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Making the Leap, No. 8: Jason Verrett

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The Around The NFL crew will document the players we believe will be "Making the Leap" in 2015. This could be a player emerging from no-name status to a quality starter. Or it could mean an excellent player jumping to superstar status.

The list continues with No. 8 Jason Verrett

Jason Verrett played like a Pro Bowler in his first NFL game. By Week 2, he was playing every snap with an unbridled zeal that leaps off the screen.

I started watching Chargers tape with the plan to write about pass rusher Melvin Ingram, with Verrett possibly thrown in for fun. By the time I was finished, it was clear that the undersized cornerback deserved the spotlight by himself.

Verrett was on his way to competing for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors before he tore his left labrum in Week 8. Philip Rivers said last month that Verrett was the most impressive guy on the team this offseason and he can be one of the "top tier" cornerbacks in the league. We agree.

Why Philip Rivers will be right


1. Verrett has great ball skills. You get national attention by making picks, which Verrett excelled at during his run at TCU. In the play below, Verrett doesn't bite on a double move and then plays like a wideout better than Oakland's actual wideout.

2. Verrett can play inside and out. In his first NFL game, he gave Arizona rookie John Brown fits no matter where Brown was lining up. Some scouts thought Verrett would be a slot cornerback as a pro because he's 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds. But he showed he can play outside, and will be asked to play outside primarily in 2015 as a starter.

3. It was telling that Verrett played man coverage on Brown and Larry Fitzgerald in that game. There couldn't be two different style players to handle. He can line up against anyone.

4. We all search for joy in our everyday lives. Verrett clearly finds his on the field. He zips around plays with incredible energy. He's the first to celebrate a fourth-down tackle by a teammate. He's the player who wants to figure out where coverage went wrong after a play. He acts like a guy who loves his job, and that's no small matter at the highest level.

5. The consistency to Verrett's rookie season was remarkable. He was a difference maker in half his appearances. In the other half, he played like a solid NFL starter. There wasn't a stinker performance in the bunch. He arrived in the league ready to go.

6. Rivers mentioned Verrett's footwork as a standout trait and I couldn't agree more. It's amazing how quickly he gets in and out of his breaks to mirror receivers. When Verrett breaks on a ball, he breaks fast. In this more open era of receivers like Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Randall Cobb and Julian Edelman, teams need cornerbacks that can keep up with all that shiftiness. Verrett fits the bill.

Obstacles


At his size, Verrett's physicality is going to be questioned. If anything, he was too "handsy" with receivers down the field and got away with a lot of contact. He's not afraid to disrupt routes.

It's never going to be the strength of his game, but Verrett is more than willing to step up as a tackler in the running game. The bigger question is whether he can hold up over 16 games. He came into his rookie season following right shoulder surgery, and the season ended following left shoulder surgery. Durability is Verrett's biggest question mark because he has the skill set to excel now.

Expectations


Verrett reminds me of Brent Grimes because of his size, athleticism, playing personality and cover instincts. Verrett should not have to wait four years like Grimes to be recognized as an upper level NFL cornerback.

Brandon Flowers re-signed with the Chargers this offseason, claiming that Verrett was one of the biggest reasons why. They can form one of the top cornerback duos in the league starting now, with safety Eric Weddle rounding out a strong secondary.

In this uncertain time for San Diego's football future, Verrett is one reason to believe this team could leave on a high note. Verrett is the team's best candidate to give the shapeless Chargers defense an identity.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Jason Pierre-Paul's firework incident, and reviews recent 'Making the Leap' candidates.

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