The transition from cornerback to safety is one that is becoming increasingly popular across NFL defenses, although it takes a certain type of player to make the move work (and to accept the switch in the first place).
Charles Woodson needed only two games to validate the 2012 position change. He has already accumulated 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
Woodson is not the first aging cornerback to move to centerfield. Ronde Barber has seen his snaps at safety increase over the last two seasons and is now officially listed as one. Rod Woodson did the NFL equivalent of shortstop-to-third-base back in 1999 at the age of 34 and proceeded to make four straight Pro Bowls, capped it off with a first-team All Pro selection in 2002.
The safety position isn’t just the Boca Raton of the cornerback population; it is not enough to be old and slow to move there.
Terrence Newman and Al Harris have the experience, but I wouldn’t trust either of them to bring down a tight end running over the middle of the field. Likewise, DeAngelo Hall might be a solid tackler, but do you really think he’d be willing to admit that he has lost a step?
In order to go from cornerback to safety, a player must be (1) a strong tackler, (2) instinctive and (3) realistic. All three points make straightaway speed secondary (no pun intended). If a player can anticipate a throw, the early jump puts them in position get their target to the ground.
Charles Woodson’s move is one that could have been made a few years ago. Here are three more cornerbacks who we may see playing safety by the end of next season.
Note: I was initially going to include Champ Bailey, but I found it hard to say that someone who has made three straight Pro Bowls and continues to be somewhere between the second and fifth-best man-coverage, shutdown corner should change positions.
Charles Tillman, 31 years old
Cornerbacks in Chicago’s Cover 2 defense are always going to be asked to make major contributions in run support. With the safeties and, on many occasions, Brian Urlacher back in pass coverage, the remaining players within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage need to be noticed.
The 6’2” Charles Tillman has proven to be one of the very best tackling cornerbacks in football over the last decade. Only once has he finished a season with less than 77 tackles, and that came in 2004 when he missed eight games. In addition to his open-field reliability, Tillman is an instinctive player who, according to ESPN scouts, “anticipates route progressions to make plays on the ball.”
Antoine Winfield, 35 years old
Winfield played in only five games last year, and Minnesota is hoping that he lasts longer in 2012. Assuming he does play another year, the move to safety should be a no-brainer.
Winfield has accumulated 90 or more tackles on five different occasions, with the most recent instance being in 2010. He might be short (5’9”), but if we have learned anything from safeties over the last few years, it is that size means nothing—especially against the run (Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders).
Quentin Jammer, 33 years old
Jammer has managed to remain an effective cornerback over the last few seasons, although his days of the 4.42 40-yard dash are long gone.
Maybe it is because of this reduced speed, but Jammer has really begun to play the cornerback position the way you would expect it to be played by a safety. It must be the Madden hit stick or something, but Jammer frequently appears to turn down interceptions for opportunities to whack the ball away from receivers, as noted by ESPN.
San Diego is pretty good at the position with Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby, but when your cornerback is already playing like a safety, it’s probably time to start thinking about the move. Jammer would probably love the opportunity to crush guys inside the hashes anyway.
If you have ideas for other cornerback converts, share them below.