In his weekly "Tuesdays with Richard on Thursdays" piece for the Players' Tribune, Richard Sherman wrote this week about the toughest receivers he has covered in the NFL. It's a nice companion piece to what he wrote last month on the intricacies of playing cornerback.
Sherman starts out by focusing on Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who as a rookie surprised Sherman with his speed:
"In that Week 10 game against the Giants, I had been out on the field for a few plays when Odell came in fresh off the bench. He ran a stop-and-go, and I had it covered pretty well. When he made his first cut, I was right in his pocket. Then he came out of the second part of his break, and he just exploded — like he had been shot out of a cannon — and he caught the ball for a big gain."
Atlanta's Julio Jones, who the Seahawks just faced, stands out not just for his physical ability, but his work ethic:
"He has great hands, great speed, he can leap up and snatch the ball out of the air — he has the all-around game you want in a wide receiver. There are no weaknesses in his game. But the thing that really puts him over the top is the fact that he's a blue-collar player. He doesn't take plays off. He doesn't jog on decoy routes. He runs every route at max effort, even when there's a 100% chance he's not getting the ball. He blocks on run plays as hard as he expects his teammates to block for him on pass plays. And because he's always going 100 mph, he doesn't give you any indicators that might help you decipher whether it's a run or a pass, or if he's getting the ball or they're throwing to the other side of the field. Some guys, when the play is away from them, will fire off the line of scrimmage and then let up. But not Julio. At the cornerback position, where you're on the field for every play, he's a guy who can wear you down over the course of a game."
Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, another player Sherman recently played against, makes Sherman's list for his physicality:
"When I hear people talk about 'physical' receivers, it's usually because they've just seen a guy who is big and strong, or who has the leaping ability to jump up and grab passes above defenders. But that's not what I think of when I think of "physical" receivers. In my piece on playing cornerback, I talked about the hand-fighting game. Inside of a route, whether it's inside of or beyond five yards, both the receiver's and the corner's hands are constantly moving. Each are pushing and pulling within the route to gain position. Hand-fighting is hard to see when you're watching on TV, but the great receivers are able to get away with it without getting flagged because they make it look like a natural movement… Brandon Marshall is one of the hand-fighting greats. He will use his hands really well to pull or push to gain separation — sometimes pushing guys to the ground because he's so strong. He's great at creating separation at the line of scrimmage by using his hands, and he's just as good with them at the last second, right when the ball arrives, using them to gain an advantage."
Sherman rarely speaks more highly of an opponent than when he talks about Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, so it's no surprise the Cardinals veteran made the list:
"I'll drop Larry in the 'physical' category as well, but he's another one of those do-it-all guys, like Julio. More than anything, Larry relies on his unique feel for the game. He has a keen understanding of everything that's happening on the field around him, and he has an incredible feel for timing, and how everything is supposed to line up. Take his route running, for instance. On paper, his route might look like a straight line. But when he runs it, it looks more like a squiggly line where he sort of meanders off his track. Some people might mistake this for poor route running. But what he's really doing is getting the timing right. He understands the timing of the quarterback's drop, the timing of the route, the timing of the play and the coverage that the defense is in. And at the line of scrimmage, he has a plethora of tricks and moves — head-fakes and stuff like that — that help him get separation. If he gets a lot of separation quickly, he needs to adjust his route a little so as to not throw off the timing of the play. Same for if he gets jammed. Timing is everything."
Sherman lists Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown together in the speed category:
"Here's the thing about speed: It's not how much you have. It's how you use it. If all you needed was speed to get open in the NFL, Bill Belichick would have been on the phone with Usain Bolt a long time ago. Speed — like size, strength or great hands — is just another tool in a receiver's arsenal. And in the NFL, just about every receiver has great speed. But like I said, it's how you use it that matters. Antonio Brown is creative with his speed. He's deceptive. He uses his acceleration and deceleration very uniquely. That's what allows him to get so open. AB has mastered the subtle moves within running a route that can shake even the best cover guys in the league. Sometimes the deviation is so drastic that it looks like a double move, but it's really Antonio changing his stride just enough to throw you off his trail.
"A.J. Green is another receiver who varies his speed to great effect. But he can also jump out of the gym. Like Julio, his athleticism is off the charts. The thing about A.J. is that he's not really a YAC guy. He does most of his damage before the ball gets to him. He's always a threat deep down the field, and he's able to elevate and catch the ball at its highest point.
"Then you look at a guy like Odell. He is definitely a YAC guy. You don't see him blowing the top off of defenses too often. But once he has the ball in his hands, he can do some incredible things with it. A.J., AB and Odell all have ridiculous speed, and they all use it differently to get open in their own unique ways."
Sherman ends his list with a player he's seen more of than any opponent, dating back to their days as teammates at Stanford. But Sherman doesn't include Doug Baldwin on his "toughest to cover" list just because the two are so close, but because of Baldwin's explosiveness and creativity in his route-running:
"For Doug, it all starts at the line of scrimmage. I think he has some of the most explosive releases in the league. But also, at the top of his route, no matter what the route might be, he's equally explosive. We can talk about hand fighting and changing speeds and physicality all we want. But when it comes to Doug, it's all about creativity.
"Football has been played for a long time. Just about everything you can try on a football field has been tried before in one form or another. But Doug is guy who continues to push the envelope. Every day, he is looking for a new move, a new release, or a new way to delay the timing of his route. It takes incredible footwork to do that, but also a tremendous amount of discipline and athleticism."
You can read all of Sherman's comments in the article here.
The Seahawks and the Bills have played each other 12 times throughout their history. Seattle is currently leading the series 7-5. The two teams will face off again this Monday Night during Week 9 at CenturyLink Field.