Casey Hayward, the Packers talented cornerback, started just seven games during his inaugural NFL season in 2012, but just five Packers defenders played more snaps than Hayward's 683 (according to Football Outsiders), roughly 63 percent of all defensive plays during the regular season.
Injuries thrust Hayward into a starting role on occasion, but for much of 2012, he was a third cornerback, called upon to fill what many refer to as the "Star" role. That a team's Star routinely plays more snaps than some of its front seven players (typically rotational defensive linemen) is an illustration of the passing trend that has gripped the NFL in recent years.
Teams don't need just quality cornerbacks, they need multiple quality cornerbacks.
Complicating the matter is that cornerbacks are hard to find. Some personnel men believe it's the most difficult position to scout on defense.
There are many desirable traits among the ideal cornerback -- reactive athleticism, instincts, ball skills and route recognition among them -- but not all cornerbacks are built the same. Size, speed and frames vary among cornerbacks, as do the ways teams use them within their defensive schemes.
While a player like Darrelle Revis is regarded to be at the top of his craft for his ability to take on just about any assignment for his position, there are others who thrive in specific niches. The ability of teams to identify those CBs and maximize their specific skill sets is imperative in today's NFL. And that context also casts some light on players who may not be mentioned in the same breath as Revis, but who deserve high praise for strong contributions in their own little niche.
Below are five examples of different types of cornerbacks who have particular success within a certain role. (Note: Their contributions could extend beyond those roles.) Each serves a valuable function within their defense, but none plays a carbon copy game of the others.
1. Press-man cornerback
Role description: Browner, an imposing 6-foot-4, 221-pounder, is one half of perhaps the best cornerback duo in football. Seattle relies heavily upon single-high safety schemes and is unafraid to put their cornerbacks on an island on the perimeter and assign them the task of isolating on a receiver. Browner has the unique length and power to jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage, the swivel in his hips to turn and run when a receiver works past his press and the on-ball skills to make competitive catch situations a nightmare for receivers. Browner's length allows him to lean on receivers early in their routes while also helping to mitigate his modest straight-line speed (4.63 40 time).