The PFF 101, No. 6: Richard Sherman
It seems a long time ago that Richard Sherman was featuring as a PFF Secret Superstar. I think we can safely throw the ‘Secret’ part of that moniker out of the window at this stage. Sherman might be the best corner in the game just three seasons on from being drafted in the fifth round, and he’s certainly not shy about making sure people know it.
Darrelle Revis might have something to say about that a year further removed from injury and in a better situation now in New England, but every number you look at suggests Sherman is right at that level, and clear of the chasing pack behind him. He may talk plenty, but it isn’t as if he doesn’t back it up.
He was ranked relatively lowly in grading terms by his standards during the regular season despite a league-leading eight interceptions. His coverage grade of +8.8 ranked just sixth among corners and that isn’t entirely explained by a relative lack of targets compared to other corners. When the lights came on for the postseason though Sherman raised his game to another level.
In his three postseason games he collected a +4.1 grade and allowed just two catches for ten yards, both of which came in the Super Bowl. Great players are at their best when the stakes are the highest and Sherman certainly fit that description in 2013.
Almost single-handedly he is redefining what the NFL looks for when it comes to the cornerback position, proving that you can succeed and in fact dominate with a different body type and skillset to the one teams have been coveting in recent years. Sherman doesn’t possess 4.3 speed in the forty, but he might be the best corner in the league against the deep ball because he uses his size and physicality to redirect receivers and ensure they never get a clean, untouched run past him.
Best Game: Week 7 @ Arizona (+4.5)
This game is a great example of grading not always matching up with base statistics. Looking at the raw numbers Sherman didn’t have a great day, but if you look a little deeper at the tape you’ll see something else entirely. He was targeted six times in this game (tied for most on the season), allowed the most receptions (5) of his season and notched a pair of passes defensed shaking out to a passer rating of 99.3 into his coverage that day. So where did all the positive grading come from?
Well he also broke up a pass in the end zone on a fade route to deny the Cardinals a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter as well as another pass defensed that was nullified on a penalty. On that play Sherman breaks on the ball, avoids making significant contact of any kind until the ball arrives and uses his left arm to perfectly break up the pass. It should have stood as a pass defensed and an incomplete pass but instead Sherman was flagged for defensive pass interference and the play is nullified.
An underrated part of Sherman’s game is his study and knowledge of what an offense is going to run on a specific down and distance. Watch Sherman’s body language in that clip, he’s expecting the break before it comes.
Key Stat: Allowed a passer rating of 41.4 into his coverage, including the postseason.
The bottom line is that challenging Sherman isn’t that smart. The Seahawks don’t ask him to shadow opposing wide receivers and don’t need him to so he plies his trade on the edge playing left cornerback and occasionally coming in to sit atop a threat of a tight end in tight formations. Teams are going away from throwing him the ball, but not enough. He was thrown at 58 times in 2013 which is a low number but only ten times less than Keenan Lewis. When teams do target Sherman they average a passer rating in the 40s and have a far bigger chance of throwing an interception than they have scoring on the play.
Right now teams still throw at Sherman enough that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t track top receivers, but if they begin to avoid him entirely then that becomes more of an issue.
The way Sherman stepped up his game down the stretch and in the postseason launched him up the 101 list and he deserves his spot inside the top 10. Richard Sherman is arguably the best corner in the game right now, and nobody wants to throw the ball in his direction. He is the No. 6 player on the PFF Top 101.
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