World, meet Richard Sherman. He's an interesting guy.
Sherman is a 25-year-old cornerback out of Stanford, where he also played wide receiver before injuring his knee. He was picked in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, has been voted to the All-Pro team the past two years.
The Seattle defense is nicknamed the Legion of Boom (L.O.B.), but Sherman stuck the nickname Optimus Prime on himself, because Optimus kicks Megatron's ass. (Calvin Johnson had three catches for 46 yards on eight targets when the Lions and Seahawks played last season.)
So here's why we're talking about Sherman today. Last night, at the end of a fantastic if sloppy NFC championship game, Sherman tipped a ball intended for Michael Crabtree to a teammate for an interception to seal the game. It was a fantastic, acrobatic play, and afterward, Sherman ran up on Crabtree, smacked him on the ass, held out his hand looking for a handshake with a shit-eating grin that stretched the atomic bonds of reality. Crabtree smacked him in the face.
Why was Sherman being a dick? Crabtree had been talking. Here's CSN Bay Area in the leadup to the game:
"Uh, no, I don't think so," 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree said on Thursday.
"I don't know (anything) about the best cornerbacks in the league," Crabtree said. "I just know teams. We are playing the Seattle Seahawks and hopefully we come out with a win.
"You study him and you study the defense, the overall defense. A lot of guys play coverages. It isn't just man-to-man the whole game. So you got to study the whole defense. It is not just one guy. It is the entire defense."
That isn't exactly a tank of kerosene and a pack of matches, but Sherman is very loud about being the best corner in the game, and wants everyone to know it. He told everyone that he is the best corner in the game in his fantastic, barking, murderous interview with poor Erin Andrews afterward. This makes sense, because Sherman is the best cover corner in the game.
You might have heard a broadcaster say this about Sherman, but it's rare to hear anyone go into much detail about what this actually means. Here's a little nerd talk to make it seem like you know what you're talking about.
To start, let's go to our favorite individual metric for coverage, Pro Football Focus's yards per snap in coverage. This stat measures how many yards a defensive back's assigned man gets for every snap he's in coverage. So if a cornerback drops into coverage 50 times in a game and gives up 100 total yards, the number will be 2; if he drops back those same 50 times and gives up 25 yards, it's 0.5. Sherman's number is 0.77 yards per coverage snap—second in the league behind Darrelle Revis's 0.72. This is a preposterous number on its own, but Sherman's targets per snap in coverage—the Deion metric, basically—is 9.5, the best figure in the last two years. There's a huge drop down to Revis at 8.8, and another huge drop to 7.7 for third place Patrick Peterson and Keenen Lewis.
Sherman also leads the league in interceptions, QB Rating against, and coverage snaps per reception, and has one of the lowest ratios of YAC to total yards allowed of all cornerbacks. He is a beast. Even compared to this season of Revis (who's been fantastic himself). Sherman has more talent around him (though not that much more), but by Football Outsiders' count, his defense also started drives with an average lead of 6.31, third highest in the league—offenses were coming in gunning, and Sherman didn't just keep his rate stats down, but managed to be in the top 10 for raw yards given up, too. Speaking of the Revis rivalry, though...
Oh, right, yeah—that's probably where you've heard his name before. Richard Sherman went on First Take and just went in on Skip Bayless. Bayless had been taking up the position that Darrelle Revis was still the best cornerback, and it was ridiculous to compare the two. Sherman took up the position that Bayless sucks at life and is a professional toilet brush. It was a trollfest, to be sure, and Sherman didn't come out looking totttttally great, but it's the kind of dressing down every right-thinking human being wants to put on Skip every time he opens his mouth.
Oh right, Sherman was also supposed to miss four games at the end of last season for testing positive for banned substances. Apparently it was Adderall, as he and Brandon Browner were caught with the stuff. Adderall is an amphetamine, and helps you focus—which is probably helpful for studying film and playing football, but could also, easily, be cover for different types of amphetamines, or just something fun to take that the two ended up getting caught for.
Going by the Adderall story, though, even players who could produce prescriptions for it didn't have their suspensions revoked. So how did Sherman get out of his? He Ryan Brauned it, basically. There were some clerical errors in his test, so he ended up getting off scot-free.
The short version is there was a tradition at the Stanford dorms where, early on Valentine's Day morning, the guys would bang on the girls' doors, get them all into the common area, give them flowers, and serenade them with a ballad. Sherman's year, it was "I'll Make Love To You," by Boyz II Men. Somehow, this sparked an insufferable undergrad email chain about how the tradition is insulting and heteronormative, which culminated in this:
To all You assholes complaining,
If you dint like it live in another dorm next year then because tradition is tradition and If your Homosexual don't celebrate the holidayy if its that big of a deal but im tired of yall complaining about a couple of hours of sleep yall are some assholes. Stop bitching and fuckin adapt I wake up that early everyday and I aint complaining so you guys really need to just shut the fuck up. Everyone else had fun so fuck the people who are complaining
This is exactly right on most levels, and exactly Richard Sherman on all levels.
Here he is mic'd up for a Redskins game last season, getting Trent Williams mad enough to punch him in the face. And here he is getting Steve Smith to bodyslam him (not that Steve Smith needs much convincing to bodyslam a dude, but just saying). Here he is pissing off Jimmy Graham before the Divisional Round game this year. People can't help but get mad at Richard Sherman, and he can't get enough of people being mad at him. He's an infinitely more likable Cortland Finnegan, basically.
Richard Sherman isn't a cartoon character. He can turn the charm on and off, like in this post-game interview from last week. He just doesn't give a shit about decorum, and probably thinks you're too stupid to know the difference.
Sherman is also one of the smartest and best-prepared cornerbacks in the league. Earlier this year, the NFL produced a video in which Sherman breaks down game film and reveals the various intricacies of cornerback play:
It's an endlessly fascinating video, and a stark reminder that quarterbacks aren't the only strategists in the NFL. Skip ahead to the 6:50 mark, and you'll see Sherman talking about how he makes a concerted effort to tip balls to his teammates for interceptions when in one-on-one coverage. Sound familiar? That game-winning play from last night was no accident, it was just Richard Sherman being better and smarter than everyone else.
Oh, you want more football talk? Fine. Chris Brown gave the most thorough rundown of what the Seahawks are doing, but here's the bite-sized version: Seattle plays a Cover-3 defense, which means dropping three defensive backs into deep thirds of the field, where they're responsible for any receivers in their area. Typically, this requires defensive backs to sprint backwards into their zones, leaving the underneath soft for easy throws short.
With the Seattle corners, and especially Sherman, though, they are trusted to play tight at the line. They are supposed to recognize if a receiver is going forward with their first step, and if they are, stay with them in tight man right from the line of scrimmage. So you get, effectively, a zone scheme that has man coverage in places where the holes are supposed to go. This will be important against Denver, which likes to run its receivers up the sidelines, where Manning can hit them in stride in the soft spots of zones. Which, god, who doesn't want to see Richard Sherman: Super Bowl MVP?
Image via Getty