The Primacy of the Secondary: Who is the NFL's Best Corner?

A new breed of freociously talented cornerbacks are becoming the game's true superstars.

Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals.
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Patrick Peterson swims with bull sharks, aquatic monsters that eat mailboxes for lunch off Bora Bora. He jumps out of Cessnas and yearns to take up drifting, because where's the fun in tuning hotfoot Chevelles if you can't slide through a corner doing 90? He even likes training in burnt-sole heat, running ladders in 120-degree Tempe after the rest of his team has hightailed it inside, gasping for air and electrolytes.

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There's something screwy about a guy who mocks death for pleasure, but you can't be quite right and do what Peterson does 16 weekends a year: go head-up all day against the biggest, baddest receivers around ­ – Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Julio Jones. Wherever they go, it's his job to follow, sprinting stride for stride along the hash marks with the ball in flight and the game clock burning. One mistake, one, and there goes his Sunday – or his season, since he plays in the NFC West, where his Arizona Cardinals will dogfight all year with the Super Bowl–champion Seattle Seahawks and the team they edged to get there, the San Francisco 49ers.

Peterson, 24, is one of the rarest of birds: a premium lockdown cornerback in the NFL. In a sport that's become a rolling-thunder air war of five-receiver sets and bunch formations, three assets are prized above all others: the franchise passer who can make every throw; the stellar defensive end who wreaks havoc in the pocket despite facing two blockers on every pass-rush; and the cornerback who takes your top wideout away and forces you to go to Plan B.

By broad consensus – though in no fixed order – there are four men today who fit the bill: Darrelle Revis, the New England Patriots' off-season steal who, at 29, has firmly entrenched himself as the best cover corner since Deion Sanders; Richard Sherman, the fire-spitting Seahawk who led the league in pickoffs and post-game shit-talk; Joe Haden, the whippet-fast Cleveland Browns ace, whom no one's really thrown at in three years; and Peterson, the youngest of the bunch and, by any objective measure, the most gifted.

But don't try telling that to Sherman, who's repeatedly taken swipes at Peterson in the offseason and considers himself to be the premiere corner in the league. Naturally, Peterson disagrees with that assessment. Neither man is likely to back down: After all, Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman do not like each other.

Read more on the rivalry between the two standout corners, and how they've helped usher in a new era in the NFL, at Men's Journal.