Jason Verrett is injury-prone, but also one of the most purely talented corners in football. Should the Jets reunite him with Robert Saleh?
Elite coverage in 2020
playing 13 games for the 49ers – his first season with more than four appearances since 2015 – Jason Verrett was a star in 2020. He picked up right where he left off when he appeared to be on his way to becoming one of the league’s best corners for the Chargers way back in 2015.
At 29 years old and in his seventh NFL season, Verrett provided some of the best coverage in football this past season. Here are some of his numbers and where they ranked among 129 qualified cornerbacks:
- 76.3 passer rating allowed (88th percentile)
- 0.82 yards per cover snap allowed (91st percentile)
- 76.1 Pro Football Focus coverage grade (89th percentile)
Over 491 snaps in coverage, Verrett was targeted 63 times and allowed 43 catches for 382 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
In addition, Verrett did a great job of avoiding penalties. He was penalized just twice over 803 defensive snaps. That’s one penalty per 401.5 snaps, more than twice as infrequent as the 2020 average for cornerbacks (169.7).
Established track record of elite play
Verrett has a very small sample of NFL tape on his resume for a seven-year veteran – even with all of those years in the league, his 2020 season alone makes up 33.3% of his career games and 38.7% of his career defensive snaps – but when he has been on the field, he has been outstanding on a highly consistent basis.
Weighting Verrett’s season-by-season PFF grades according to his snap counts, he owns a composite career overall PFF grade of 79.3. That’s a mark that would have ranked ninth-best (94th percentile) among qualified cornerbacks in 2020.
Verrett has a total of 26 career passes defended over 1,292 coverage snaps and 189 targets in his direction. Those numbers give him rates of one pass defended per 49.7 coverage snaps and a pass defended on 13.8% of his targets. Both marks are substantially better than the 2020 league average for cornerbacks (64.4 and 10.8%, respectively).
A 2014 first-round pick (25th overall) out of TCU, Verrett was quickly growing into a star for the Chargers over his first two seasons. Even with all of the missed time since then (58 missed games from 2016-19), it looks like he still has plenty of top-end talent left in the tank.
Coaches should not have to worry about Verrett being a liability in run support, at least based on his performance from last season. His 76.2 run defense grade at PFF in 2020 ranked at the 89th percentile among qualified cornerbacks.
It’s not often you see Verrett miss a tackle. Over the course of his career, Verrett has 140 tackles and 14 missed tackles, giving him a miss rate of 9.1%. That’s well below the 2020 positional average for cornerbacks (12.9%).
Seeing Verrett on your television screen on Sunday has been rarer than seeing a blue moon. Since being drafted in 2014, Verrett has played only 39 out of 112 possible regular season games (34.8%), an average of 5.6 games per year.
Verrett played 14 games in 2015 and 13 in 2020, but other than that, he has almost never been on the field.
As a rookie, Verrett missed 10 games due to hamstring and shoulder injuries.
After staying mostly durable with 14 games played in his second season, Verrett played six games over a four-season span from 2016-19. His 2016 season ended after four games due to an ACL injury. In 2017, he played only one game until knee surgery ended his season. The following year, Verrett tore his Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp and missed the entire season. Joining the 49ers in 2019, Verrett only played one game due to an ankle injury.
In 2020, Verrett missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring issue, and he would later miss San Francisco’s Week 15 game with a non-COVID-19 illness.
Potential downturn in run defense
While Verrett graded excellently against the run in 2020, he did not fare nearly as well in his only other mostly-healthy season. In 2015, Verrett had a 49.1 run defense grade at PFF that ranked 11th-worst out of 131 qualifiers (8th percentile).
With one tremendous season and one terrible season under his belt against the run, it’s anybody’s guess as to what Verrett will do in this phase going forward. It seems more likely that he will lean towards his 2020 performance as a run defender, which, obviously, is far more recent than his 2015 season, but his past struggles have to be taken into account.
Verrett will turn 30 years old in June. It’s always a concern when a cornerback approaches that 30-year-old wall, but for a player like Verrett who has glass bones and paper skin, it is even more concerning than usual.
When watching Verrett, what stands out most are his instincts. He has excellent awareness and play recognition. These traits are essential for the outside cornerbacks in Robert Saleh’s defense, as they are typically asked to keep their eyes on the quarterback and make smart decisions.
On the following goal-line play, Verrett sprints into the flat step-for-step with the innermost wide receiver in the bunch set, shutting down the route. Then, with his eyes fixated on Jared Goff, Verrett notices Goff turn his attention to the corner route in the back of the end zone. Verrett instinctively peels off of his assignment and springs to the back corner of the end zone for an interception. Beautiful play.