Someone asked me to describe Jason Verrett's play in 1 word. It's a tough question, because the one position in the NFL that gets a pass, as a rookie, is cornerback. Wide receivers are not only bigger and faster, but they're more refined route runners. Quarterbacks are more accurate with 10 times the velocity and anticipation. Now a days it seems like every running back is 215 pounds and can out run most defenders. You're asking so much from these guys to come in and play at a competent level, let alone a high level. What was my answer?
Verrett has put on a clinic on how to play cornerback in the NFL. Whether you're a 23-year-old rookie or a 7-year veteran, Verrett has put out some tape where he's played at an insanely high level. I'm going to reference Sunday's Raider game, but I don't want to lead on as if it was the lone game where Verrett's play has stood out. He's played at a high level all season. When I wrote about Brandon Flowers last week, I highlighted plays that stood out. I'm going to do the same with Verrett to show he's playing as a complete corner.
Stopping The Run
In this defense, it's a must for the corner to be able to tackle in space. We've seen plays this year where the corner missed the tackle at the line of scrimmage and the play went for 15-20 yards. Verrett has been a willing, sound tackler in the 5 games he's played. He was in the open field 3 times with a running back Sunday and finished the play each time. 2 of those were "stops", which constitute a loss for the offense,where Verrett made the tackle for gains of 1 and 3 yards. Per PFF, Verrett is 2nd in among all corners in run stop percentage. Maybe more impressively, he's yet to miss a tackle this season. If Verrett can continue to play downhill and under control, he'll be just fine against the run.
Putting Yourself in a Position to Make a Play
San Diego plays their fair share of middle-of-the-field coverage, where the idea is funnel all routes inside (where your help is), leaving the corners on an island more often than I can remember. This is why it's so important for the defensive backs to tackle. Before any of that can happen, you need to put yourself in a position to make a play on the pass or secure the tackle. Of the 3 top corners on the team, no one has been "in position" more often than Verrett.
|Player||Targets||Completions||INT||PBU's||Shut Down Coverage||In Position||Blown Coverage||1st Down G/U||TDs G/U||Penalty||Missed Tackle|
This trend continued Sunday against the Raiders. Verrett was targeted 7 times, and was in a position to make a play on 6 of those passes his way.
Not pictured is a 3rd down pass where Verrett jumped a curl route on 3rd and short. Had the throw been on target it was likely a pick 6 for the rookie. The play I want to highlight is a completion on 3rd and 2. The pass was complete for a 1st down, but I feel like in the past the corner on San Diego wouldn't have even been in a position to make a play and the play would've gone for 20 yards, instead of 6.
Here is the route combination, another clear pick play.
The slot receiver makes it painfully clear that he has no intention of truly "running a route." He's there to shield Verrett, and as the below picture shows, it works.
This has the makings of a big play all over it. However, Verrett is able to fight through the pick, somehow still be in position to make a play on the ball, and secure the tackle. He does give up the catch, but the crisis of a big play is averted. Here's a look at the play from another angle.
Verrett has show the ability to break on the ball consistently like the play above. You're going to give up catches in this league, it's a given. It's about limiting the big play. With those kind of reaction skills, Verrett is tailor-made for what this defense asks him to do.
Nobody Behind You
The final part of succeeding at corner in this defense, or any defense for that matter, is keeping everything in front of you. With the amount of single high safety looks the Chargers defense plays, corners are going to get tested deep. The last couple games teams have tested Verrett deep with a pair of 6'3 receivers and a 6'4 receiver. We know there aren't going to be many receivers that run by Verrett, so offenses are going to try and challenge him vertically on 50/50 balls or try to set him up on a double move. Teams are 1-5 the last 2 games, not to mention the couple times Verrett shut down the deep ball way back in week 1.
The pass Verrett gave up was a technique issue on his part. It wasn't because he was out of position. Verrett is in man coverage here. Instead of looking over his left shoulder to deflect the pass, he does a "zone turn" and looks over his right shoulder. That's why it's a funny looking play and it appears he does a complete 180 turn.
If Verrett does a "man turn" and looks over his left shoulder to he likely deflects the pass and at worse makes it a much harder, contested catch for the receiver. The fact that defenders are actually looking back for the ball tells you how far this teams DBs have come.
The final pass of the game Oakland decided to run a double move Verrett's way, and like the other times in the game, he wasn't having it. The difference this go round was he finally was able to get his hands on the ball. Verrett showcased some top notch ball skills on this play.
5'9 Verrett out jumps 6'3 Brice Butler and high points the pass.
Probably my main concern for Verrett transitioning to the NFL was would he be able to disrupt catches just like this. Where both he and the receiver had their hands on the ball, could he win? In this specific match-up, he was the aggressor and clear cut winner.
I'm a big fan of not waiting to give someone their due. I did it last year at this time with Keenan Allen. It's easy to see players with star potential. Why do we have to wait to say it? You don't need 162 games of Mike Trout to realize he's special. You don't need 30 games of Andrew Luck to realize he can play quarterback. I don't need 3 years to wait and see if Jason Verrett is the answer at corner. It's the little things that he does. Whether it's diagnosing the run and coming up quickly to secure the tackle. Or understanding route concepts and knowing down and distances. Verrett understands the game far beyond his years, that's evident. It's the reason he's the answer to San Diego's secondary problems.