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NFL Draft

Breaking Down Jason Verrett’s Game After Long Injury Layoff

  • The Draft Network
  • October 14, 2020
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You remember that Twitter bit that was going around a while back that had three components of a bar graph where the categories were “talent,” “production” and “health” where the talent and production bars were through the roof but the health part was near zero.

Yeah, that’s cornerback Jason Verrett.

I loved Verrett coming out of TCU, and I wasn’t the only one. After a stellar career as a three-year starter, Verrett was selected No. 25 overall by the then-San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Though Verrett wasn’t a Week 1 starter, it didn’t take him long to get into the mix. He became a spot starter in the first half of the 2014 season, but ended up missing the majority of the Chargers’ season that year with a torn labrum in his shoulder. 

In 2015 the following year, Verrett burst onto the scene as one of the best young cornerbacks in the game. He started in 13 of his 14 games played, recorded three interceptions and 12 passes defended. He earned Pro Bowl honors for his play that season. But unfortunately, that would be the last we would see of a healthy Verrett in quite some time.

Verrett started the 2016 season as the Chargers’ top cover corner, but in Week 2 he tore his ACL. The crazy part about that was that he didn’t even know he tore his ACL and actually played through it for two more weeks before getting an MRI after noticing extra soreness. Verrett’s season was done after just four games. The following year, in 2017, Verrett once again started the year for the Chargers, but after just one game once again experienced soreness in his knee and had season-ending surgery again. Then, in 2018, Verrett tore his Achilles tendon and didn’t even get to see a single snap of regular season action. After four years with the Chargers, Verrett signed a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers in 2019. In that lone season, he appeared in just one game due to complications with his ankle.

Following last year, it was fair to ask if we had seen the last of Verrett. 

But that didn’t end up being the case. Verrett re-signed with the 49ers this past offseason and five weeks into the year, he’s healthy and playing well for the first time in a long time. Verrett has played in three games so far for the Niners (Weeks 3-5) with three starts. The Week 3 game against the New York Giants was the first time Verrett finished an NFL game healthy in more than 1,400 days. He has yet to record an interception, but does have one pass defended and seven solo tackles on the year.

With Verrett back in action, I decided to pop on the film to see how he’s doing after so much time off due to injury.

The Giants game was the first in which Verrett was a starter this season. He had a hamstring injury he suffered in camp that held him back from beginning the season with the team. In that first game, he played 45 defensive snaps, which was tied a team high at 87%. 

Verrett hasn’t made any crazy impact plays to really take note of, so much of his film watch was noticing tendencies and how well he could still keep up after all those surgeries. As shown above, he’s still got that smoothness to him. Verrett works great in the Niners’ coverage system. They have him playing straight man-to-man, as well as off zone in Cover 3 and quarters coverage looks. Neither looks uncomfortable or overwhelming for him.

As seen in the play above, where he wasn’t able to stay straight on the hip of the wide receiver for the clean swipe of the pass break up, he came in and knocked it loose at the end. He showed he still has those top ball skills, even if he’s not as sticky in coverage right now.

Verrett has also been really nice in run support this season. He’s a smart player who is usually sound in the angles he takes attacking ball-carriers (I know, I know, the one play in the Miami game). Pro Football Focus has Verrett at an 88.0 run support grade on the season, which speaks to how willing he is to stick his nose in there for tackles.

The play above in the Giants game caught my eye.

It showed off how athletic Verrett can still be with his stops and starts. He read the quarterback’s eyes quickly and stayed pretty dang close to the receiver on the comeback route. For as quick as Verrett broke on the ball, I thought this was going to be a pick-6. But he was just out of reach to get it, and the extra communication after the play with the nickel cornerback made it seems like Verrett expected him to be closer to the sideline to cut that pass off, rather than Verrett haven't top get there.

Regardless, Verrett was close, and him putting himself in the right position to make that play was a good sign moving forward, though.

This next play was sort of similar in that Verrett did a great job of reading the quarterback’s eyes in a zone coverage drop and broke on the ball with good pace. With both wide receivers lined up in between the numbers, that’s a lot of space for Verrett to cover between them and the sideline. I don’t think Verrett’s inability to get to the catch point there was a glaring example of him having lost a step, but it’s worth observing whether or not there’s something to too much wear and tear on his lower body or him getting acclimated to the speed of the NFL after playing in just two games since the start of the 2017 season. I sure hope it’s the latter because if it is, you can already see the beginning stages of him making impact plays on the ball soon.

For this Verrett update, the takeaway should be “so far so good.” He's balling out there, and everyone is taking notice.

“I was so happy for Jason Verrett. Jason Verrett is a stud,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I felt like he was going to do a really good job today and he did. Just seeing him after the game and how happy he was — he really earned it. He deserves it. I’m pumped he’s on our team.”

"It’s difficult to knock somebody like that down and out because they won’t ever quit," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "A guy that won’t ever quit is very difficult to defeat. And I look forward to him succeeding."

Verrett isn’t quite picking up where he left off as a Pro Bowl player, but it would be silly to think that he could. The goal for the now 29-year-old this season should just be to stay healthy for as much of it as possible. If he does, even if he doesn’t look to be as dominant of a shutdown player as he did before, I expect there to be more Verrett articles written on the future plays he makes.

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