Sports Outside the Beltway

Shutdown Cornerbacks

Jeffri Chadhita notes that the era of the “shutdown corner” is long gone.

What happened to this marquee position? Back in the 1990′s, Deion Sanders made the shutdown cornerback one of the most marketable and highest paying jobs in the game. The man became a recording artist, a host of Saturday Night Live and a frequent reason why opposing offensive coordinators hated facing a defense that employed him. He wasn’t alone, either. The league was filled with other talented cornerbacks who were less concerned with self-promotion. You had James Hasty, Rod Woodson, Eric Allen and Darrell Green — and they all could lock up the most gifted of wideouts. There was no second-guessing those names.

To be honest, I don’t think today’s cornerbacks are any less talented than those players. What’s different, however, is the entire environment that current defensive backs have to endure. The expectations on that position have reached such outrageous levels that man-to-man coverage in the NFL is quickly becoming a lost art. The rules, for one, don’t help. When the league decided to penalize defenders for touching receivers more than five yards downfield, they basically “legislated the shutdown cornerback right out of the league,” as one AFC personnel director put it.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown says the rules are so biased against defenders these days that “there isn’t a cornerback in this league who can hold a receiver down for an entire game anymore.” The rules are bad enough, and with today’s bigger, faster receivers, it’s hard to argue against Brown. And for those defensive backs with enough skill to handle those challenges, there’s also the very real possibility that opposing coaches can neutralize them with schemes.

It’s a fair point. As a Cowboys fan, I got spoiled by Deion Sanders. We’ve had Terence Newman, widely regarded as among the best corners in the game, several years now but he is much more prone to giving up big plays than Sanders ever was (to say nothing of being a much less awesome kick returner). Some of that is a matter of talent and style. Much of it, though, is about changed rules. And we usually forget that as fans, judging players only by results.

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