Maybe Richard Sherman is always embroiled in some sort of football controversy because he never shies away from it. One of the most polarizing players in the NFL, the cornerback is often cited as the best in the game by Seattle Seahawks fans, one of the best in the game by many fans of other teams, and overrated by probably more than half of everyone else. Fans elsewhere sound almost obsessed when they talk about how overrated he is, insistent on not letting one of the most brash and talkative players in the league also get to be one of the best.
But this isn’t about how people talk about Sherman (not really) it’s about whether or not they’re right. Much like offensive line or defensive tackle, most fans don’t actually know how good or bad cornerbacks are; they base their opinions on the opinions of others, or often is the case, base their opinions on nothing more than how they just choose to feel about it. We have far fewer traditional stats to go off of with cornerbacks except for interceptions and pass deflections (which sadly are not tallied the same by every source therefore are questionable), so this is how a lot of those conversations go:
“Sherman sucks. I saw Brandon Marshall catch a touchdown on him.”
“No he doesn’t.”
“Yes he does.”
“No, you prove it.”
“I have won this argument.”
“So have I.”
And then from me: “We all lose every argument on the internet.” - Kenneth Arthur
For most of 2011-2013, Sherman was aided by the presence of Brandon Browner on the opposite side of the field. In 2014, Browner was replaced by Byron Maxwell, who proved to be even better than his predecessor. And in 2015, after Maxwell left for big money with the Philadelphia Eagles, we learned what Sherman was like when he didn’t have a good corner to help him. (I think Shead is very good, just that Williams was not and Shead was still quite new to corner last season.) Playing next to Cary Williams, and then DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane, Sherman found himself more often moving around the field to cover guys that were perhaps too good for any of Maxwell’s replacements. And what did we find out?
Indeed, Sherman is really damn good. Very likely still the best corner in the NFL.
We’ve seen wide receivers like Marshall and Julio Jones score in situations against Sherman, which people feel like they get to use examples against him as why he’s overrated, but they don’t really prove anything at all like a full body of work would. Sherman has four interceptions this season but when you go deeper into the numbers, it’s even better. Per ProFootballFocus:
“Sherman has been asked to track some receivers this season, and overall, he has allowed a passer rating of only 59.1 when targeted, remaining the league’s toughest corner to complete a pass on, going 16.2 snaps in coverage for every reception he allows—the best mark in the league, and 1.4 snaps higher than the next-best figure.”
That’s amazing. Tracking receivers like Jones and Marshall, out of dozens and dozens of starting corners, Sherman is still the best in the NFL at snaps in coverage per reception. We see it in his play every week and the result is that the Seahawks still have the number one scoring defense, and are allowing a passer rating against of 79.9 despite facing Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Tyrod Taylor, and Carson Wentz in the last six games. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle is fifth in defensive DVOA, sixth against the pass, third against the run (and Sherman is one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the NFL, if not the best).
FO’s cornerback charting has Sherman with 44 targets against, with a success rate of 52% (Sherman is “successful” on 52-percent of those plays, which good, but he’s also facing a team’s number one receiver often), meaning he’s picked off 1 of 11 throws his way. It’s a reminder that during the peak years of Sherman getting attention (2012-2014) he might get eight interceptions on 50 or so targets, which is unfathomable. His current rate is just ... “really great.” And that’s what Sherman is:
Now, I don’t want to focus on the opinion people have of Richard Sherman’s play — like I said before, that’s not what this is really about — but I have to include this because you will if I don’t and we want to make sure that people know what the opinion of Sherman tends to be this season. From the beginning of that quote from PFF on Sherman:
17. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks, 78.5
I don’t think Richard Sherman has played as well this season as in years past, but he remains one of the league’s toughest corners to beat, despite being given more responsibility than most.
It’s hard to imagine why a player would be number one some key categories, and also have the reputation for the last five seasons as being an elite player, but be ranked 17th by that same source. Here’s the thing though, it does not matter one iota what PFF or anyone else thinks Sherman is “ranked” as a cornerback. It does not mean anything. Now, you can bet that Sherman will use it as motivation and everything, but ultimately it is jogging in place to get riled up about a low, arbitrary ranking. The important thing is that if the playoffs come around and it’s Sherman vs Dez Bryant, or Sherman vs Odell Beckham Jr., or Sherman vs Jones, you can feel comfortable that the Seahawks have as good of a cornerback as you can hope for in those situations.
On targets into Richard Sherman's coverage, Eagles QB Carson Wentz recorded a 7.3 passer rating in loss to Seahawks— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 21, 2016
A really great player who is as good as he is despite what some people may say, but also because of the information that those same people may give you.