Every year the cornerback position is becoming increasingly important in the NFL. Offenses are passing and spreading the ball around the field more and more.
From the start, cornerbacks are at a severe disadvantage against opposing receivers. The receiver knows where he is going while the cornerback doesn’t. Throw in the usual size advantage that receivers have over cornerbacks and you get a job where you are set up to fail.
It takes a special player to play cornerback in the NFL. It takes an even more special player to actually cover the receiver and stop the quarterback from throwing the ball to him.
There are two positions where NFL teams can never have enough talent: pass rusher and cornerback. Teams are always searching for quality cornerbacks.
Assuming every NFL team employs five cornerbacks, there are 160 cornerbacks in the NFL. Of these 160, you can count the number of truly elite cornerbacks on one hand.
Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis are on their own level. Vontae Davis and Chris Harris Jr. are the next two in my book, but most people are going to have varying opinions. Others are jousting for position in the upper echelon of cornerbacks, including Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden and Desmond Trufant.
It is time to add another name to this list: Jimmy Smith.
Signing a four-year contract extension worth $48 million today, Smith is being paid as one of the best––and his performance more than supports his contract.
In 2014, he was likely on his way to earning an All-Pro nomination before a foot injury in week eight ended his season prematurely.
Playing 476 snaps, Smith allowed only 51.3 percent of passes thrown at him to be completed. Quarterbacks had a quarterback rating of just 51.5 when throwing at him, the fifth best number for cornerbacks in 2014.
With just 8.2 yards per catch allowed, he ranked second in this category. Apply advanced statistics to this category and he allowed just 0.57 yards per coverage snap, which was tied for second best in the league. (All stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)
If the statistics aren’t enough, just look at how the Ravens’ secondary performed after he was injured. Putting it simply, the Ravens’ secondary fell apart. Already decimated by injuries and poor performance, Smith was the only thing holding the group together. Without him, their performance dropped considerably.
The term shutdown cornerback is thrown around too much these days and only a select few players are good enough to earn this title.
When discussing the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Jimmy Smith’s name usually doesn’t come up very much––but it should.
Jimmy Smith is the NFL’s latest shutdown cornerback.