Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson: Who’s the NFL’s Best Cornerback?

Richard Sherman
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday I reasoned why LeSean McCoy is the best NFL running back for 2014. Today, we switch gears to the defensive side of the ball.

In May, Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson took to Twitter to argue who was the superior cornerback. Of course, it got us nowhere.

Sherman is the league’s highest-paid defensive player, earning a $57.4 million contract extension earlier this offseason, leading Peterson — who’s due for a new deal himself — to pronounce he is worth more than his fellow NFC West colleague.

Sherman is the key cog in the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom, the most feared cornerback in the NFL, and a player — in my view — that has never backed down from a challenge or failed to play up to the moment. I don’t believe Peterson isn’t feared or has flopped in a big game, but Sherman’s game and statistics are more representative of what you’d want to see out of the league’s top corner.

In three NFL seasons Sherman has hauled in 20 interceptions, largely in man-to-man coverage, obviously the most difficult type of coverage when going up against players taller, faster, and with elite talent. He’s the type of corner that opposing signal-callers point out prior to the snap, then throw away from.

To that point, Sherman’s lone knock is that he stays put on the left side of the field. Didn’t Darrelle Revis do the same when he earned the nickname “Revis Island” with the New York Jets? I don’t think it matters where Sherman lines up up because quarterbacks are still going to throw away from him, and that kind of respect is not commanded by most NFL defensive backs.

Sherman locks down the left side of the field, so no matter whether he’s shadowing the No. 1 or 2 receiver or a tight end, he’s still eliminating one half of the field.

Analysis by Pro Football Focus shows Sherman has been at least the sixth-best cornerback in play-by-play coverage over the past two years, while Peterson has finished no better than 16th. In terms of completion average, interception percentage, touchdown percentage against, and how often opponents target each corner, Sherman wins every single time.

Though Sherman is the NFL’s top corner, it doesn’t mean Peterson isn’t elite. He’s a unique class of talent along with the Browns’ Joe Haden and Patriots’ Darrelle Revis.

Peterson is the more athletic corner, and there’s no doubting the physical gifts he brings to the position. If he comes close to sniffing out an interception there may not be a cornerback in the league you can trust more to return it to pay dirt. There’s no question as to whether Peterson is or isn’t a shutdown corner — he most certainly is — and he travels across the field to shadow the opposing offense’s top wide receiver, and most of the time can take him out of the game. But he is a bit more susceptible to getting burned in comparison to Sherman.

Perhaps we’re giving Sherman the edge because of how dominant the Legion of Boom was in 2013 en route to capturing a Lombardi Trophy. Maybe Sherman is a benefactor — at times — because of the talent he has around him in his secondary.

But for now, Sherman is a hard player to bet against, and because of the chip he plays with on his shoulder, I won’t be the one to bet against him.

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