The 5 Toughest Corners I’ve Ever Faced

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A.J. Green, Wide Receiver / Cincinnati Bengals - The Players' Tribune

I know guys usually have intros for these things with funny stories and stuff. What can I say? I’m not really a big talker. I’m trying to think of a good story that would somehow be related to a top five list.

I got nothing, man.

When I was a kid, I used to be like a professional juggler in training. That’s funny, right? In elementary school, I didn’t even play sports, I was just straight up on the juggling team. I started out with the floating scarves. Then I went to tennis balls and all that. Then by like the fourth grade I was doing the Chinese yo-yo. And I was good, man. I was like a master Chinese yo-yo person. I was top five Dead or Alive in South Carolina.

And then, in fifth grade, I hit my peak. High school basketball games. Summerville, South Carolina. Halftime entertainment. Lights go down. Little A.J. Green comes out in a bright orange T-shirt and khaki shorts, riding a unicycle and juggling like five tennis balls.

I hop off the unicycle, do my Chinese yo-yo routine.

Hop back on the unicycle, ride out.

Lights go back up.

The crowd is going … well, they’re not going crazy at all.

It was not cool at all.

At the end of the year, I was like, “Hey mom, I think I’m gonna play football.”

When I go back home now, sometimes I run into some of the older kids from my high school and they’re like, “Man, you used to be the little unicycle dude! And now you play in the NFL!”

And I’m like, “Yep.”

Anyway, follow your dreams. Here’s my list.


Patrick Peterson
This is not a sight you want to see when you walk to the line: A guy who’s 6′ 1″, 215, and can run a 4.3. Straight off the bat, you know that Pat isn’t going to let you have the Go ball. As a receiver, you’re always trying to set corners up for the Go ball. Some corners will play you with a big cushion just to make sure you can’t go down the sideline on them. But with Pat, he doesn’t need the cushion. He’s going to line up right on top of you. If you run a Go, he has the ability to stay with you stride for stride on your inside shoulder the whole time. Even if you get a step on him, he’s strong enough to lean on you just enough to disrupt your balance and timing.

 

I’m not sure how many corners in the NFL are comfortable on an island like that. Maybe three, tops. And that confidence is a big deal, because now you have to work for every catch off the line.  You can’t just take a few easy five-yard hitches until he starts creeping back to the line.

But it’s more than just his size and straight-line speed that makes him great. The thing with Pat is how he’s able to stop and start. With a lot of bigger corners, you can get an advantage on them by exploiting their agility. For example, you can run a lot of double moves where you get way down in your breaks. You can try to make the game more about the stop-and-start. But with Pat, he’s going to get just as low as you on your breaks.

 

We played Arizona in 2015, and they held me to 4 catches for 79 yards. The one big catch I had? Pat wasn’t on me.


Joe Haden
Two things come to mind when I think about Joe. One, this guy has got the longest arms I’ve ever seen on a corner his size. I remember the first time I lined up across from him in college, I looked down and his fingers were almost touching his ankles. He’s dangerous because he’s only 5′ 11″, but he’s got a surprisingly long reach. Two, this guy has four brothers. You know a guy is going to be super competitive when he’s got four brothers.

When you line up against Joe, he’s going to be laying hands on you all day. He’s going to initiate contact off the line with a quick stab to try to throw off your timing, and then try to ride your back hip the whole way. Watch the stab here.

 

Joe knows that you only got two seconds to do your work. This is something I think the average football fan might not totally understand. Like, they see the ball snap, and then they watch the quarterback drop back, and then the ball is in the air, and it all seems like a pretty long time. But if you could see the game through a receiver’s eyes, you’d realize that he only has two seconds to do his work. You got that three-step drop — that’s your whole window. By the time the ball is in the air, you better have your separation already.

So Joe knows that if he can just disrupt your first two steps off the line, he’s got you. He’s probably the best there is at knocking you off your route just a little bit — just enough where the ball is a half second early or a half second late. This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t always make the highlights, but that you appreciate as a player.


Janoris Jenkins
O.K., now let’s go in a completely different direction with this one. So far I’ve given you the big guy who jams you, and the little guy who jams you. Now I give you … the jackrabbit.

His instincts are the best in the NFL, and he’s extremely quick.

Janoris isn’t going to jam you, he’s going to sit back and read you until you make a mistake. What makes him so dangerous is that he doesn’t care if he gets beat. In his mind, you might get behind him two or three times in a game, but he knows he’s usually got help over the top. As a receiver, you don’t have help. If he jumps your route once, he’s going for six the other way.

Janoris has a technique that’s completely different from Pat and Joe, because he uses a soft backpedal off the line. Pat and Joe want to dictate your route. Janoris is the opposite. He lets you do your thing and then he reads your hips and the quarterback’s eyes to decide when to jump on the route. His instincts are the best in the NFL, and he’s extremely quick. Extremely quick.

At the snap, he’s not looking at you, he’s looking right at your quarterback, trying to read him.

 

Playing him is especially tough for me, because I’m a go-go-go kind of guy. That’s just my nature. But you need to be very patient against Janoris and set him up with a lot of double moves and different releases.

Everybody remembers the Giants holding Dez to one catch last season, but this one play really sticks out to me. Janoris was lined up against Dez, and Dez faked like he was going up the sideline, but when he broke down to cut back inside for the slant, Janoris read him so well that he had already turned back to the ball to grab the pick.

 

Dez loses his feet, but if you watch the play a few times, you’ll see just how quick Janoris gets his hips and his head turned toward the ball.

The other thing with him is that he might change the game with a corner blitz or a strip or a blocked field goal. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the game right now.


Chris Harris Jr.
This is the highest compliment I can give a football player — if you look at Chris on film once or twice, you might think, Alright, this guy is a pretty good corner, but what’s the big deal? But I can tell you from going against him that he’s one of the smartest, quickest corners in the game. And when I say quick, I don’t mean the 40. I mean real game speed, which is a whole different thing. There’s a lot of corners who can run a 4.3 at the combine who can only run a 4.6 when it’s time to read and react in an actual game.

Chris stayed very underrated for a long time because his game is so mental. He’s going to get in the film room on Tuesday and by Sunday he knows every little thing you like to do. People may think of him as a nickel cover guy, but he’s got the tools to stick with you on the outside, too. I remember two years ago, I had him one-on-one on the outside, and I ran a Go, and he just played it perfectly.

 

With Chris, it’s all about not giving him indicators. He’s going to be watching your hips, your eyes, your shoulders — anything that tips him off that you’re about to go into your break. If you raise up just a half inch before you plant your foot to go into a slant, Chris is going to notice it. You have to be so disciplined and so crisp against him. I mean, you even have to be disciplined with your eyes. If you’re running a slant and you’re glancing inside as you’re coming off the line, Chris is going to notice it and play your inside shoulder.

He had a pick-six against the Raiders two years ago where he recognized the play instantly and came all the way across the field to make the play.

 

He saw something on film — or in the way the receivers came off the ball — that tipped him off immediately. That’s pretty rare.

The thing is, if I’m talking about Chris, I have to mention Aqib Talib as well, because they really feed off of each other. I could’ve just as easily put Aqib on here. Very underrated.


Richard Sherman
For me, going against Richard is like going against a mirror of myself. Most corners have a weakness you can exploit — whether it’s speed, height, length, or whatever. But Richard is just as big as you, and just as athletic, and he came up playing receiver, so if you try to throw a 50-50 jump ball on him, he can easily come down with it himself.

Their front four makes it more like a 1.5-second window.

The only way you can beat Richard is in the transition game. You’re going to have to run some really precise timing routes to be successful. The problem is, when you’re playing Seattle, you don’t really have the two-second window that I mentioned earlier. Their front four makes it more like a 1.5-second window. If you’re trying to get off the line and run a 10-yard comeback on Richard and that front four, it’s just not going to happen. He’s going to jam you off the snap and you’ll never have the time. A lot of teams try to solve this by throwing quick slants and back-shoulder throws against him, but he’s so long that you really have to be in rhythm for it to work.

He made a read-and-react play against Arizona last season that I don’t know if any other DB in the league could have made.

 

You have a combination of everything there — the instincts to read the play, the quickness to cut back inside to the ball, and then the physicality to hit a guy as big as Larry like that.

But to me, the thing he never gets enough credit for is his work in the run game. It’s not just his tackling, but also his ability to set the edge for the rest of the defense. You don’t see that kind of commitment in a lot of corners, especially guys as good as him. You will hardly ever see a running back get outside the hashmarks on that defense, because Richard is so good at sealing the edge and pushing everything back inside.

That’s another one of those little things that fans don’t always appreciate. I feel like when people talk about corners and receivers, it’s always about splash plays or interceptions. But when I think about the toughest guys I go against, a lot of it is about how they’re bringing it on every single play. Richard comes to the line and is super aggressive at the point of attack on every play, whether it’s a run or a pass, and I think that sets the tone for the entire defense. 


That’s it. We did it. Follow your dreams, kids.

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