Why speed is the biggest predictor of successful NFL cornerbacks | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden
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The 2019 draft class has stirred up a lot of debate as to what makes a good NFL cornerback. Some players like Byron Murphy  and Deandre Baker win with excellent footwork and sound technique. Others, like Greedy Williams or Sean Bunting, win with a great combination of length and athleticism.

While all of these traits are important, there is really one major, yet simple, predictor of success at the NFL level: speed.

Don't believe me? Here are the some of the most notable and/or successful NFL cornerbacks to enter the league since 1999, and the speed tiers they each fall under:

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4.35 and under

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Champ Bailey 4.28 12 3
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 4.29 2 0
Johnathan Joseph 4.31 2 0
Tyvon Branch 4.31 0 0
Patrick Peterson 4.31 8 3
Trae Waynes 4.31 0 0
Denzel Ward 4.32 1 0
Orlando Scandrick 4.32 0 0
DeAngelo Hall 4.34 3 0
Ladarius Webb 4.35 0 0
Total: 10 Players 28 6

4.36-4.39

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Darius Slay 4.36 2 1
Marshon Lattimore 4.36 1 0
Terence Newman 4.37 2 0
William Jackson III 4.37 0 0
Leodis McKelvin 4.38 0 0
Ronald Darby 4.38 0 0
Desmond Trufant 4.38 1 0
Jaire Alexander 4.38 0 0
Mike Jenkins 4.38 1 0
Jason Verrett 4.38 1 0
Marcus Trufant 4.38 1 0
Devin McCourty 4.38 1 0
Bradley Roby 4.39 0 0
Leon Hall 4.39 0 0
Total: 14 Players 10 1

4.40-4.45

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Stephon Gilmore 4.4 2 1
Kareem Jackson 4.4 0 0
Kyle Fuller 4.4 1 1
Vontae Davis 4.4 2 0
Jalen Ramsey 4.41 2 1
Marlon Humphry 4.41 0 0
Darqueze Denard 4.42 0 0
Adoree' Jackson 4.42 0 0
Chidobe Awuzie 4.43 0 0
Xavier Rhodes 4.43 2 1
Gareon Conley 4.44 0 0
Carlos Rogers 4.44 1 0
Aqib Talib 4.44 5 1
Nnamdi Asomugha 4.45 3 2
Total: 14 Players 18 7

4.46-4.49

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Patrick Robinson 4.46 0 0
Janoris Jenkins 4.46 1 0
Antonio Cromartie 4.47 4 1
Tre'Davious White 4.47 0 0
Danieal Manning 4.48 0 0
Quentin Jammer 4.49 0 0
Asante Samuel 4.49 4 1
Charles Tillman 4.49 2 1
Total: 8 Players 11 2

4.50-4.55

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Sean Smith 4.5 0 0
Morris Claiborne 4.5 0 0
Captain Munnerlyn 4.51 0 0
Dre Kirkpatrick 4.51 0 0
Dre' Bly 4.51 2 0
Pierre Desir 4.52 0 0
Joe Haden 4.52 2 0
Alterraun Verner 4.52 1 0
Bryant McFadden 4.53 0 0
Marcus Peters 4.53 2 1
Chris McAlister 4.53 3 1
Richard Sherman 4.54 4 3
Total: 12 Players 14 5

4.55-4.59

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Micah Hyde 4.56 1 0
Josh Jackson 4.56 0 0
Logan Ryan 4.56 0 0
Casey Hayward 4.57 2 0
Total: 4 Players 3 0

4.60-4.65

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Trumaine Johnson 4.61 0 0
Teez Tabor 4.62 0 0
Brandon Browner 4.63 1 0
Total: 3 Players 1 0

4.66 and over

Player 40y dash Pro Bowls All-Pros
Josh Norman 4.66 1 1
Total: 1 Player 1 1

Keep in mind that many of these players are still fairly early into their careers, so there could be many Pro Bowls and potentially All-Pros to come. Notice how the list of successful players gets drastically smaller once we get into the 4.55 speed range. The quality of star names, on average, also gets worse as you dig down the list. This gives me reasonable cause for concern for drafting a player like Byron Murphy high, because the hit rate on 4.55 or slower corners is not good.

Take it as you will, but here are the official NFL Combine 40-yard dash times of the top cornerback prospects in the 2019 rookie class:

Player 40y dash
Williams, Greedy 4.37
Johnson, Isaiah 4.4
Bunting, Sean 4.42
Boyd, Kris 4.45
Jackson, Mike 4.45
Long, David 4.45
Mullen, Trayvon 4.46
Oruwariye, Amani 4.47
Layne, Justin 4.5
Ya-Sin, Rock 4.51
Baker, Deandre 4.52
Johnson, Lonnie 4.52
Love, Julian 4.54
Murphy, Byron 4.55
Williams, Joejuan 4.64

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Conclusion

If you sort through all of the cornerbacks to run the 40-yard dash since 1999, it goes to stand that the most common denominator among the most prolific defensive backs is speed. I tried to select all 'notable' players who were either Pro Bowl NFL players, were drafted relatively high, or had long, productive NFL careers.

There will always be outliers - exceptions to the mold - like Josh Norman, for instance. And while other variables certainly play a factor, such as height, length, agility, or tape, there is no denying that speed is good measurable for predicting cornerback success in the NFL.





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