Over the past couple of seasons, Chris Harris Jr. of the Denver Broncos has become one of the NFL's top cornerbacks. The two-time Pro Bowler is one of the defensive anchors that makes the Broncos defense so dangerous.
Now playing in his sixth season, the 27-year-old has faced a lot of great receivers, but in a recent article on The Players' Tribune, Harris revealed the top five guys he has covered in the league.
Like many of his counterparts, Harris claimed that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the game. But Harris went beyond saying that Brown is really fast, has great hands and runs the best routes. He revealed what makes Brown so tough to cover and what makes him different from other great receivers he has lined up against: Brown's secret to always getting open.
After calling Brown the best pure route runner in the league, Harris said, "Let me explain what I mean by 'great route runner.' It's not exactly like Madden. Route running is an art, not a science. A lot of wide receivers, they always run their routes at 100 percent speed. As a DB, that allows you to get a feel for how you need to play them. But Antonio changes up his speed so that you never know what his tempo is going to be coming in and out of his cuts. It's kind of like in basketball when a point guard uses a little hesitation crossover to freeze the defender before exploding to the hoop."
That constitutes a great tip for receivers at every level. If you run your routes at the same speed throughout a game, cornerbacks can get comfortable matching it. We suggest that receivers should follow AB's practice and change up their speed during a game. This doesn't mean being lazy and running slow routes, but changing your tempo in and out of your cuts to keep your defenders guessing.
Here's an example from Harris in the article. "AB's signature route is a straight vertical go. Big Ben is probably the best quarterback in the league at throwing the deep ball, and AB will set you up for it by hitting you with a lot of short routes early in the game. So maybe AB was running at 85 or 90 percent speed on his last five routes. He's switching up the tempo. He's lulling you to sleep. You think you're locked in step for step with him. And then—BAM! He hits you with a go route. Guess what? Now he's going flat out 100 percent down the sideline. That's a problem."
It's not always about being the fastest guy on the field. Of course, speed helps, but knowing the importance of sharp route running and making sure your defenders don't get comfortable is just as important.
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