Say what you want about his post-game antics after Seattle’s 23-17 victory over San Francisco last night, but Seahawk’s cornerback Richard Sherman is the type of defender the Rams’ desperately need as a member of their secondary.
For those of you that perhaps let your Rams’ allegiance steer you away from a game featuring two of their biggest rivals, or if you live in an obscure time zone and couldn’t sacrifice precious sleep to stay awake for it like me, feel free to catch yourself up here. While Sherman comes off a bit brash and over-the-top out of context, it’s difficult to make an argument against the guy’s skill-level. Sherman is very open about his claim as being the top cornerback in the game today, and though he may not yet hold the outright title, he’s definitely in the conversation. Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the sixth best cornerback among those that played at least 60% of their team’s defensive snaps this season with an overall grade of 12.4. According to the metrics, Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis is still the top performing cornerback in the league, as his grade of 18.2 topped the season chart.
What I’m getting at is that, while the young Rams’ cornerbacks made some progress in 2013, they’re still miles away from a level of production that Seattle is getting out of Sherman. Second-year cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were the go-to guys on the outside this past season, and while they show flashes of high-level ability, their development must become a major focus if the defense is going to take the next step in 2014. It’s been well-documented that the Rams have limited cap space to work with this offseason and have glaring holes to fill along the offensive line, at outside linebacker, and at safety. With that said, it doesn’t appear that any veteran help will be brought in to complement Jenkins and Johnson.
Jenkins improved a bit in year two, but his play was still relatively streaky and he showed signs of youth. Both he and Johnson graded poorly in pass coverage overall, and were part of a secondary that finished 19th in the league against the pass, as opposed to a top-10 finish against the run. Johnson graded out as the 37th rated cornerback in the league among players with at least 60% of the team’s snaps, while Johnson – in his first year as a major contributor – finished 44th out of 59 total.. For comparison’s sake, Sherman was selected by the Seahawks in the fifth round in 2011 with expectations as modest as those given to Jenkins and Johnson. In his first year with the team, he showed impressive coverage skills and worked his way into the starting lineup. In year two, he made a gigantic leap and graded out as the top performing cornerback in the league behind only Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield and earned All-Pro honors. Moving forward, his status as one of the league’s best is no longer in question.
Don’t get me wrong, I think both Jenkins and Johnson have long-term starter potential. It appears at this point that the Rams will have to rely on the pair for at least one more season (if not longer), which means it’s reasonable and justified to expect improvement in 2014. Should one or both indeed make a significant leap, it would be a major complement to a defensive unit that’s made great strides in other areas.
The Rams’ defensive line has evolved into one of the league’s most ferocious units, thanks in large part to the duo of defensive ends Chris Long and PFWA Defensive Player of the Year Robert Quinn. Not to be outdone, William Hayes is easily one of the best backup defensive ends in the league, and second-year defensive tackle Michael Brockers is slowly but surely coming into his own as well. Just magine what a shutdown corner could do to increase the already stellar production levels of the Rams’ front four. Quinn might even have broken the league single-season sack record with a few more sacks resulting from tighter coverage. It’s extrapolation, yes, but something worth considering.
I’ve never been a fan of trash talk just for trash talk’s sake, but it’s obvious that Sherman’s confidence in his abilities brings a unique element to the top-ranked Seattle defense. Since it doesn’t appear likely that the Rams will bring in an immediate impact player at the position due to cap restrictions, the development of Johnson and Jenkins should be a major focus of the Rams’ defensive personnel.
A very interesting feud is brewing in St. Louis.