Enough with the constant search for NFL talent. Gil Brandt is going to try something different: building the perfect player at five key positions by combining the traits of some of the top players in the league today. The series continues with the perfect cornerback below.
The perfect cornerback would have ...
... the hip movement of Marcus Peters.
When you hear about a cornerback who can "flip his hips," we're talking about someone who can get in and out of breaks with fluid movement, has good body control and can turn and run with receivers without any loss of motion. Think of the fluid athletes you see all the time in basketball. Peters is not the fastest guy in the world, but receivers who have an edge in speed on him still have trouble creating space against the Chiefs defender, in large part because of his hip movement. It also makes it easier for the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year -- who tied for the league lead with eight interceptions last season -- to be in position to pick off the ball.
Classic example: Mel Blount.
... the instincts and football IQ of Josh Norman.
Football IQ is not about how well you score on the Wonderlic, it's about having a sixth sense for what's coming next. Guys who stand out in this area are pure players who understand the game; they know how to key and diagnose. Faced with a receiver running a slant, a cornerback with good instincts might jump underneath the route rather than going with the receiver. A player either has instincts or he doesn't; it's not something you can coach. Like Peters, Norman doesn't have great speed, but he does have great instincts, which helped him power the Carolina Panthers' defense last season and earned him a five-year, $75 million deal with the Redskins this offseason.
Classic example: Dick LeBeau.
... the closing burst of Janoris Jenkins.
Guys with good closing burst tend to knock down a lot of passes. Even if he gets beaten on a route, a corner with good closing burst will be able to recover and get to the ball in time to either bat it away or contain the receiver. Short-area quickness and speed really factor in here. Jenkins racked up 16 passes defensed in 2015, along with three picks and 64 tackles in his final season with the Rams before inking a $62.5 million deal with the Giants this offseason.
Classic example: Willie Brown.
... the technique of Darrelle Revis.
If you go to any training camp, you'll hear coaches on the sideline entreating their cornerbacks to play their technique. To see technique in action, just look at a clip of Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler's game-clinching interception in Super Bowl XLIX -- he defended that play how Bill Belichick instructed him to, and it paid off. Revis' technique stands out. Like Rod Woodson before him, Revis knows how to put it all -- instincts, ball skills, technique -- together to make the most of what he has. The Jets defender excels at trail technique; rather than trying to catch up to his man, he stays behind him, sticking to the receiver and then closing out the play with his unique ability to find the ball. He's also good at bump-and-run, as a strong player who makes it difficult to get off the line.
Classic example: Darrell Green.
... the competitiveness of Vontae Davis.
Everybody who plays this position gets burned on a fairly regular basis. After all, a "good" burn rate -- that is, the percentage of passes thrown in your direction that are successfully completed -- is in the low 40s, which is to say, you're still getting beaten nearly half the time. No other position on the field requires players to be able to forget things as quickly, save for the left tackle spot. Good cornerbacks must have the competitive drive to take each moment as it comes and bounce back after giving up a big gain or touchdown to make a play on the next opportunity.
Classic example: Jimmy Johnson.
... the contact courage of Richard Sherman.
There are some cornerbacks you just expect won't make tackles, and those are the guys who can be exploited by the offense. Our perfect cornerback will be a willing tackler who can wrap guys up in space and set the edge vs. the run. Sherman is a big, tough guy who will come up and tackle (274 tackles in five seasons with the Seahawks). In addition to Mike Haynes (listed just below), Ronnie Lott really fit this description to a tee -- but of course, he had limited experience at cornerback before shifting to safety.
Classic example: Mike Haynes.
... the ball skills of Chris Harris.
This really comes down to hand-eye coordination at the point of reception, which is different on different routes. It's about competing for the ball and positioning yourself to fight for it. Some guys have great coverage ability but lack the ball skills to actually make a play. The Broncos defender has the ability to seemingly always be in the right place at the right time to find the ball.
Classic examples: Deion Sanders, Everson Walls.