A cornerback (CB), also referred to as a corner or defensive halfback in older parlance, is a member of the defensive backfield or secondary in American and Canadian football.[1] Cornerbacks cover receivers most of the time, to defend against offensive plays, i.e create turnovers in best case or (more common) deflect a forward pass or rather make a tackle. Other members of the defensive backfield include the safeties and occasionally linebackers. The cornerback position requires speed, agility, and strength. A cornerback's skillset typically requires proficiency in anticipating the quarterback, backpedaling, executing single and zone coverage, disrupting pass routes, block shedding, and tackling. Cornerbacks are among the fastest players on the field.

Cornerback 2
Cornerbacks across from their assigned receivers in a base 3-4 defense


The chief responsibility of the cornerback is to defend against the offense's pass. The rules of American professional football and American college football do not mandate starting position, movement, or coverage zones for any member of the defense.[2][3] There are no "illegal defense" formations. Cornerbacks can be anywhere on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage at the start of play, although their proximity, formations, and strategies are outlined by the coaching staff or captain.

A cornerback for Trinity College rises to intercept an errant pass.

Most modern National Football League defensive formations use four defensive backs (two safeties and two corners); Canadian Football League defenses generally use five defensive backs (one safety, two defensive halfbacks, and two corners). A cornerback's responsibilities vary depending on how the defense assigns protection to its defensive secondary. In terms of defending the run, often corners may be assigned to blitz depending on the coaching decisions in a game. In terms of defending passing plays, a corner will be typically assigned to either zone or man-to-man coverage.

The most effective cornerbacks are typically called "lockdown corners", because they can cover an offensive receiver so effectively, on either side of the field, that the quarterback does not throw towards (or target) the receiver being covered by a "shutdown corner" any longer. A "shutdown corner" is most often used to identify a cornerback that "lines up" on either side of the defensive zone of the field of play. In American football, "shutdown corner" is typically used to refer to only a few elite players.


In zone coverage, the cornerback defends an assigned area of the field. Many schemes and variations were created to provide defensive coordinators great latitude and flexibility which aim to thwart offensive schemes.

When a team is using zone coverage, some areas of the field require special attention when defending against specific pass plays. They include the flats (to defend the screen pass and hitch routes), mid range zones including the void (to defend the "stop n go", quick post, fade, hook, curl, and "sideline" or "out" routes), and finally the deep zones (to defend the post/deep post, chair, streak, "fly", "go", bomb, or Hail Mary routes). These are basic terms (perhaps the most generic) for the basic zones and routes which vary system to system, league to league, and team to team.

Advanced forms of coverage may involve "quarterback spies" and "containment" coverages, as well as various "on field adjustments" that require shifts and rotations; the latter usually initiated by the captain of the secondary (typically the free safety) during the quarterback's cadence. At this time the captain attempts to "read" the alignment (pro set, split set, trips, etc.) of the offensive "skill players" (backs and receivers) in order to best predict and counter the play the offense will run. He will base his decision on past experience, game preparation, and a sound comprehension of his teammates strengths, abilities, and tendencies. These adjustments may change on a play by play basis, due to substitutions or even evolving weather or field conditions. For example, defensive coordinators may favor a tendency to play a less aggressive containment style zone coverage during wet or slippery field conditions to avoid problems associated with over-pursuit (when a defender takes a poor angle on a ball carrier and cannot redirect in time due to poor footing).

Cover 1

The Cover 1 defense is an aggressive formation employed against offenses trying to gain short yardage. In the Cover 1 defense, one defender—normally a safety—plays deep zone downfield, providing security over the top and freeing the other safety to rush the line of scrimmage or drop back into coverage. Meanwhile, the corner's primary responsibility is to play on or off the receiver and not release him vertically. Defensive coordinators typically call for Cover 1 formations only when their cornerbacks are skilled at playing man-to-man coverage.

Cover 2

The Cover 2 formation, which deploys four defensive backs in a "two-deep zone," is popular among NFL defensive coordinators because it uses two safeties to defend the deep routes instead of one. The safeties line up on or near their respective hashmarks between 11 and 15 yards off the line of scrimmage, while the cornerbacks line up around five yards from the wide receivers nearest to each sideline. With the safeties able to watch the play develop in front of them, the corners are free to pursue a more aggressive style of play.

In Cover 2, the cornerback is usually responsible for "containment," meaning that he is tasked with preventing any eligible receiver or ball carrier from running between him and the sideline. He funnels receivers toward the middle of the field and may physically "jam" them within five yards of the line of scrimmage in order to disrupt their assigned routes. If he determines that the offense is not attempting a running play or a pass into the flat, he then drops back to defend the secondary. This is often referred to as the "catch-and-run" technique. Typically, cornerbacks mirror each other's zone responsibilities. However, sometimes they play a "man-up" style of bump-and-run coverage designed to eliminate the short pass, where the receiver is forced to the near sideline, which is the opposite of the run-oriented "containment" style of Cover 2.

Cover 3

In a "Cover 3", the two corners and free safety defend their assigned deep thirds of the field, where the corners defend the outside third, (hence the term corner) while the safety defends the middle third. This allows the strong safety to address a full range of duties depending on what reads he makes coupled with the coverage called. These duties may simply include single or zone coverage, being a quarterback spy, providing extra run support in short yardage situations, or to stunt or blitz through a gap or from the end.

Cover 4

In a "Cover 4" each defensive back is responsible for covering his designated "deep fourth" of the field, while other defensive players are responsible for covering the underneath areas. Sometimes Cover 4 is used as a "prevent defense".

Variations of these coverages exist to counter the many styles of offenses a defense may face on any given week. For example, one variation of the Cover 2 allocates the weak-side corner (e.g.: typically the "right cornerback" when playing against right-handed quarterbacks) to cover half the field in order to free up a safety; the idea being to allow the safety to engage a different part of the field, blitz, contain, or spy. The strong side cornerback (the "left cornerback") may be in a variety of different alignments which may include "loose man", "man-under", or "man-up". Although these are forms of single coverage, more often than not his responsibility is usually limited to an initial jam and funnel with a subsequent drop back into the "void". This pie-shaped slice of field is included with your most basic 2 Deep Zone coverage. One interesting aspect sometimes encountered with Cover 2 is that it is possible for one corner to be in a zone coverage, where he funnels and drops into the void, while another may be in man coverage. However, your basic garden variety 2 Deep Zone usually employs the two safeties to share half the field responsibilities, with the two corners funneling.

Jamming the receiver

Charles Woodson and Randy Moss - San Francisco vs Green Bay 2012
Cornerback Charles Woodson covering Randy Moss

When a cornerback is attempting to jam or funnel a receiver, he is trying to disrupt the receiver's route at the line of scrimmage. Many routes are precisely coordinated between the quarterback and the receiver, to the point that a quarterback may throw the ball without looking, knowing his receiver will be in an exact spot after a certain time. Jamming will disrupt the timing between the two, which provides the defense with extra time to sack the quarterback (sometimes called a "coverage sack"), or force an ill-timed throw that misses the target. In addition, a proper jam allows the safety or linebacker to provide stronger run support because he then has more time to drop back into zone coverage in the event of a pass. In other words, he has been granted more time by the corner to recover from his mistakes if he anticipates a run when in fact the play is a pass.

Proper jamming technique requires the cornerback to use their legs, shoulder width apart. At the same time, the cornerback thrusts their arms forward into the receiver's chest to maximize power. When properly executed, a jam can knock a receiver off his feet. Jamming is only legal within five yards from the line of scrimmage.

If the jam fails, the cornerback is usually flat footed and not in a suitable position to defend the mid to long-range passes. When this occurs, the safeties and linebackers usually cannot return to their zone obligations in time, especially if they were anticipating a run as the play began. In essence, the defense is unnecessarily "stretched" to its breaking point. Receivers who can effectively avoid the jam and stretch defenses are far more likely to create big play opportunities for the offense. Therefore, it is vital that a cornerback execute a proper funnel or jam to allow safeties and linebackers enough time to return to their zone responsibilities in the event of an unforeseen pass play. By working together and familiarizing where one's help may come from, a higher degree of confidence is established among the defensive secondary as a unit, with the end result translating into a much more formidable defense against both the run and pass.

Single/man-to-man coverage

In single or man to man coverage, the cornerback is responsible for a particular receiver assigned to him. As the play begins, the corner may either attempt to "jam" the receiver at the line, play a step or two off of him, or concede a few yards and play with a "cushion". Cushions can range from a yard or two, to forty yards in a "prevent defense" situation. Cushion is just how far off the defender plays away from the offensive player he is assigned to defend. When lining up in front of the receiver to "jam" him or playing just a few steps off, it is important that the corner keeps his body in front of the receiver's body. The easiest way for a corner to be in position is to line up slightly inside of the receiver and the ball, and keep his eyes looking between the receiver's hip and his knees. If a cornerback loses focus on his receiver, the receiver will run straight past him, and then it leads to corners having to use the cushion technique. Generally, cushions are smaller in single coverage and larger in zone coverage.

Single coverage in the "red zone" – the area between the twenty-yard line and the goal line – is usually designed to prevent receivers from slanting towards the middle of the field. These types of routes are difficult to stop in the red zone because this area is usually congested with bodies colliding, crossing, and weaving in different directions. Although illegal, defenders are easily picked or screened by opposing receivers and sometimes by their own teammates; this is illegal yet difficult to enforce in short field, congested situations. To avoid this, it is often favorable for cornerbacks to either: "switch" assignments, where he will agree beforehand to trade assignments with one of his fellow defenders in the event that the receivers criss-cross as the play begins, or alternatively, a corner may instead line up very close to the receiver at the line of scrimmage to force or "jam" him toward the sideline (outside) without violating the 5-yard no-touch rule. Corners often refer to this second style of coverage as the "man under" technique.

Single coverage, or man to man coverage usually employs relatively few techniques. However, they are often initially displayed to resemble one another as much as possible to disguise the true motives of the defense, and be interchangeable as well. Although terminology for single coverage can vary, a few generic terms have been included to establish a general understanding of cornerback philosophy and how his function relates to the rest of the defense.

Loose man

Loose man requires cornerbacks to play off the receiver with a five to ten yard cushion. He usually does not touch the receiver and tries to keep his head on a swivel in order to move in whatever direction the receiver decides to shape his route. Typically with loose man coverage, the cornerback has little or no help from the safety in defending against the receiver.

This defense is used to discourage deeper passes, but often allows short yardage passes. A loose-man defense looks to create confusion for the quarterback by using blitzes. The idea is to disrupt the coordination necessary for short routes, which leads to drops or poorly thrown passes stalling the drive. However, accurate quarterbacks with a quick release of football can exploit this and routinely make 3 to 5 yard completions to receivers.

Man up

By far the most challenging, the man up technique grants the wide receiver a relatively free release as the corner shadows him stride for stride everywhere he goes. The cornerback's objective here is to position himself between the quarterback and the receiver, without knowing where the receiver is going. As the ball is snapped the corner will initially ignore the quarterback, turn and run with the receiver and hope the ball does not drop out of the sky before he can react to it. Corners must also hope the receiver does not change directions when it is time to sneak a peek at the quarterback in effort to discover where the ball is. A wet field makes this coverage extremely difficult. In addition, a perfect throw is hard, if not impossible, to stop. This coverage is usually reserved for the elite cornerback with superb coverage skills.Jalen Ramsey is the best cornerback

See also



  1. ^ A Brief History of the Game.
  2. ^ "NFL Rules Digest: Position of Players at Snap". Retrieved January 7, 2010.
  3. ^ "2009-10 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations" (PDF). Retrieved January 7, 2010.


Positions in American football and Canadian football
Offense (Skill position) Defense Special teams
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System) Linebacker Snapping Long snapper, Holder
Backs Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback Backs Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback Returning Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman
Receivers Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End Tackling Gunner, Upback, Utility
Formations (List)NomenclatureStrategy
1991 NFL Draft

The 1991 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 21–22, 1991, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, New York. On that day, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail from the University of Notre Dame, who was projected as the number one overall pick, instead signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL). No teams elected to claim any players in the supplemental draft that year.

The first six selections of the draft were defensive players. No previous draft had begun with more than three consecutive defensive picks.

1992 NFL Draft

The 1992 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 26–27, 1992, at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.

The 1992 draft was notable because for the first time since 1958 one team, the Indianapolis Colts, held the first two overall picks. Neither made a major impact in the league, and the 1992 draft in retrospect is considered one of the worst in league history. It is the only draft since 1960 to produce no Pro Football Hall of Famers. It was also the final NFL Draft featuring twelve rounds of selections; the league would reduce the rounds to eight the following season, and then seven the year after that, where it has remained since.

40-yard dash

The 40-yard dash is a sprint covering 40 yards (36.58 m). It is primarily run to evaluate the speed and acceleration of American football players by scouts, particularly for the NFL Draft but also for collegiate recruiting. A player's recorded time can have a heavy impact on his prospects in college or professional football. This was traditionally only true for the "skill" positions such as running back, wide receiver, and defensive back, although now a fast 40-yard dash time is considered important for almost every position. The 40-yard dash is not an official race in track and field athletics and is not an IAAF-recognized race.

The origin of timing football players for 40 yards comes from the average distance of a punt and the time it takes to reach that distance. Punts average around 40 yards in distance from the line of scrimmage, and the hangtime (time of flight) averages approximately 4.5 seconds. Therefore, if a coach knows that a player runs 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, he will be able to leave the line of scrimmage when a punt is kicked, and reach the point where the ball comes down just as it arrives.

Brian Kelly (cornerback)

Brian Patrick Kelly (born January 14, 1976) is a former American football cornerback in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the 1998 NFL Draft. He played college football at the University of Southern California.

Kelly earned a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. He also played for the Detroit Lions.

Chris Canty (defensive back)

Christopher Shawn Patrick Canty (born March 30, 1976) is a former American college and professional football player who was a cornerback in the National Football League (NFL) and Arena Football League. He played college football for Kansas State University, and was a two-time All-American. A first-round pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, he played professionally for the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints of the NFL, and Las Vegas Gladiators and Rio Grande Valley Dorados of the arena league.

Defensive back

In American football and Canadian football, defensive backs (DBs) are the players on the defensive team who take positions somewhat back from the line of scrimmage; they are distinguished from the defensive line players and linebackers, who take positions directly behind or close to the line of scrimmage.The defensive backs, in turn, generally are classified into several different specialized positions:


Free safety – most often the deepest safety

Strong safety – the bigger more physical safety, much like a small, quicker linebacker

Defensive halfback (Canadian football only)

Cornerback – which include:

Nickelback – the fifth defensive back in some sets, such as the nickel formation

Dimeback – the sixth defensive back in some sets, such as the dime formation

The seventh defensive back, in the exceedingly rare "quarter" set, but often strong

known as a dollar back or a quarter back (not to be confused with the offensive player who throws the ball)The group of defensive backs is known collectively as the secondary; being the second line of defense after the lineman and guards. They most often defend the wide receiver corps; however, at times they may also line up against a tight end or a split out running back.

Eric Wright (cornerback, born 1959)

Eric Cortez Wright (born April 18, 1959) is a former American professional football player who was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round of the 1981 NFL Draft. Before that, the 6'1", 183 lbs. cornerback from the University of Missouri was an all-Big Eight defensive back in 1979 and '80. He played on three University of Missouri teams that appeared in bowl games, and was selected for Missouri's all-century team in 1990. Wright shares the Missouri record for the most pass interceptions in a game (three vs. San Diego State in 1979).

Considered one of the best cover cornerbacks of his day, Wright played in ten NFL seasons, from 1981–1990, all for the 49ers including starting on four Super Bowl-winning teams. Wright made a key defensive play in the NFC Championship game on January 10, 1982 against the Dallas Cowboys. On the Cowboys' last possession in the final minute, after Dwight Clark had made The Catch, Wright made a touchdown-saving tackle on Cowboy wide receiver Drew Pearson to preserve the 49er win and propel them into their first Super Bowl.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Wright's peak performance year was during the 1983 season when he intercepted 7 passes for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns. He intercepted passes in Super Bowl XVI and Super Bowl XIX.

Wright missed a majority of the 1986 and 1987 seasons with a deep groin pull and chipped bone in the area, missing all but 4 games during the two-year stretch. But he returned as a starter in 1988 and was on the 49ers-back-to-back Super Bowl-winning teams.

Wright is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He is currently an alumni coordinator for the 49ers.

J. T. Thomas (defensive back)

James Thomas Jr. (born April 22, 1951) is a former American football defensive back in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers 24th overall in the 1973 NFL draft. He played college football at Florida State. Thomas played for the Steelers between 1973 and 1981, then for the Denver Broncos in 1982.

Jimmy Johnson (cornerback)

James Earl Johnson (born March 31, 1938) is a former American football player and track athlete.

Johnson was born in Dallas and raised in Kingsburg, California. He is the younger brother of Rafer Johnson, winner of the decathlon gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics. Johson played college football and ran track at UCLA. He won the NCAA 110-meter hurdles championship and was named an All-American in track and field.

Johnson was the sixth player selected in the 1961 NFL Draft and played for the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football League (NFL) from 1961 to 1976. He was selected four times as a first-team All-Pro and played in five Pro Bowls. His jersey (No. 37) was permanently retired by the 49ers in 1977. In 1980, he was named as a first-string cornerback on the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Smith (cornerback)

James Michael Smith (born July 26, 1988) is an American football cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the Ravens with the 27th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He played college football at the University of Colorado.

Kevin Johnson (cornerback)

Kevin Johnson (born August 5, 1992) is an American football cornerback for the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Wake Forest. He was drafted by the Houston Texans in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Kevin Smith (cornerback)

Kevin Rey Smith (born April 7, 1970) is a former professional American football player who played cornerback in the National Football League for nine seasons for the Dallas Cowboys.

Larry Brown (cornerback)

Larry Brown, Jr. (born November 30, 1969) is a former American football cornerback in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders. He is mostly known for being named the MVP of Super Bowl XXX. He played college football at Texas Christian University.

Mike Haynes (cornerback)

Michael James Haynes (born July 1, 1953) is a former American football player in the National Football League who played as a cornerback for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders. He used his speed, quickness and range to become both a premier defensive back and an outstanding punt return specialist. Haynes was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

Patrick Robinson (cornerback)

Patrick Robinson (born September 7, 1987) is an American football cornerback for the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Florida State, and was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Robinson has also played for the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.

Ron Johnson (cornerback)

Ron Johnson (June 8, 1956 – July 10, 2018) was an American professional football player who player as a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers for seven seasons.

Safety (gridiron football position)

Safety, historically known as a safetyman, is a position in American and Canadian football played by a member of the defense. The safeties are defensive backs who line up from ten to fifteen yards in front of the line of scrimmage. There are two variations of the position in a typical American formation: the free safety (FS) and the strong safety (SS). Their duties depend on the defensive scheme. The defensive responsibilities of the safety and cornerback usually involve pass coverage towards the middle and sidelines of the field, respectively. While American (11-player) formations generally use two safeties, Canadian (12-player) formations generally have one safety and two defensive halfbacks, a position not used in the American game.

As professional and college football have become more focused on the passing game, safeties have become more involved in covering the eligible pass receivers.Safeties are the last line of defense; they are expected to be reliable tacklers, and many safeties rank among the hardest hitters in football. Safety positions can also be converted cornerbacks, either by design (Byron Jones) or as a cornerback ages (Charles Woodson, DeAngelo Hall, Lardarius Webb, Tramon Williams).

Historically, in the era of the one-platoon system, the safety was known as the defensive fullback (specifically the free safety; the strong safety would be a defensive halfback, a term still in Canadian parlance) or goaltender.

Tyrone Williams (cornerback)

Upton Tyrone Williams (born May 31, 1973 in Bradenton, Florida) is a former American football cornerback in the National Football League for the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys. He played college football at the University of Nebraska.

Will Allen (cornerback)

Will D. Allen (born August 5, 1978) is a former American football cornerback. Allen played college football at Syracuse. He was drafted in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

Allen has also played for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

Levels of play
Play clock

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