The 5 Toughest Corners I’ve Ever Faced

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Emmanuel Sanders, Wide Receiver / Denver Broncos - The Players' Tribune

I’ll tell you what: I’m glad I don’t have to go up against my boy Chris Harris Jr. on Sundays. I see him every day in practice, and he’s one of those guys — I call ’em dogs. Like, Chris straight got that dog in him, you know? He’s the kind of guy who’s still pissed off that on draft weekend, he had his entire family there with him and everybody was expecting him to get drafted … and then he didn’t. So every time he steps on the field, he plays like he’s saying to all 32 teams, “Y’all passed on me. Now I’ma show you what’s up.”

I recognize that, because I’m a dog, too.

Now, I didn’t go undrafted, but my whole entire life people been telling me that I was too small. So guess what? Now I got little-man syndrome. And I’m out there every day trying to prove to those people that it don’t matter how big I am.

I’m gonna ball out regardless.

One thing I do after every game is check my stats. And if I catch four-of-six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown or whatever, I don’t pat myself on the back. Because I’m looking at that four-of-six and thinking, What happened on those other two?

Even if it’s just a five-yard out — if I don’t catch it, I’m mad as hell. Or if it’s a deep ball and the pass was overthrown, then I’m like, Man, I gotta get faster.

Because I want to catch every single ball.

I just got that dog in me, you know?

And going up against Chris Harris — and don’t forget about Aqib Talib — in practice helps bring that out of me. Because they come with it every day. You won’t find a better cornerback tandem in the league right now, and they get me ready to face some of the best corners in this league who are playing some great football.

Today I’m going to break down five of them for you … but remember that the thing about lists or rankings is that that somebody deserving always gets left out. So let’s mix it up a little bit and have some fun with it.


Malcolm Butler

He reminds me a lot of Chris Harris. He got that dog in him, too. He’s always doing those extra little things to make you uncomfortable — jamming you as hard as he possibly can at the line of scrimmage, or giving the ball an extra punch just when you think you got it secured. He’s a pit bull. He’s tenacious. He never gives up.

But he’s also the perfect cornerback for the kind of defense they like to run in New England.

The Patriots like to play either Cover 2 or One-High Man. In Cover 2, they have two high safeties splitting the deep halves, and they typically run man coverage underneath. One-High Man is basically just a Cover 1 — one high safety — with man coverage underneath.

These schemes suit Malcolm really well because one of his greatest strengths is his catch-up speed.

Let’s say you’re running a go route. What he’ll do is, he’ll play you inside at the line of scrimmage and throughout the route. But he’ll also let you get a step on him so he can play behind you — he’ll give you the deep ball.

I know that sounds crazy, because why would a corner let a receiver get a step on a go route?

Well, what it does is, it basically cuts off three-quarters of the field — actually, more.

Think about it….

He’s playing you on the inside, so it’s going to be tough to get off the jam on an inside-breaking route — like a slant or a cross. And because he’s trailing you after giving you that step on the outside release, he’s cutting off all out-breaking and comeback routes because he’s in perfect position to undercut them. Throw in the fact that he uses the sideline really well as an extra defender, and that understands where his safety help is over the top, and all it really leaves you is the deep ball down the sideline, which is a low-percentage throw.

That’s why his catch-up speed is so important. He has the confidence to give you that step and play behind you because he knows that once the ball is in the air, he can still close in and make a play on it.

Watch how he plays Odell Beckham Jr. here.

 

Look how patient he is. You see that he’s trailing, you see the safety help come in and you see him close at the last second and make a play on the ball.

Now, when I talk about catch-up speed, I’m not saying he’s faster than Odell. He’s not. Odell can fly. But watch that clip again, and this time, pay attention to Malcolm’s head.

Odell has to turn his head and look back and play the ball, so that naturally slows his stride a little. At the same time, Malcolm is still running full speed, and he’s not turning his head to look for the ball. He’s watching Odell’s eyes and playing his hands. So while Odell is slowing down, Malcolm is hitting his maximum speed.

It’s a really risky style of play. You have to be very disciplined and have a lot of trust in your catch-up speed, as well as your safety help. And really, you gotta have some guts to play that brand of cornerback. And I don’t think anybody in the league does it better right now than Malcolm.


Marcus Peters

Talk about a ball hawk.

Marcus Peters is the opposite of Malcolm Butler. Instead of letting you get a step and playing behind you, Marcus sits back, keeps you in front of him and waits to jump the route once the ball is in the air. He’s able to do that because he doesn’t play the receiver like Malcolm does — he doesn’t even look at the receiver.

He plays the quarterback.

Marcus rarely takes his eyes out of the backfield. It’s weird when you first play against him because you’re running a route and you’re like, This guy doesn’t even have his eyes on me. How’s he gonna cover me? And then you get to the top of your route and you’re about to make your cut, and Marcus is already jumping the ball.

Watch how he jumps the route on this play against the Jets.

 

See how he breaks on the ball before the receiver even makes his cut or gets his head around? He’s able to do that because he’s not waiting for the receiver to give him an indication of where the ball is going. He sees it out of the quarterback’s hand.

Now, because of his style of play, Marcus does give up a lot of completions. He’s great at guessing, playing percentages and jumping routes, but you can beat him on pump-fakes, especially deep. He’s also got the benefit of a great pass rush, so a lot of times, the quarterback doesn’t have time to set him up and beat him deep. The safety also cheats over his way a little sometimes because he understands that Marcus jumps a lot of routes and can get beat if he misses. So the rest of the defense gives him a little extra help to allow him to make those big plays.

And it’s working for him. I don’t think anybody has more interceptions since he came into the league in 2015. If somebody does, I know it’s close. Because that’s where he makes his money. And if he gets beat every now and then, that’s just the cost of doing business.

It’s like when you got a big hitter in baseball who strikes out a lot. You can live with the strikeouts.

As long as he keeps hitting home runs.

There aren’t a lot of guys who play the cornerback position like Marcus does. These days, it’s a press/bump league. So at a time when most corners are jamming you at the line and getting up in your face, Marcus’s style really stands out.


A.J. Bouye

He’s a guy who’s got some feet, man. He plays off a lot, but when he breaks on the ball, he breaks on the ball. His ability to change direction is phenomenal.

 

We played against him last year when he was still in Houston, and me and him were battling, man. He was still just kind of coming up, so I didn’t know a lot about him. But he gave me fits on a couple of plays that he broke up on me.

He’s tough to beat on double moves. He’s tough to beat on any move because he’s so good at keeping his feet underneath him, and his feet are constantly moving. So if he’s pressing you, he can stay on your hip out of your breaks. If he’s playing off, how he likes to, he can close the gap really quickly and play the ball.

I came out of that game last year saying to myself, Damn, this guy’s a baller. He’s another one of them dogs — an undrafted guy who’s out to prove everybody wrong. And he’s doing it, too. He went to Jacksonville this off-season and got paid, and now he’s a part of a great defense they got down there.

He’s definitely a young guy I got a lot of respect for.


Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman is a master of disguise.

Like, let’s say I get up to the line, and Sherman is right up in my face. So I look back at Peyton, or Trevor, or Pax, and we automatically agree that it’s press coverage — because 95% of the time, when a guy is up on you like that, it’s press. So I’m thinking I gotta get his hands off me when he jams, and then take the go-ball.

Then, right before the snap, Sherman bails out like five yards, and everything gets discombobulated. Now I don’t know if it’s zone or man — I just know it’s not press. And if it’s still man, now I gotta chase Sherman’s hip because he ran out, and the chances of me beating him deep aren’t very good.

He’s also great at setting you up.

Let’s say it’s a few plays after the one where he bailed out, and now I have a slant. Sherman’s up in my face again. I’m thinking there’s a good possibility that he’s going to bail — he’s already shown me that look. So I’m thinking I got this slant in the bag. Easy money, right?

Then the ball gets snapped, and I got his hands in my chest because it’s press.

Now he’s got me all f***ed up.

He set Davante Adams up really nice just like this in the NFC championship game a couple of years ago. On one play, Davante had a slant and Sherman was playing up in his face. And right at the snap, Sherman jammed him, threw off the timing of the route and forced the incompletion.

 

Then, two plays later, Sherman plays up on him again. Before the snap, everything looks exactly the same to Davante as it did two plays earlier. So it’s pretty safe to assume that he thinks Sherman’s going to jam him at the line again, and at the snap he’ll have to get his hands up to counter Sherman’s jam and release into his route.

But this time, Sherman doesn’t jam … he just sits back.

What that does is, it forces Davante to hesitate. If he had known Sherman wasn’t going to jam him, he could have fired off the ball and into his route and maybe gotten a step on Sherman to give himself position on the go route to catch a touchdown.

But instead, that split second of hesitation allows Sherman to stay right on Davante’s hip throughout the route and make the pick in the end zone.

 

Sherman is the best at creating confusion and making the receiver guess what he’s going to do. When I get to the line against him, and I see he’s up in my face, I’m thinking about all the different things he might do on that play, and how it’s going to affect what I’m supposed to do.

But the different looks he throws at you — they’re not random. He doesn’t just switch it up for the sake of switching it up. Everything he does is situational. It’s very calculated.

Playing against Sherman is a straight up chess match, man. All the guys on this list are athletic — beyond athletic. But when you got a guy like Sherman who is super athletic, but is also very smart and calculated?

That’s a tough guy to beat.


Darrelle Revis

He’s not the biggest. Or the strongest. Or the fastest.

He doesn’t try to bait you. Or trick you. Or jump routes.

He’s just straight up technique savvy, man. He has quick feet and great hip control. Slant route, go route, double move — it doesn’t matter. He just gets on you and moves with you, like you’re joined at the hip.

But the big thing with Revis is how he defends the deep ball. The moment that he realizes you’re trying to go deep, he does this thing called the arm bar. Basically he’ll fight for position and then take his arm and extend it across your body — he’ll wall you off and won’t let you hit your stride and run past him. He’s been doing it forever.

 

I used to always complain to the refs about that. “C’mon, man … he’s using an arm bar!”

And the refs would always say, “He’s not grabbing you.”

No, he’s not. But he’s still impeding my route and not letting me get a free run, and he’s doing it after five yards.

Man, I would get so annoyed … I’m getting heated right now just talking about it. They gotta create a new rule for it, or something. The Darrelle Revis rule. He made a lot of money doing that, man.

Like I said right off the bat: The thing about lists or rankings is that is that somebody deserving always gets left out. But if anybody who has played receiver in the league over the last 10 years does one of these 5 Toughest lists, they can’t do it without including Darrelle Revis. Straight up, man-to-man … I don’t think there’s ever been anybody better.

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