MIAMI — Stephon Gilmore has established himself as the NFL’s premier cornerback over the past two seasons.
As someone who previously held that distinction during his heyday with the Seattle Seahawks, Richard Sherman could be bitter about Gilmore’s rise to prominence. But he’s not. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Sherman, now in his second season with San Francisco, raved about Gilmore during Tuesday’s media session at the 49ers’ Super Bowl LIV hotel.
“It’s been outstanding, man,” the veteran corner said. “I’m just happy that he’s getting the credit that he deserves. He’s had great years before, and he was stuck in Buffalo, and it didn’t matter how great he played. And it’s cool that Tre’Davious (White) is in Buffalo now and he’s having great years and (he and Gilmore) are getting the attention that they deserve. Because it’s a brotherhood of cornerbacks.
“I think everybody who plays the position at least watches film of the other guys’ play and sees their technique and sees what tricks and what techniques that they’re using to be successful, and he’s been playing in a really tough defense, because (the Patriots) have been running a ton of (Cover) Zero. It’s kind of a feast-or-famine defense, and he’s stood up incredibly well.”
A Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2018 and 2019, Gilmore is the odds-on favorite to become the first cornerback since Charles Woodson in 2009 to take home Defensive Player of the Year honors. That award, which will be presented during the NFL Honors ceremony this Saturday, typically goes to a front-seven player with gaudy sack numbers. Woodson is the only corner to win it since Deion Sanders did so in 1994.
Sherman, who received a handful of DPOY votes in 2013, said he’s enjoyed the way Gilmore has changed the narrative surrounding the award.
“I don’t think corners get enough credit,” Sherman said. “The Defensive Player of the Year conversation is something that I’ve always thought should go to one of the guys on the best defense — just like the Offensive Player of the Year. Just like MVP. Could you imagine MVP going to a dude on an average offense? Like, ‘Oh my God, he has crazy stats, but his offense is ranked 26th.’ You know? It wouldn’t go. But every year, you see a guy get Defensive Player of the Year but then his defense is ranked middle of the pack or low. I think it’s something about great defense, and it’s selfless.”
Gilmore led the NFL in passes defended with 20 and finished tied for the league lead in interceptions with six while playing on a Patriots team that ranked first in points allowed and total defense.
“You almost aren’t going to get a ton of stats (when you’re) on a great defense, and Stephon has,” Sherman continued. “And Tre’Davious has. But it’s so difficult to get great stats and get a lot of stats on a great defense because you have to be so sound, so disciplined, so unselfish. Like, on these plays, you might not get targeted at all. You might have to be involved in a run fit. You might just have to take on a double-team or take on this block or hold leverage.
“And that’s why I think that the Defensive Player of the Year should go to a guy on a top-five, top-10 defense every year, because that’s what it takes. Just about every good player in this league could be selfish and just say, ‘I’m going to line up here, I’m going to do my own thing and I’m going to get a ton of stats.’ A lot of guys, it’s possible. But you won’t play on a good defense. You’ll give up some touchdowns. You’ll jump some routes you shouldn’t have. To be on a great defense like Tre’Davious is and like Stephon is and still play at a high level, they deserve a lot more credit than they’re getting.”
Sherman received his fair share of honors this season, as well, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro nods for the NFC champion Niners. He’ll be tasked with slowing down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs’ explosive offense Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.
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