to their own particular scheme because they've seen success elsewhere.
It's this thought combined with bigger, more physical receivers finding success on the outside that defensive backs with size have become a commodity.
Therefore, draft prospects who possess the size and length needed to physically disrupt receivers off the line of scrimmage are even more valuable.
Especially when the world just witnessed the blueprint for stopping the best offense we've ever seen was predicated on size.
Carroll puts it simply in that same Denver Post article.
"What it does bring is, if you're a bump-and-run team, what the tall guys do is they create a bigger obstacle for the wide receivers to get around. That manipulation at the line of scrimmage is what you want as a defensive player, to slow the opportunity for a receiver to get downfield."
It doesn't take but a team or two slightly varying what they do and adapting their personnel for the value of a handful of prospects to change drastically.
Meet the new wave of big, physical cornerbacks
There are two cornerbacks available in the upcoming draft who fit this criteria pretty well. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but what they have in common is size.
Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste stands at 6'2" and Utah's Keith McGill stands at 6'3".
You will hear a lot about these two players leading up the draft. They are not perfect prospects, and they're not both going to be taken in the first round, but what they do have you can't teach.
They have the physical traits teams are looking for to match up against these big, physical receivers on the outside.
They're long and athletic.
NFL teams can look at these players and see them for who they could become, not necessarily who they are as players right now.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste - Nebraska - 6'2", 215 pounds
One of the players who really stood out at the Senior Bowl was Baptiste. At least from a "looking the part" kind of perspective.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com recently made a comparison that Jean-Baptiste has to like.
Jean-Baptiste has rare size (6-foot-2 3/8, 215); he looks like a clone of Richard Sherman. I'm sure the Seahawks, among most NFL teams, will be paying close attention to this player. He's a junior-college transfer who only played cornerback for a season and a half at Nebraska after switching from wide receiver in 2011. Has very long arms (78 3/8 wingspan) and is a willing tackler.
Baptiste is a raw player who will need time to develop, but this isn't much different than most draft prospects.
The success of bigger cornerbacks will help players like Jean-Baptiste, who might have been overlooked in the past.
Teams see the value within their scheme of not trying to match the speed of receivers on the outside but simply taking away the time in which it takes players to utilize that speed.
Brandt compared Jean-Baptiste to Sherman, and Carroll knows exactly how cornerbacks of this mold affect how receivers perform on the outside, via the Denver Post:
"Receivers get in their stance and take off downfield, if you let them do that that's what they want to do," Carroll said. "If you can restrict that, you're factoring into their ability to perform at a high level."
Carroll simply makes receivers prove they're capable of getting open and making plays. Jean-Baptiste could be a good fit in what the Seahawks like to do defensively.
Keith McGill - Utah - 6'3", 214 pounds
McGill is another player who turned some heads at the Senior Bowl.
And just like Jean-Baptiste, McGill was getting the comparisons to Sherman from NFL analyst Mike Mayock, via Mike Huguenin of NFL.com.
Mayock said the rise in taller corners should not be a surprise. With the move to more big-bodied wide receivers in the NFL, Mayock said teams are looking for "longer body frames" in their corners. He said some teams are willing to use corners who are "a little less quick-footed and explosive" as long as they are big.
McGill may not have the downhill speed to run with the likes of the elite receivers in the NFL, but if he can use his size and length to slow down the receiver from getting down the field initially, the defense may have enough time to adjust.
That's basically what NFL defenses are conceding.
They're saying "we can't keep up with you down the field, so we're going to beat you before it gets to that point."
McGill is another player who would fit well with what the Seahawks, Jaguars and Chiefs are trying to setup on the outside with their cornerbacks.
The ability for a defensive coordinator to line up and use press-man coverage means they believe they have the personnel to try and stuff the offense.
It takes a special kind of trust to put your guys on the outside in that situation. Above all else, the defensive players have to possess the physical size and length to be put in this position.
That's the bottom line when searching for these players.
It's fairly easy to find cornerbacks who are 5'10" or shorter, but that doesn't help Carroll find who he's looking for to fit into his scheme.
The pool of players who possess the size and length he's looking for is small enough that either McGill or Jean-Baptiste could easily find themselves in the Pacific Northwest next fall.
In any case, don't be surprised when these two players names get thrown around quite a bit right before the draft. Even throw in Pierre Desir from Lindenwood, the 6'1" cornerback who made a name for himself during the Shrine game week and even during his time at the Senior Bowl.
He's another cornerback who possesses good length on the outside, but each of these guys have seen their value rise since the Seahawks dominated the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
It seems as though big cornerbacks are all the "rage" right now, so be prepared for more continued discussion on the topic as we get closer to the draft.
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