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Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

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Old 11-08-2018, 03:18 PM   #1
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Old 11-08-2018, 03:18 PM   #2
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Nov 8, 2018 - 10:14 am

t isn’t hard to name the best players in the league at most positions.

No one is going to argue with Drew Brees or Tom Brady at quarterback. Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley are safe names when discussing running backs. Now try to name the best cornerbacks in the league. Most of the ones that you’ll come up with probably aren’t among the league’s top performers.

That’s because the best players at the position change annually. A handful of players are living off reputation, but chances are they probably haven’t maintained their peak performance. That sort of thing doesn’t happen for most players. The ones who do it become legends.

“One year they’re here and outstanding, and the next year they’ve matched – you don’t find too many guys like that,” defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn said. “The special ones are in that category.”

There aren’t many “special ones” in the league right now. Using Pro Football Focus’ grading system as the baseline, the scouting service has only kept one player in its top 10, the Chargers’ Desmond King, at cornerback from a year ago. The rest of the list is entirely new.

Increasing the sample size does produce more hits. By taking it out to four years, Denver’s Chris Harris Jr., Jacksonville’s A.J. Bouye, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and the Chargers’ Casey Hayward show up on multiple lists. But this only further proves that the best cornerbacks in the league typically change year after year.

There are a handful of reasons for the extreme variances, but they all lead back to the same place: Playing cornerback is hard.

“Of course it’s the hardest position to stay good at,” Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. “You’re going backward. You have to be an athlete, you have to go fast, you’re going against players with 4.34 speed going ahead, but you’re backward, so you got to transition well and do little certain things.”

The Saints are as good of a case study on how quickly things can change at this position. It looked like the group was on the verge of emerging as one of the best secondaries in the NFL, behind the strong play of cornerbacks Ken Crawley and Lattimore.

Crawley never really got it going this season. After allowing a 76.74 passer rating against in 2017, that number jumped to 152.1 this year, according to Sports Info Solutions. He was eventually benched and replaced after the Saints traded for Eli Apple, who is still working his way into form.

Lattimore has shown his shutdown abilities this year. He performed well against Atlanta’s Julio Jones, New York’s Odell Beckham, only gave up one catch against Washington and held his own against Minnesota’s pass attack, surrendering just 52 yards that game. But Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans caught four passes for 115 yards on Lattimore during a Week 1 game, and he was responsible for some yards against the Los Angeles Rams during a game in which the Saints played a lot of zone defense.

Added together, after allowing a passer rating against of 54.48 during 2017, Lattimore currently sits at 108.84. That seems like a significant variance, and it is, but it is mostly because Lattimore hasn’t intercepted a pass yet. If you give him the three he was in the position to pick off this season, including one that was knocked away during a collision with his own safety, his quarterback rating when targeted by opposing quarterbacks would drop to 75.1.

That's playing a lot of "if, then," but those ifs and maybes are why there are so many ups and downs at this position. One year a football lands on someone's backside for you to pick up an interception. The next year a teammate is knocking you off of one.

“It’s the league,” Lattimore said. “You don’t know what the receiver is doing. You watch film, but they don’t have to do what you see on film. You’re at a disadvantage the whole time at corner, at DB, not knowing what the receiver is doing. You just have to play through it.”

P.J. Williams has been an example of the variances a player can experience at this position on a week-to-week basis, if not within the same game. The Saints cornerback was beaten repeatedly in his first game as a starter this season against the Atlanta Falcons, and then fought his way back to a solid performance the next week against the Giants.

He again got beat throughout the first half against the Vikings, only to bounce back and make a game-changing interception in the second half and earn NFC defensive player of the week honors.

“That’s the life of being a defensive back,” Glenn said. “I wish every game was going to be all roses, but it’s not.

“There are going to be some games when the feelings just not there. Every time you think they’re going to make a right cut they make a left cut. I think every defensive back has had those games. I just think (Atlanta) was one of those games where things didn’t happen right for him. He just came back the next week and performed, and you’ve seen the weeks after that he’s performed well. There isn’t anything different.”

It's just the league.

“Your best?!? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home (with) the prom queen.” - Sean Connery in The Rock
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Old 11-08-2018, 03:31 PM   #3
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

After QB, I'd say CB is the toughest.

Following the fastest WR's on the planet stride for stride, close enough to defend but not touching, not knowing where they are going etc....

But more importantly you have to have a short memory (see Crawley's body language in Atl game) & move on to the next play.

Maintaining a high level of play at this position is incredibly tough.
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Old 11-08-2018, 07:49 PM   #4
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

And with how ingenuitive offenses are nowadays, it makes it even more tough. Less to think about back then when they were just lining up to play smash mouth football. Ingenuity was considered play action passes and counter plays.

I’ve ragged on our secondary this season but I understand it’s an incredibly tough job. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be a cornerback in today’s game.
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Old 11-08-2018, 09:11 PM   #5
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

True.
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Old 11-08-2018, 10:17 PM   #6
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

It's been my opinion for quite some time outside CB have the toughest job in football. They have the widest variety of coverage responsibilities based on whether zone or man is run and what play is called. They also often have to guard the flats and tackle in space to make sure the receiver/halfback doesn't get the sideline. They have to react and be instinctive and aren't in position to see the play as well as the LB's and safeties. Now granted this is coming from someone who never played, but that is what I observe.

#FireGoodell
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Old 11-09-2018, 04:01 AM   #7
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

Originally Posted by K Major View Post
After QB, I'd say CB is the toughest.
A couple of years ago I would have agreed but now after the "I'm Tom Brady, I wear a tutu, you can't hit me" rules things have changed.

I'd rank the positions:

CB
QB
LT
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Old 11-14-2018, 03:19 AM   #8
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

Hardest position to play is quarterback, and it's not even close...

Cornerback does require elite physical conditioning and athleticism and I'd put it at second to quarterback...

I'd put a three-down linebacker a close third behind CB...
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Old 11-14-2018, 06:12 AM   #9
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Re: Why cornerback is the NFL's hardest position for players to maintain a high level of play

The rules make it almost impossible to play in the secondary. Especially safety. They're not allowed to hit anyone anymore.
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