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During the 2015 season, I often occasionally mentioned Jason Verrett as a shutdown corner…or, at least, an emerging shutdown corner. Our scouting grades on him coming out of TCU in 2014 were very favorable. Our computer scouting models at College Football Metrics.com believed that Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett were the two best CB prospects in the 2014 NFL draft. Of course, the draft analysts, football people, and NFL did not necessarily agree. They preferred Justin Gilbert (our #3 that year, to be fair) and Darqueze Dennard (who we rated a clear bust). We’ll declare the victory with our cornerback scouting in 2014.
My sense from watching the 2015 games this past season was that Verrett was playing well, and he was becoming a good-to-great cornerback, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I suspected it was true, and thought I was seeing it, but I wanted to take time in the offseason to study him in detail. To see if he truly was becoming a vaunted ‘shutdown corner’.
As to whether Verrett is just ‘good’, or ‘great’ and possibly ‘elite’, the reason the question is important for Fantasy Football is twofold:
1) We all realize this will be important when considering our week-to-week projections of Verrett’s opposing #1 wide receiver facing him in any given week. Should we downgrade the opposing #1 WR like we would if that WR was facing Josh Norman…or not?
2) I believe, given the talent they are assembling, that the San Diego Chargers defense/DST is on the verge of becoming really good, possibly great. The pieces are there. Jeremiah Attaochu is going to become an 8–10+ sacks per year guy (I thought he would this year, but he landed at 6.0 sacks in 14 games played). Kyle Emanuel is a solid young talent at OLB they picked up later in the draft in 2015. Denzel Perryman is a nice run-stopper in the middle. Jason Verrett can be a huge piece of the developing puzzle…the high-end shutdown corner that Super Bowl winning teams must have. It used to be said quarterback is essential to winning a title, but Peyton Manning just disproved that in 2015–16. One thing recent Super Bowl winners have in common is a shutdown corner. This year’s final four was loaded with them Peterson-Talib-Norman-Butler). If Verrett is ‘that good’, then the Chargers are a smart free agent pickup and a solid draft away from taking their DST to the next level.
Do the Chargers have their version of a shutdown corner with Jason Verrett?
To answer that question, I set out to watch every Chargers game in 2015, watching the ‘all-22’ tape, and focusing on Verrett. It didn’t take long to reach my conclusion.
Absolutely, Jason Verrett is on the verge, if he’s not arrived already, as a true NFL shutdown corner. Watching the 2015 season, starting from game one and working up, I stopped watching as intently after about six games. I only skimmed some of the games after that because it was obvious—NFL teams/quarterbacks wanted nothing to do with throwing to wherever Jason Verrett was.
You’re going to see it some in the numbers that wide receivers produced against him (numbers below), but that’s a hard thing to fully rely upon–because from time to time Verrett would move off of the opposing team’s #1 wide receiver, and of course that’s when they would do the damage…another feather in the scouting cap for Verrett. Honestly, that’s my entire story for watching Verrett in 2015—wherever he was, the passing game pretty much wasn’t going there. I think a huge part of that is on Verrett, but the other part is that Brandon Flowers or whoever was on the other side was so awful that it was easy pickings; it was an obvious choice for the offense. I think a lot has to do with Verrett, and some of this was because of everything else being weak. I’m not absolutely sure whether it is the chicken or the egg, but I believe it’s more Verrett is a ‘no-fly zone’ type of cornerback.
I’m going to walk you through my game notes/summary of watching each game from Verrett’s perspective, in an attempt to bring you along on my journey game by game (again, I stopped after about six games). This approach may be more meaningful than me just telling you he’s good/great. So here are the notes in order of the games I watched, and then when I stopped watching—what my emotion and rationale was for stopping and starting to skip around…
**See more of our football studies at College Football Metrics.com**
WK1 v. DET: Verrett covered Golden Tate, more than not, to my surprise…but bounced around a little bit on Calvin Johnson and others as well. Tate caught just 4 passes for 24 yards on 8 targets. Verrett pretty much kept things under wraps…and Matt Stafford rarely/never challenged Verrett’s side of the field.
WK2 v. CIN: Verrett mostly covered A.J. Green, who had 3 catches for 45 yards and 1 TD in this game…but only one catch for 10+ yards and no TDs versus Verrett…Verrett slipping on the cut and losing AJG by a step on one timing route. It was another game, another QB totally avoiding Verrett. Whenever Brandon Flowers wound up on A.J. Green…it was ‘go time’. When it was Verrett…AJG was a ‘no-fly zone’. Verrett would occasionally wind up on Marvin Jones, it almost seemed like by mistake, and he’d shutdown Jones.
Dalton tried Verrett twice, connected the one time when Verrett slipped, another AJG had a step on Verrett, but Verrett had pinched him close to the sidelines, and the throw went way out of bounds/over Green’s head. Verrett had no real struggles with AJG.
WK3 v. MIN: Verrett played only 20 snaps because he twisted or tweaked something. He was all over poor Charles Johnson, who caught the first pass of the game…and that was it—one catch for 9 yards on 2 targets.
WK5 v. PIT: *Note Michael Vick at QB for Pittsburgh. This performance by Jason Verrett was stunning. He was all over Antonio Brown…who had 3 catches for 45 yards on 6 targets. Brown worked hard for those three catches. Verrett is strong, fast, and smart—he takes great angles with the WRs.
I wish I could have seen Verrett v. Brown with Big Ben at QB. It’s easy to see this as Antonio suffering without Ben, but Verrett was glued to him—gave him fits.
WK6 v. GB: It was either a wild coincidence, or San Diego just did not respect Randall Cobb (2 rec. for 38 yards on 5 targets). Verrett was on Cobb very early, and Verrett had no problems with him, which included Cobb dropping an easy, wide-open pass (which we would all learn later was an issue for Cobb all year). Verrett really played Jeff Janis (2 rec. for 79 yards on 4 targets) most of the game, and some James Jones.
Aaron Rodgers didn’t even mess with Verrett all game. Wherever Verrett was…the play was going the other way. I saw Rodgers do this versus Marcus Peters/KC as well…totally avoid him. Janis caught a 46 yard ‘Hail Mary-ish’ type of pass on Verrett–it was off a missed sack, long-time scramble where Janis made three moves and eventually shook loose. No CB could have stayed with him as long as was needed…and it was still a minor miracle completion.
WK7 v. OAK: Amari Cooper went for 5 catches for 133 yards and 1 TD on 6 targets. Cooper caught a jump ball that Verrett led him into the deep safety on…what should have been a pick by the safety became an Amari stellar high-point leap and catch. Verrett just shook his head, pissed at the safety. Later, Cooper caught an innovative screen pass set up, and Verrett was screened/picked off from Cooper (super clever setup by Oakland)…Amari then took the short pass from behind the line of scrimmage and raced for a 52-yard TD. 90+ yards on two catches…not really having to do with Verrett, but I’ll bet those who grade such things tagged Verrett with ‘bad numbers’ from it.
Other than the two ‘not Verrett at fault’ plays, Verrett was tight on Amari…and they battled. Amari was the toughest competitor I saw for Verrett in 2015.
Later in the season, in Week 15, Verrett held Cooper to 2 catches for 10 yards…but Cooper wasn’t 100% healthy either, to be fair.
At this point of play-by-play watching…I just gave up. I started skimming moments the rest of the season. What was the point of watching any more of the same? Verrett shut off/handled Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Golden Tate, and Amari Cooper. Quarterbacks avoided him. I finished every game thinking the same thing…Verrett is to be feared.
Did you know that San Diego allowed the 10th-lowest amount of passing TDs last season…and were 3.0 yards per game away from 10th in lowest passing yards allowed to opponents? They accomplished this despite a flimsy pass rush, and the fact that the non-Verrett parts of the field were a hot mess/sieve of activity for opponents.
Did you know the Chargers held four of their last five opponents to less than 200 yards passing in the contest…only relenting in meaningless Week 17…when Verrett sat out. From Week 10 on, the Chargers were one of the top pass defenses (statistically) in the league.
In their first eight games of 2015, the Chargers defense pulled seven turnovers. In their final eight games, they grabbed 13 turnovers. Verrett picked off three passes in those final eight games.
I did want to mention one more Verrett game. Week 9…the best game the opposing #1 WR had against Verrett (on paper). AND the best evidence FOR Jason Verrett as a shutdown corner. Alshon Jeffery posted 10 catches for 151 yards. I wondered what happened, and then I quickly remembered when the tape started rolling—I remember watching this game live, and realizing Verrett was becoming a star…
Verrett abused Alshon Jeffery in their Monday Night matchup…for about a quarter, and then Verrett got hurt, and left the game. Prior to that, he was manhandling Jeffery/Cutler…including a 68-yard pick-six.
In the seven games that I detailed every play Verrett was on the field, opposing WRs racked up on Verrett specifically: 2.5 catches per game for 26.8 yards and 0.0 TDs. This is considering Amari Cooper’s 52-yard TD off a screen pass that Verrett got picked on as ‘not his fault’.
How could you conclude anything but Verrett is a shutdown cornerback?
If he is, you know who this hurts (as much as I love him)? Amari Cooper. He faces Verrett, Marcus Peters, and Denver six times next season.
I’ll be really interested in the Chargers’ free agent moves, and their 2016 NFL Draft. The San Diego DST has a decent schedule in 2016…not too hot, not too cold. With the right personnel moves…this Chargers defense might matter again for Fantasy Football.
Jason Verrett does matter for Fantasy Football…awful for IDP (no action going his way), but to be feared for your #1 WR opposing him…and he sees Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, and T.Y. Hilton this year among others.
Side Note: I did a quick Google search of ‘best cornerbacks in the NFL’ to end my Verrett studies…just to see what others might be seeing or noticing. I could not find any national acclaim of Verrett on a ‘top’ list or with top grades from those that grade these things. Honestly, I really question what the firms that ‘grade’ player performances are grading…not just on Verrett, but on about anything. I think we all assume ‘the graders’ are beyond reproach…but it might be that asses are being made out of u and me.