The NFL became a passing league during the course of its evolution from a helmet-less game to something a little safer and much more appropriate for television audiences. But as the game has changed, defenses have been trying to play catch-up with offenses. We're now at a point in NFL history where the defensive back is as athletic as the wide receiver. But what would the best defensive back imaginable look like?
Building the perfect NFL defensive back means putting emphasis on vision and eyes to read the offense, long arms to deflect passes and challenge the wide receiver, fast and loose hips to change direction and the big body to jam at the line of scrimmage and keep up physically with today's oversized wide receiver.
Looking at those four key body parts, how would the best defensive back from today's NFL players look?
Head: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
The ideal NFL defensive back will be like a quarterback in his approach to film, game preparation and game-planning. And that's why Earl Thomas is the head of our defensive back.
Thomas is the game's best safety, arguably the best defensive back and maybe the best overall player in the league right now. He's savvy, smart, smooth and always in the right place at the right time. No player is better at sinking into a zone, reading the quarterback's eyes and making a jump on the ball. Put Thomas' eyes and football IQ on the body of our ideal defensive back, and no quarterback is making a play on him.
Arms: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman could be on this list for a lot of traits, but it's his freakishly long arms and excellent ball skills that put him as the best option for arms among defensive backs.
Sherman's 32-inch arms are his best weapon in coverage, as he's able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and use his natural length to pull, redirect and hold through coverage to limit receptions and keep quarterbacks from throwing his way.
Also of huge importance is what comes at the end of the arms—Sherman's hands. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2013 despite being ignored by quarterbacks routinely. That's the type of skill set every NFL coach would love at cornerback.
Torso: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
If we were picking from the annals of NFL history, Sean Taylor would definitely be the selection here, but since his untimely passing leaves him off the list, Patrick Peterson is the current player NFL scouts and coaches would most like to duplicate in terms of body type.
Peterson, at 6'1" and 219 pounds, has the height, muscle, thickness and length you need to dominate at cornerback in today's game. When facing players like Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall, you need a big-bodied cornerback with the muscle tone to play physical—and Peterson excels in that category.
Few NFL cornerbacks can compare to his build, and that's why he's a slam-dunk choice for the best torso in the game at defensive back.
Legs: Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns
Quick feet, loose hips and the leg power to turn and run with a receiver cannot be overlooked when building the best possible defensive back. That's why Joe Haden gets the mention as the game's ideal player in that area.
Haden has the body control and agility to plant and drive on passes and the pure speed to turn and run with receivers off the line. That's his game, and he's damn good at it. Haden won't be backed down by the best receivers in the league because he's confident in his footwork, technique and quickness when asked to make a change of direction to keep up with route progressions. Sure, he'll gamble, but that's part of what makes him so great—that he can gamble and recover.