In 2010 the Seattle Seahawks became one of the worst teams in NFL history to make the playoffs. They won their seven regular season games thanks in large part to a good run defense and pass rush. Their secondary on the other hand was lacking, so they attempted a makeover during the short 2011 offseason.
Starting cornerback Kelly Jennings went to Cincinnati, nickel defensive back Jordan Babineaux went to Tennessee, and staring safety Lawyer Milloy and the team parted ways. This left 2010 fifth-round pick Kam Chancellor as the new starting safety, while former Canadian Football League standout Brandon Browner earned the starting cornerback spot.
While those moves may have made Seattle fans nervous prior to the season, the changes paid huge dividends. Both players made for excellent replacements to help push the defense closer to an elite level. However, it took a few cornerback injuries to find out just how much potential this secondary has. It meant Richard Sherman had a chance to work his way into the starting lineup and showed he was more than ready for the challenge. You might be surprised just how good the 154th pick of the 2011 draft was.
Short Rise to the Lineup
Richard Sherman was one of two cornerbacks Seattle added in the 2011 draft. Because Seattle was so happy with the depth they had in the secondary, previous starter Kelly Jennings was traded away. By the beginning of the season Sherman was the fourth cornerback on the depth chart behind starters Marcus Trufant and Brandon Browner, and slot cornerback Walter Thurmond. In Weeks 3 and 4, Sherman saw four snaps in each game in dime packages.
A bruised sacrum forced Trufant to injured reserve, so Walter Thurmond became an every down player. Sherman also got bumped up the depth chart; in the nickel he would play left cornerback and Thurmond would go back to his slot role.
Sherman’s first game with extended time was against the Giants. His base numbers looked like a rough welcome to the NFL as he allowed four catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. However, most of the yards he allowed came from a Victor Cruz circus catch which is hard to put too much blame on Sherman for. Twice he allowed third down catches from Cruz, but then tackled the Giants receiver short of a first down. While that adds catches and yards against Sherman’s totals, they were really positives because they forced punts.
In the following game, he allowed just three catches for 15 yards against the Browns. After that, Thurmond’s season ended due to a broken fibula and high ankle sprain and from there on Sherman became an every-down corner and Roy Lewis became the new player in the slot.
Not Playing Like a Rookie
In his first full game of action, Sherman spent most of the day lined up against A.J. Green. While Sherman was on Green, Green was thrown at eight times, but only had three catches. Sherman also had an interception and pass defended in that game.
Like the Bengals, the following three opponents felt the need to throw the ball early and often in the direction of the rookie, seeking big plays on him. Against the Cowboys, Ravens, and Rams, Sherman was the man in coverage on 27 passes. In that time, less than half the passes were complete and four were defended.
The following teams realized that they couldn’t win by taking advantage of the fifth-rounder, so they went after him less often. After averaging 9.25 passes thrown his way in his first four starts, he averaged just 4.8 passes in the following five. Again he allowed less than half of the passes thrown his way to be completed, and again had four passes defended to go with two interceptions. Against the Bears and 49ers in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, he allowed just two catches against an interception and two passes defended.
There was only one game throughout the season where his coverage rating dropped below -1.0, and that was in the last game of the season where he was frequently the man covering Larry Fitzgerald. In that game, he allowed five catches; four of which came from Fitzgerald … though, he did manage to haul in an interception as well.
Throughout the season Sherman was a high risk-high reward cornerback. For every three catches he allowed, he would come up with a pick or a PD himself and he made seven tackles on third downs that left the offense in fourth down situations. On the other hand, his biggest problem was penalties: flagged nine times, he had the fifth-lowest penalty rating for cornerbacks on the season at -5.2.
Just in case that wasn’t enough to sell you on Sherman, here is how his numbers in 2011 lined up to Darrelle Revis.
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While the numbers in most areas look similar, Sherman allowed just a few more catches and the area where Revis is superior is passes defended. Both of those are spots where Sherman can improve. Considering he was just a rookie, he has time to make those improvements and solidify himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
A Promising Future
While Sherman should maintain the starting job for years to come, it is the entire Seattle secondary that has the potential to be among the league’s best. Sherman should have the opportunity to play with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor for many more years, and Brandon Browner for at least a few more. There is little question that last year all four of them were among the best players at their positions.
While there are plenty of stories of late-round draft picks becoming stars in the league, it is rare for those success stories to begin so quickly in their rookie year and even more rare for it to happen at the cornerback position. Sherman was clearly overlooked in the draft, and in his sophomore season he will continue to show opponents why they should have drafted him.