RENTON, Wash. – The moments that define Richard Sherman are the big ones. But what distances him from the pack are the smaller, subtler moments you probably don’t think twice about.
“To appreciate Richard’s play you have to watch every snap,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We sat down an offseason ago and looked at every snap when somebody threw the ball in his area and saw the consistency of challenging just play after play after play. His consistency to always be on everything in his area is really what separates him. Because some guys make the plays, but they’re just not there play after play.”
Sherman became the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history Wednesday and with good reason. He leads the NFL in interceptions and pass breakups since entering the league in 2011. He’s picked off eight passes in each of the past two seasons to make him the first player to post back-to-back, eight-interception seasons since Champ Bailey in 2005 and 2006.
When asked last year if he wanted to be an island, like the nickname given to New England shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis, Sherman said, “I want to be a tourist attraction. You come, I take your money and you go.”
Sherman went stretches last season where teams rarely tested him, but he still led the league in interceptions and finished second in passes defended. He was susceptible at times to double moves – a pump and go, for example – but his gambling is calculated and usually pays off. And he hardly got beat when teams challenged him on deep passes. Safety Kam Chancellor said Sherman went after the ball like a wide receiver.
“Just ask yourself: How many true No. 1 receivers are there in the NFL?” said former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo. “Maybe five or six? You’re not talking about a lot. He can take any one of those and probably hold his own. You take the other 20 to 25 teams, and he dominates their best receiver.
“Anytime you can take the best receiver out of the game, that really allows you to do things. It gives you an extra guy to play with scheme-wise. I guess the best way to say it is what he does gives you a 12th man to play with.”
Sherman is at his best when he’s playing bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage. His long arms and tenacity allow him to reroute receivers, and he studies enough film to pick up on tendencies. Sherman once said that if he’s walking around relaxed at the line of scrimmage, with his arms lackadaisically dangling at his side, he knows what’s coming and wants to bait the offense.
“Some corners are good at different phases of man coverage, whether it’s pressing at the line, maintaining leverage or finishing on the ball,” said former scout and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. “Richard is good at all three. That’s unique and why he’s considered one of the best.
“He’s a guy who does just about everything you would want him to do in the back end and does it all very, very well. Whether it be cover slot guys, outside guys, tight ends, play press, play zone or tackle. And he’s going to play his best in the big moments. That’s really what it’s about.”