what does a cornerback do

What Does a Cornerback Do in Football?

It’s a running joke that wide receivers who don’t have good hands end up playing as cornerbacks. While that may be a humorous dig at the player, there are many traits that both great wide receivers and excellent cornerbacks have.

In football, a cornerback’s primary defensive duty is to prevent the other team from completing forward passes. To prevent the quarterback of the other side from throwing toward wide receivers, cornerbacks spend the majority of their time covering them.

So, to answer, what does a cornerback do? It can be easily said that despite their traditionally diminutive stature, cornerbacks make up for it with speed and skill. Although this position is also responsible for the run game, their performance in pass coverage is far more crucial.

What is the Role of the Cornerback Position in Football

Cornerback is one of the important positions in football. On the defense, this is usually the fastest position. A cornerback is a defensive position and direct answer to wide receiver. They are lined up directly in front of wide receivers. Their main role is to stop a wide receiver from catching a pass.

Responsibilities of the Cornerback Position in Football

1. He Must Be Unruly

The main responsibility of a cornerback is to interfere with the throwing game. He can achieve this by making it challenging for the receiver he is defending to find an opening.

football players in black and maroon jerseys playing

He accomplishes this by hand-checking the receiver to prevent him from freeing his hands, following him to prevent him from gaining space and then grabbing any balls that are sent his way. He may also cause trouble by making the offence, particularly the quarterback, fearful.

A quarterback is inclined to avoid throwing his way if the cornerback is consistently intercepting passes by knocking them down or even stepping in front of them.

2. He Must Minimize Injury

Of course, even the top cornerbacks in the league occasionally allow passes to go in their direction. When this does occur, a cornerback’s role is to minimize the harm that is done.

One cornerback may be regarded favorably if just two passes are successfully completed to him in each game. But if both of those completions resulted in touchdowns, it wouldn’t be good. It’s all about quality, not quantity, for a cornerback.

A cornerback needs to keep the receiver in front of him and control how many yards the opposite player gains when completions come his way. He can prevent deep completions by running a route and making sure a receiver never gets in front of him.

3. He Has to Make Contact

The tasks a cornerback is obliged to perform don’t begin and end with the passing game. He must also be a valuable tackler. Cornerbacks must be able to break free of wide receivers’ blocks on running plays so they may participate in the tackling game as well.

They may also come face to face with a ball carrier on certain plays.

It is his responsibility to either make the tackle himself, hold the runner for a sufficient amount of time for aid to come, push the runner inside where additional teammates are waiting, or force the runner out of bounds.

A cornerback cannot be ineffective at tackling. In any other case, he will frequently hurt the defense.

4. He Has to Interact with Others

A cornerback will have a clear vision of the whole field since he will be in a three-point stance when the ball is snapped. He has a responsibility to inform other players who cover the same areas of the field as he does of whatever he observes.

He’ll frequently team up with cornerbacks, safeties, and outside linebackers. Before plays, cornerbacks must constantly communicate to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

What is the Zone Coverage?

Football players are said to cover their respective zones on the pitch. Let’s imagine, for instance, if the defense was employing a cover 3. Each cornerback is in charge of their deep third of the field in this scenario.

Therefore, it is their responsibility to guarantee that anybody present in this deep third is covered. Football involves a lot of zone coverage, thus having this ability is crucial for cornerbacks.

What is the Man-to-Man Coverage?

Man-to-man coverage is the other type you could encounter. This coverage is accurate to the letter.

football player coverage

A specific offensive player is designated for the cornerback to cover during the play. The cornerback then has to circle the field after this guy to make sure he doesn’t find an opening. Most of the time, when you are playing man coverage, other defensive players will be playing some zone coverage.

This implies that you won’t constantly be playing man-to-man against another player. You’ll frequently get help from other defensive players, especially on deeper routes. This is since at the NFL level, it may be fairly challenging to cover wide receivers one on one.

What Makes a Good Cornerback in Football?

Here are some factors that are considered while answering the most asked question of what makes a good cornerback in football.

Body Type – Average Height & Weight & Wingspan

Cornerbacks with heights falling on the not-so-longer side were formerly thought to be acceptable. Being on the shorter side, a terrific cornerback wasn’t out of the ordinary.

But with tall wide receivers entering the game nowadays, elite cornerbacks must, as well, be tall. Shorter players must have exceptional jumping ability to overcome the receiver’s height. No matter the tallness, excellent cornerbacks also are a bit bulky.

In the NFL, for instance, a cornerback should be nearly 6 feet tall and weigh not less than 200 pounds. Without the height-weight combination, stronger, wider, taller and bigger receivers might simply push over cornerbacks.


The main responsibility of a cornerback is covering his counterpart so effectively that the quarterback never even considers throwing his way a wide receiver. But assuming that cornerbacks never intercept a pass is unreal.

A cornerback must use every effort to prevent the ball from being caught when it is thrown toward the receiver being covered. Before the ball gets to the receiver, he cannot directly tackle him or make hard contact with him; doing so will result in penalties.

Rather, he has to have excellent ball-related skills. This skill revolves around being able to reach the ball in front of the receiver and putting a hand on it to knock it down or at the very least alter its path or route towards the receiver such that the throw attempt is unsuccessful.


For a cornerback to be able to respond to wide receivers making rapid cuts, agility is crucial. “Loose hips” is another expression frequently used to emphasize agility in corners. To match the receiver’s route, corners must be able to rapidly swivel their hips. For a cornerback, this is a crucial component of pass coverage.

Organizations place a high value on three cone drills and other agility exercises to train a cornerback. They have a higher chance of stopping NFL wide receivers if they can move swiftly when in pass coverage.


A cornerback should be quick, but as long as he has good instincts, he is not mandated to be a terrific sprinter. Based on many variables, he should be in a capacity to predict the places where the receiver will be running his route.

This might be the scenario where the down-and-distance rule is applied, the receiver’s preferred routes, or what route he is most likely to select depending on how he is lining up.

To predict the receiver’s route and react swiftly to it, the cornerback must also be in a position to discern the evolution of the game.

Game Field Presence

Cornerbacks aren’t entirely on their own, be it man-to-man coverage or any other.

When guarding a wide receiver, a cornerback might take advantage of the field. For instance, a cornerback can utilize the side-line as another “defender” if he is lining up toward the field’s edge.

He may make a receiver try to go open by running forward towards the side-line by shady inside. This reduces the receiver’s field of view, making it more difficult to finish a ball.

Similarly, he may push a receiver toward the interior of the field, where a linebacker or safety would be able to provide coverage or assist with a tackle. A cornerback with excellent field awareness will make effective use of all the resources at his disposal.

Tips for A Cornerback Player

Improve Your Footwork First

Working and improving your footwork is the greatest approach to improving your agility. Cornerbacks frequently change lanes, start and stop, and launch into dead dashes from still positions.

football players practicing footworks

The most efficient drills in this involve shuffling, which involves shifting your feet side to side, back and forth, and all over cones or on specific ground regions. For developing the power of bursting and eruption, cornerbacks have to strengthen their lower body and core.

Practice Backpedalling

Cornerbacks are pretty special at this talent. Cornerbacks are the persons who backpedal the most, while line-backers and safety also do it occasionally.

Undoubtedly, running backwards is a learned talent. It requires a lot of practice and is not natural. To become a good cornerback, you need to develop your backpedalling skills.

Turn into a Ball Hawk

To reiterate, cornerbacks must be excellent at contacting the ball rather than being great at catching it. Really strong coordination between your hand and eye is required for this.

The news (the good one) is that in this situation, you don’t need the subtlety of wide receivers. The ball merely has to be touched; you don’t need to corral it.

One may practice this by reversing direction, racing swiftly without glancing towards the backfield, and then having a quarterback toss the ball their way.

Once you see the ball’s position concerning yours, rapidly glance up, make any necessary adjustments, and attempt to contact the ball.

Famous Cornerback in NFL

Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders was capable of almost anything—except for tackling properly. But since the intimidating cornerback prevented the majority of the opposition’s players from finding openings in the first place, it didn’t matter.

Sanders, also known as “Prime Time” and “Neon Deion,” is regarded by many as the best in his position. He was not only a superb cornerback but was also a wide receiver and a return specialist at various points. In addition, he spent his 16-year NFL career playing outfield in Major League Baseball for nine seasons.

The dual-sport great was known for both his skill on the field and his charisma off it. He participated in several Super Bowls and one World Series.

Sanders started his professional career with the Atlanta Falcons (1989–1993) before moving on to the 49ers for one season when he contributed to the team’s Super Bowl XXIX victory.

He joined the Dallas Cowboys a year later, and together they won Super Bowl XXX. Before his retirement in 2005, Sanders also had a brief appearance with the Redskins and Ravens.

Rod Woodson

Rod Woodson emerged as the most equipped cornerback of all time in all terms, throughout the 1990s. He was a pro bowler 11-time and was capable of everything, including tackling, inducing turnovers, intercepting passes, and pressuring the quarterback.

He caused 20 fumbles with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1987–1996), where he also scored exactly 6 defensive touchdowns. In 1992, he recorded six sacks, which by a Steelers player,came to be the second-most.

Throughout his career, Woodson amassed 1,483 yards and 71 interceptions, which ranks third of all time. His 32 defensive player fumble recoveries rank tops in NFL history, as do his 12 interceptions returned for touchdowns.

In addition, he established a record by receiving the most Pro Bowl nominations of any player at his position (11) and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 after compiling 95 tackles and eight interceptions.

Darrelle Revis

Comparing Darrelle Revis to other cornerbacks, his resume isn’t very impressive statistically, but the stats don’t tell the whole picture.

As a result of his reputation of being a dangerous defender, the seven-time Pro Bowler earned the nickname Revis Island for the field area where he stood.

Any team’s top receiver, including Calvin Johnson, Terrell Owens, and Randy Moss, could be stopped by Revis. In 2009, he restricted Moss, Owens, Chad Johnson, and Reggie Wayne to no more than five catches or 40 yards, while the highest yards he allowed when protecting a receiver one-on-one was 58.

Revis played in New York for most of his career (2007–12, 2015–16), where he made it to the 2009 and 2010 AFC Championship Games.

Mel Blount

Mel Blount, a four-time Super Bowl champion, contributed to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense being one of the best in the league. His “bump-and-run” pass defense, along with his 6-foot-3 stature, speed, persistence, and aggressiveness, allowed him to destroy receivers.

Mel Blount’s “Mel Blount Rule” prohibited contact with receivers five yards behind the line of scrimmage since Blount was such an aggressive defender. Blount’s output was unaffected by the new regulation, though.

Despite changing his playing approach, he still made three further Pro Bowls in addition to the two he already won in 1975 and 1976.

Champ Bailey

Champ Bailey, a former player for the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, was regarded as one of the finest at his position throughout the course of his 15-year career. The talented CB set a position record by being chosen for 12 Pro Bowls and led the league in interceptions (10) in 2006.

The most by any player in NFL history, he finished his career with 908 tackles, 52 interceptions (26th all-time), and 203 passes defended.

In 80 targets in 2009, Champ did not allow a touchdown pass. In a game against the Cardinals in 2010, Bailey was credited with limiting Larry Fitzgerald to just three receptions for 19 yards.

Is Cornerback the Hardest Position in Football?

One of the most difficult positions in Football is cornerback. Despite being among the shortest players on the field, corners are the most athletic.

cornerback keeping pace

The position requires a high level of speed, quickness, and agility. This is crucial since they compete with the wide receivers, who are the offence’s quickest players.

It’s a challenging task because the receiver understands the route. It doesn’t matter how much more athletically gifted the cornerback is, the receiver he is covering is trained to defeat him.

Even with film analysis, playing cornerback successfully requires extraordinary physical prowess and instincts, especially in man-to-man coverage.

No matter how little, corners must be strong. They must have the guts to challenge linemen who could weigh 100 pounds or more than them on sweeps.

On the open field, they are anticipated to take on much bigger running backs. On the goal line, they can be challenged to play bump-and-run with imposing tight ends.

Cornerbacks must be psychologically tough, above everything. Even the best corners occasionally lose, so they must move past swiftly and be present for the next play.


What Skills Does a Cornerback Need?

The cornerback position calls for speed, agility, strength, and the capacity for quick, sharp rotations. The standard skill set of a cornerback includes the ability to anticipate the quarterback, backpedal, disrupt throw routes, execute single and zone coverage, shed blocks, and tackle.

You can also learn about running back here.

Does the Cornerback Catch the Ball?

Corners can intercept, pressure the passer, tackle, and deflect passes. Their primary objective is to prevent the other team’s receivers from making a reception.

Cornerbacks often line up on the sides or edges of the defensive line in opposition to the receivers of their rival team. So, whenever the situation comes, he may approach the ball but catching is not his core forte.

What Is the Difference Between Cornerback and Safety?

The main responsibility of cornerbacks is to cover the best receivers in the opposing team. Although they frequently serve as the final line of defense, preventing opponents from successfully completing long throws into their defensive backfield gets difficult.


One of the most crucial positions on defense is cornerback. These guys frequently have to handle receiver coverage on their own. And if they don’t do their duties effectively, the offence may benefit from big plays.

Cornerbacks must be excellent at making plays with the football, even though they don’t need to be outstanding at catching the ball. This and backpedalling are two football-related talents that few other players must acquire as their game gets better.

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