NFL Cornerstones: Cornerback


Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you all agree.

The selection: Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns
Honorable Mentions: Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Chris Harris Jr., Kyle Fuller, Vontae David

Sorry Richard Sherman, you don’t make the cut here. Sherman is a fantastic corner who has a nose for the football and can make some of the most athletic plays by a corner in the last couple of years, but he has some things that hold him back here. First of all, he plays on only one side of the formation. In Seattle’s defense, Sherman does not have to play both sides of the field, which means that he doesn’t always matchup with the best receiver on the field. That drains Sherman of some of his versatility. Don’t get me wrong, Sherman is a fantastic corner, but he is not the guy I want to build around right now.

Instead, I head over to Cleveland, where perennial Pro Bowler Joe Haden plays his football. The 26-year old has good size at 5’11” and excellent awareness on the field. The thing that many will focus on from the very beginning here is the number of interceptions has in his career. Sherman more picks, despite playing one less season. Haden does have a solid 0.22 interception per game ratio, which is on par with both Patrick Peterson and Vontae Davis. However, at corner, it is not always about interceptions. A true lock down corner does not allow his matchup to catch the ball. No one does that quite as well as Haden.

Over the past five seasons, the Browns’ cover man has ranked in the top six for passes defended, with the exception of 2012 where Haden was injured. Haden is also averaging an absurd 17.4 pass break-ups per seasons, despite only playing 11 games in 2012. If we exclude break the number down to knock downs per game, his number of 1.21 ranks better than everyone else considered. In fact, Sherman is the only other corner with an average above one. Haden is test early and often and he clearly holds up well under the constant bombardment.

Haden is a talented tackler as well. He records roughly 4.25 tackles per contest, best of any of the corners considered and the only player with an average over 4. The one knock here is that Haden often get help on his tackles. He has been assisted on roughly 18 percent of his tackles throughout his career, which is essentially identical to Sherman. Meanwhile, Peterson dominants as an open field tackler as he has been assisted on only 9 percent of his takedowns. Haden obviously has a nose for the ball, but he is not the only one in on the play.

What makes Haden the ideal corner is his consistency. He has tallied at least three interceptions per year over the past three seasons. He has registered at least 18 passes defended when he has played at least 15 games. Haden is a force to be reckoned with at the cornerback position. There few players who manage with the same amount of poise and skill at the position. He still has four strong years left of him playing at the highest level. If I needed to pick a corner to build a defense around, Joe Haden is my guy. No other corner gives me the combination of intangibles, talent and versatility that Haden possesses. Without a doubt, he is one of the best corners to take the field in the past 20 years.

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