Can I Get A Bigger Corner?

By Christina Rivers

A decade of big-target receivers could change how teams choose and train their defensive backs.  Everyone talks about Larry Fitzgerald at 6\’3″ (218), and Calvin Johnson at 6\’5″ (236) isn\’t surprisingly named after one of the tallest Transformers (Megatron).  It isn\’t just their height that is imposing, but their athletic ability.  Forget about JurassicPark; these guys are the Terror-dactyls of the NFL.  With tall receivers filling rosters across the league, organizations and defensive coordinators are left scrambling to find cornerbacks who can not only keep up speed-wise, but have enough height and vertical leap to shut big receivers down.  My advice:  stop asking for bigger corners.

According to Sports Illustrated, only 11 full-time starting wideouts stood at 6\’3″ or more in 2001.  Plaxico Burress was the lone receiver who topped out at 6\’5″ at the time.  In 2011, the number skyrocketed to 20; four players at 6\’4″ and six at 6\’5″.

The premium pick at the receiving position has evolved, and the 2011 and 2012 NFL Drafts reflected the fact that the trend of grabbing up tall receivers with big wing spans isn\’t likely to change any time soon.

In 2011, A.J. Green was selected in the first round (4th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals.  Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons – 6th overall) and Jonathan Baldwin (Kansas City Chiefs – 26th overall) followed in the same round.

During this year\’s NFL Draft, Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech) and Alshon Jeffrey (South Carolina) all measured 6\’3″ or more.  Two top-ten prospects were 6\’2″ tall.  Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) came in at 6\’1″ with a 78 1/2 inch wing span and a history for being very physical.

During the 1990s, tall receivers traditionally were used to stretch the field. Athletic corners who were under or near 6\’0″ used speed to remain competitive.  They read routes and learned to get off the line in order to disrupt those routes.  On short plays, physical corners who lacked height found success by reading quarterbacks and jamming receivers who wanted to cross the middle or do a short up-and-out.

In 2011, only seven starting cornerbacks were 6\’2″ or taller.  That included Brandon Browner of the Seattle Seahawks.  In the 2012 Draft class, three of the top ten prospects at corner were 6\’0″ or taller – Dre Kirkpatrick (6014 – Alabama), Trumaine Johnson (6020 – Montana) and Stephon Gilmore (6004 -South Carolina).

A little sports psychology may need to be implemented here.  A corner has to appear bigger and more aggressive, even if the receiver he\’s covering is four inches taller.  Corners who have the size need to develop the ability to play press or \’off\’ coverage to gain a step and advantage.  Agility and athleticism is going to redefine the defensive back position unless more high school and college coaches can get guys with speed and height into their football programs and interested in defending balls instead of catching the pass from the quarterback for a score (and trust me, an interception can be just as exciting as a touchdown catch).

The opportunity for change is there (hint to speedy tall guys who don\’t really enjoy basketball or volleyball), but I don\’t think it\’s necessary to change height in defensive backs.

This isn\’t to discount current NFL cornerbacks in any way.  Coaches aren\’t likely to complain if their 5\’10” corner grabs an interception (takeaway) over an opponent\’s 6\’3″ receiver.  That coach is likely going to be ecstatic.

It would be unrealistic and untrue to say that a 6\’0″ cornerback can\’t run step-for-step down field with a taller receiver.  How many times have we seen aggressive defensive backs limit a \’hot\’ receiver and change the offensive plan of their opponent.  I can think of several games when that exact thing happened.

Coaches and scouts may be salivating over and coveting bigger corners, but the NFL has been looking for bigger and faster guys for quite some time now.  If I were a coach, however, I\’d accept a cornerback or two that understand and think like receivers.  I would want high-intensity, tenacious corners who have a refuse-to-back-down attitude and who have no problem covering the field.  If my 5\’11” corner could stay with Fitzgerald or Johnson and be physically demanding – strong tackling skills and ability to wrap up or even bat the ball away – I\’d play him every game.

I don\’t want my corners to bite on every pump fake or hip-swinging juke by a sneaky receiver.  I want him to have a head of steam, good hands and watch plenty of game film.  Then I want him to go out on the field and think he\’s the biggest dog on the turf.  Even if he gets beat, I want him right back on his feet barking and ready to tear into the next play like it\’s a t-bone.

Watch for the \’tall\’ trend to continue at both receiver and defensive back positions as the question of height is talked about over and over again by analysts, coaches, etc.  Meanwhile, I\’d pay attention to the corners who play smarter because they are mentally prepared and buck that system.

How do the Steelers cornerbacks measure up?

Ike Taylor – 6\’2″ (195) – 10th year (Louisiana-Lafayette)

Cortez Allen – 6\’1″ (196) – 2nd year (The Citadel)

Keenan Lewis – 6\’0″ (208) – 4th year (Oregon State)

Curtis Brown – 6\’0″ (185) – 2nd year (Texas)

(New roster additions)

Terry Carter – 5\’10” (184) – R – Louisiana Tech

Terrence Frederick – 5\’10” (187) – R – Texas A&M

Andre Freeman – 5\’11” (188) – R – Slippery Rock

Walter McFadden (listed as a DB) – 5\’10” (180) – 2nd year -Auburn

Read what Carnell Lake thinks about his cornerbacks!

About the Author

Christina L. Rivers
Born in 1972, Christina L. Rivers follows in her maternal Grandmother's shoes as a writer. Christina is currently a journalist for, and writes for several blogs. She has recently been added as a writer for SteelersDepot and 'The Beam' in Pittsburgh. Christina's favorite Steelers players of all-time are Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley. She is active on Twitter @3Rivers_Writer. Christina also enjoys collecting NFL cards, and has over 5,000 individual Steelers cards, some as old as the late 1950s.
  • Rashaad

    That awkward moment when we already have big corners… you have to be extremely agile to play corner, it’s not like being a receiver, being 6’4 wouldn’t likely help a great deal

  • Rashaad – you’re right about the fact that being taller doesn’t necessarily mean better. That was why I said I’d pick agility, athleticism and intensity any day over height. And why I said that corners will “buck the system” of coaches and scouts wanting height. And the title, “Can I get a bigger corner?” seems to be coming out of coaches’ mouths…

    BTW – I looked at the stats for Brandon Browner of the Seahawks. IN 2005, he was with the Denver Broncos — no stats, zip. In 2011, with the Seahawks, he had 23 passes defended and 6 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. (Career stats)

    Ike Taylor has 13 career interceptions, 113 passes defended and 1 touchdown – all with the Steelers (2003-11).

    Brandon Flowers of Kansas City has 4 career interceptions (2008-11), 70 passes defended and 3 touchdowns. He’s 5’9″ tall.

    Chris Houston of the Detroit Lions has 9 career interceptions (2008-11), 60 passes defended and 3 touchdowns. He’s 5’11.

    Jonathan Joseph (with Bengals, then Texans) has 18 career interceptions (2006-11), 91 passes defended and 3 touchdowns. He’s 5’11”.

    We could go on and on with defensive backs that are under 6’0″ and how their numbers compare to taller defensive backs.

    I’d take Ike Taylor any day. My ideal corner would be between 5’9″ and 6’0″, but be the most athletic guy on the team.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Jakobi

    Isn’t Troy around 5’9” as well?

  • Polamalu is a safety, but yeah, he’s around there. Of course, what they put on the “official” list for height isn’t always correct.

  • Rashaad

    Yeah I think ike is the perfect prototype and that’s what we’ve been drafting

  • Denise

    I would have to agree with Christina. Not only being taller you would definitely want some one with those qualities as well as being just tall is not the answer but to have all the other qualities that goes with it as you stated…the agility, athleticism and intensity would make be the right action with these special gifts that they posses. I guess if it were me- I would want those assets to come with the height…and not just the height alone..

  • SteelSpine

    The only reason Keenan Lewis is still on the team is because he is the perfect size for cornerback. He’d have been cut if based on his production compared to penalties. Cortez Allen to the rescue, here’s hoping Cortez is starter-caliber ready now.

    I’d like to mention another DB position, safety. Because Ryan Mundy is still on team only because he is perfect size for safety at 6’1 215 lbs. Years ago Steelers picked up free agent tiny Tyrone Carter off the street, Carter filled in for years at safety at same level of play Mundy has shown. Carter was only 5’9 & light & filled in strong safety alot when Polamalu hurt, and safeties cover tight ends who are even taller than WRs. LeBeau is a magician to got by with little bum Tyrone Carter off the street. I’m hoping Rolle can live up to Rolle’s potential, so he can hopefully a better backup than Mundy.

  • Agreed SteelSpine! I am hoping for big things from Allen. What about Ryan Clark? He and Mundy seem to tandem Polamalu for the most part. He’s 5-11. And the Steelers have a history of players out of Louisiana. I haven’t heard much news out of the ota’s about Allen, but I think he has the talent.

  • Great article. I think that it should be noted Polamalu isn’t too short to cover Gronk and the Patriots. Ike Taylor is just the right size in my opinion. And athleticism is the key for defensive backs all the way. If you can run and keep from getting caught in a pick, or battle for position, you’re gonna do well at that position. I love how you said that corners should tear into receivers like they’re t-bones. Hilarious!