Outside of quarterback and left tackle, cornerback may be the hardest position in the NFL. Considering that the offense leaves their huddle knowing the play is going to be, the defense is always playing the guessing game and is a step behind. A wide receiver knows the play, knows where the ball is supposed to go and knows which route he'll run.
The cornerback must anticipate and make the correct decision, but they also must have the physicality and athleticism necessary to keep up with receivers who have size and can run 4.5 and under. Outside of the taller offensive players, there are the waterbug guys like Tavon Austin and Wes Welker who can run circles around you.
You must be able to cover, but it's important to offer run support and tackle. If that wasn't enough, a cornerback also has to deal with the ongoing rule changes that cater to the offensive player.
With all of that against them, cornerback is a position that I truly respect.
The Dallas Cowboys struggled the past few years in the secondary because of the type of talent they had. After spending some money and draft picks, they now boast one of the more talented units in the league, but where do they stand amongst the league's elite?
I decided to take a look at the cornerback tandems around the rest of the league and assemble a top-five list. This is my personal opinion and some of the factors going into the ranking included age, talent level, production and upside.
Obviously it's hard to stay un-biased, but let me be clear on my standpoint here. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr could be on any other team in the NFC East and I would still rave about their potential. Without further ado, here are the rankings.
Hands down the best combination in the NFL. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner stand on the top of my cornerback power rankings because they are physical and get in your face for 60 minutes, but they are also ballhawking corners who have combined for 21 interceptions the past two years.
Pete Carroll handpicked both players and they instantly changed the landscape of the NFC West. Last season the Cowboys saw firsthand what the Seahawks duo can do. Monte Kiffin and the rest of the Dallas staff envisions Seattle for their new defense, but it may be hard to duplicate the instant success Sherman and Browner have had.
It doesn't hurt to have arguably the best safeties in the NFL (Earl "E.T." Thomas and Kam Chancellor), but the Seattle cornerbacks can get it done at a high level no matter who is playing behind them.
This is another team the Cowboys want to emulate and the Bears run more of a traditional zone coverage scheme that we may be seeing more of in 2013.
Age is a concern here, but Charles Tillman (32) and Tim Jennings (29) are turnover generating machines. Tillman forced 10 fumbles and intercepted three passes, while Jennings had a career year with 9 interceptions.
Whether the turnovers are a result of a sound defensive scheme or the talent level of the cornerbacks, the Bears secondary boasts playmakers who are capable of changing the game.
3. Dallas Cowboys
I believe this is a good ranking for Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. If it's a little high, well then so be it, but they are extremely talented corners with the coverage ability to lock down their side of the field.
Claiborne may not be Charles Tillman, but when he got the chance last year he went for the strip. In college Morris demonstrated his tremendous ball skills, hopefully we get to see them in full display in the new 4-3 defense.
Carr is extremely physical and also has the coverage ability to thrive in both run support and coverage. It's fascinating that the Cowboys have the perfect combination of a cover corner (Claiborne) and a physical corner (Carr).
It's going to be interesting watching them move into a new scheme with Monte Kiffin, but Carr and Claiborne are simply too good not to thrive in a scheme that is going to focus on their playmaking ability. In theory, more zone coverage should give them more opportunity to make plays on the football.
I took some heat for ranking Janoris Jenkins 13th overall on my 2012 big board, but his cover skills and ballhawking ability were worth the character risks and the Rams landed a steal in the second round. Jenkins struggled in some coverage metrics, but a couple of pick-sixes and four interceptions clearly show he is an emerging player in the league.
His counterpart is Cortland Finnegan. While Jenkins has the cover skills, Finnegan brings the physical element that every secondary needs. In some ways, the Rams and Cowboys mirror each other with a physical guy on one side and a cover guy on the other.
A couple of years ago the Rams had a terrible secondary, but now they boast one of the most improved units in the NFL.
The Chiefs recently added a player who I think may be one of the best free agent signings of 2013.
Sean Smith was a player of interest that I wanted to see the Cowboys pursue in the 2009 NFL Draft. Coming out of Utah, Smith had the size and physicality to thrive in a press-man scheme or potentially make the transition to safety.
After spending his entire career in Miami, moving to Kansas City may provide him with the change of scenery he needs and now he will be playing across from another very good cornerback in Brandon Flowers.
Flowers isn't a household name either and he's one of the more underrated players in the NFL. Neither cornerback generates a lot of interceptions, but they could unite and form to be a dangerous unit in 2013.
Initially I wanted to only list five teams, but I had trouble leaving either the Chiefs or Packers off of the rankings. Green Bay boasts an extremely deep cornerback unit and they landed a gem in last year's draft.
Casey Hayward lasted until the 62nd pick and his ability to play in zone coverage and rack up the interceptions were evident during his days at Vanderbilt. He had six interceptions in his rookie season and he thrived next to Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
Williams didn't have a great season, but look for him to come back strong in 2013. The Packers have one of the best secondaries in the league and could move up this list in no time.
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