In 2011, the Seattle Seahawks made one of the great draft picks in NFL history.
As a freshman and sophomore at Stanford, Richard Sherman was a super-sized receiver. He caught 73 passes for 1,232 yards and seven touchdowns. Early in his junior season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. It was a career-defining injury. He came back in 2009 as a cornerback, intercepting two passes as a junior and four as a senior.
Sherman arrived at the 2011 Scouting Combine but didn’t exactly put on a show in front of the scouts. At a towering 6-foot-2 5/8, Sherman ran his 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds, his 20-yard shuttle in 4.33 seconds and his three-cone drill in 6.82 seconds. Sherman lasted until the fifth round, when Seattle grabbed him with the 154th overall selection.
Sherman intercepted four passes as a rookie — a sign of things to come. Over the past six seasons, Sherman has a league-high 30 interceptions. Safety Reggie Nelson has 26 and no one else has more than 20.
In a copycat league, the rest of the league has spent draft after draft trying to find the next Sherman. It’s been a fruitless search. First and foremost, tall cornerbacks don’t grow on trees, so there are a limited number of options. After Sherman’s arrival in 2011, there were only 11 cornerback prospects who stood at least 6-foot-2 (without rounding up) over the next five drafts. Eight were drafted and six are on rosters today.
Last month, the Green Bay Packers used their first draft pick on Washington cornerback Kevin King. At 6-foot-3 1/4, he is the rarest of the rare.
“I can’t think of anyone” like King, director of football operations Eliot Wolf said.
That’s not hyperbole.
In the 11 drafts from 2007 through 2017, there have been 24 cornerbacks who stood at least 6-foot-2. Only two are taller than King. The Raiders drafted Keith McGill (6-3 3/8) in the fourth round in 2014. And before Richard Sherman was Richard Sherman, the Dolphins drafted Sean Smith (6-3 1/2) in the second round in 2009.
If there’s a poster child in the never-ending search for the next Sherman, it’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste. At the 2014 Combine, Jean-Baptiste matched Sherman’s 6-foot-2 5/8. Other than a 41 1/2-inch vertical jump, he didn’t test well at the Combine — nor did Sherman — but opened eyes at Nebraska’s pro day, where he ran his 40 in 4.45 seconds, his shuttle in 4.19 and his three-cone in 6.69.
Jean-Baptiste was selected in the second round by the Saints but was a major bust. After playing in only four games as a rookie, he was released at the end of training camp in 2015. He’s spent time on practice squads in Detroit and Seattle and was signed by Kansas City on May 9.
Jean-Baptiste is the extreme case because of the sheer scale of the failure but, so far, there has been no “next” Sherman. Of the eight tall corners drafted from 2012 through 2016, only one (Marcus Cooper) was even a starter last season.
Other than the sheer lack of tall corners, why has the search been so difficult? Being tall is great. Being fast is nice. But change-of-direction agility is critical for a cornerback. Most tall players lack that agility. King’s shuttle and three-cone times, however, show he has that ability to make the quick movements necessary to mirror quick receivers.
This is why King has a chance to succeed where so many other tall cornerbacks have failed. His combination of height and athleticism at the position is unprecedented over the past decade and quite possibly in NFL history. Of the aforementioned 24 cornerbacks, King’s 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash at this year’s Combine is tied for the fastest in the group. Height and speed, however, aren’t everything, and this is where King separates himself from the pack. King posted the fastest 20-yard shuttle (3.89) and three-cone drill (6.56) in the group, as well.
That unparalleled skill-set is what gives King a chance to succeed where so many others have failed.
“I think that’s why you don’t see many 6-3 guys at my position because you have to guard a lot of shifty guys, a lot of guys that can really get it done, guys who can stop on a dime,” King said after being drafted. “A lot of big guys, for some reason, their hips don’t move like that, but it’s a blessing to be able to move like that and be at my size. I just try and use it to my advantage.”
Nothing, however, is guaranteed. Big and athletic are great starting points, but look at the second of the charts on the 16 drafted “tall” cornerbacks. Jean-Baptiste, the bust, ranks second; Sherman, the future Hall of Famer, ranks 10th. Being the “next Sherman” is, well, a tall order. Being close to it would help, especially with the road to the Super Bowl running through Atlanta and its indomitable receiver, Julio Jones.
“There’s a lot of big, fast guys in this league, and quarterbacks who can put it on the money,” King said. “There’s a small margin for error and when you’re 6-3 and you’re athletic, that’s definitely an advantage when the ball’s in the air and at the line, as well.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.