Richard Sherman has never been nervous to make bold declarations concerning himself, opponents, or even up-and-coming Seattle Seahawks teammates. One of the most cerebral figures in the NFL, Sherm crafts his sentences carefully. A statement he made just days ago still stands out.
After an open training camp practice last week, Sherman put his money on Tharold Simon living up to his sky-high potential:
“[Simon is] an incredible athlete. He’s going to be a great ballplayer. I continue to stand by what I’ve always said. He’s going to be better than me by the time it’s all said and done. Kid’s a player. He just needs to put it all together and, hopefully, this season, he can stay healthy and it will be a fantastic year for him.”
This is high praise coming from likely the best cornerback in the league. It’s easy to vocalize hyperbole when lauding a positional teammate, but Sherman doesn’t make claims like this for everyone. Is it possible that Simon could eventually outshine his elite corner comrade?
He certainly has athleticism on his side. Fitting the “Seahawky” cornerback mold to a T, he stands at 6’3” and possesses 32.75” arms. The extraordinary combination of height and length are reminiscent of Sherman himself. Simon’s ability to channel his natural physicality into sure tackling is generally taken for granted:
On 3rd and 7, Simon plays off of Tavon Austin and allows him to run a crossing route. As soon as Austin receives the pass, Simon closes and rips Austin to the ground to force a punt. The situational awareness showcased in this play is additionally promising.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t always shown great discipline, which is exemplified in an obvious defensive pass interference call:
Simon gets a bit carried away on 3rd down in coverage on Brian Quick and ends up taking him to the ground. That can’t happen on critical downs, especially on the road against stingy teams like the Rams. Sherman has honed his technique into a consistently flawless display. Simon must prove he has learned to channel his physicality into consistently disciplined technique.
He has also had trouble in the past with quicker receivers, most notably in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. Keeping in mind that he was playing through a significant shoulder injury, Simon looked overmatched against Tom Brady throwing to Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman:
Simon is sluggish to recognize and react to LaFell’s slant, resulting in an effortless touchdown for New England. The second touchdown he gave up proved to be the game-winner for the Patriots and it is not for the faint of heart. Simon looked lost in coverage too often during the Super Bowl, which cannot happen in 2016.
Simon doesn’t always seem disoriented when covering. It’s just a lack of consistency that betrays his ability. His sole regular season interception came in 2014 against Mark Sanchez’s high flying Eagles:
Beginning the play in off coverage, Simon accelerates and runs easily with Riley Cooper on a vertical route up the field. When Cooper shakes inside, Simon begins to slow down. A better throw could have been a deep gain, but Simon recognizes who the opposing quarterback is and undercuts the pass for the easy interception.
The most impressive play of Simon’s career occurred in the 2014 preseason and actually did not count due to a penalty:
Simon mirrors Dontrelle Inman at the line of scrimmage, making sure to keep inside position as he carries the receiver into the end zone. His eyes are on the quarterback the entire time. The combination of awareness and flawless positioning result in a 105-yard pick six.
The play was nullified as Simon was called on illegal contact, but that was a truly ticky-tacky call. The NFL later admitted that the flag should not have been thrown.
That interception is the greatest indicator of the type of cornerback Simon can become. Injuries have ravaged his career to this point. He has only taken meaningful snaps during the 2014 season, as he didn’t play as a rookie and he missed the entire 2015 season due to a toe injury.
This is a contract year for Simon, who looks to score big on the open market after the season ends. Reports from training camp indicate that Simon has looked good thus far, taking reps with the first team defense while battling against Deshawn Shead and Jeremy Lane. Richard Sherman apparently likes what he sees. Pete Carroll has also gushed about Simon’s play in camp.
If Simon can retain health and discipline and isn’t asked to cover smaller, shiftier receivers very often, he has the ability to turn in a prolific season. His physicality, when managed correctly, can be a great asset to the Seattle defense opposite of Sherman.
The question remains whether or not Simon can eventually rise above Sherman’s level of play. I don’t believe that day will ever come. Sherman’s technical style of play allows him to cover any player, regardless of skillset, at an elite level. His durability has never been questioned and he has demonstrated elite ability since his rookie season in 2011.
I trust Sherman’s assessment to an extent, as he knows cornerback play better than all of us. I believe that Simon can and – if health allows it – will become a very solid corner in this league. But I do think that Sherman exaggerated a bit. I don’t expect Simon to overtake him.
Sherm is simply the best.