The job of a lockdown cornerback is not for everybody, no. You're alone, one on one, with a wide receiver.
NFL rules are rigged against you. The 6-foot-3 receiver will probably clutch and grab and shove at the top of his route. There's no help inside. But this is what guys like Juston Burris sign up for.
“That’s the biggest thing," Burris said, "have a dog mentality."
Cornerbacks with such a "dog" temperament drive a Rex Ryan-led defense. The Buffalo Bills head coach left Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby alone in 2015 and both were challenged, often, by opposing quarterbacks in combining for 44 pass break-ups. They held up their end of the bargain on a defense that fell from No. 4 to No. 19 overall. Considering offenses, especially in the AFC East, will keep using three- and four-receiver sets and considering Gilmore is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next spring, Ryan will be searching for another young corner to mold in this week's draft.
Two mid-round options? N.C. State's Burris and Samford's James Bradberry.
Burris embraces that lonely feeling along the boundary. The 6-foot, 212-pound corner allowed only 34.1 percent of completions with one touchdown on 44 targets.
“It’s definitely hard and takes a special kind of person," Burris said. "I always say cornerback is, without a doubt, one of the hardest positions on the field. The only one above it is quarterback, and that’s hard. You’ve got to go out there and have a ‘one play at a time’ mentality. You have to win that play. You can’t be thinking about the next play or the play before that. Once you start thinking about anything else going on, you’re getting beat.
"It’s your job to shut down that side so it definitely takes a different mentality.”
A three-year starter, Burris was disruptive in the ACC. He finished with 38 tackles (three for loss), one pick and seven break-ups last season.
He says his mentality, his desire to take on anyone mano a mano comes from his parents. His mother actually gave birth to him while she was still a junior in college at N.C. State herself. Imagining what life was like for her juggling parenting, school, everything at such a young age is what drives Burris today.
Her job was to raise him. His job, he says, "is to cover the No. 1 receiver. ... He's not going to beat me."
So he's physical, he looks to jam receivers in his free five yards. Burris is quick to say he does mix in off-coverage techniques, too. But competitiveness is central to his game – there are flashes of Gilmore here.
Burris gets the big picture: If Ryan can stick him on a receiver without any help, the coach can get creative elsewhere. He points to his games against Clemson, Florida State and Mississippi State as examples. All teams went after him and he enjoyed it.
"You’re giving the defensive coordinator the ability to do things on the other side of the field," Burris said, "whether it’s a blitz, zone, whatever the coordinator wants to do. You’re giving him that ability because he knows on the other side, it’s locked down.
“It’s also tough on the offensive coordinator because then he gets one-dimensional and knows he can’t throw to that one side.”
Burris spoke to the Bills at the East-West Shrine Game and then again informally at the NFL scouting combine.
This is the type of system he'd rather play in.
“You hear about Rex Ryan’s defense and how it’s a great defense for corners to play in," Burris said. "You’re challenged a lot. And if you want to be a lockdown corner, you want to be challenged. That’s the kind of system I want to go into — one that’s going to challenge me and I have to be on an island. That’s what I look forward to. That’s the ideal scheme.”
Meanwhile, Bradberry brings similar size at 6 foot 1, 211 pounds. Long cornerbacks have been the rage since former Stanford wide receiver Richard Sherman emerged as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.
While he cites athleticism and physicality as important traits, Bradberry views patience as the key.
In off coverage, the greats like Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib make receivers show their poker hand first.
"The routes really don’t change," Bradberry said. "You’re going to get your basic routes. The posts and curls and stuff like that. The receiver tries to get you off balance, get you going one way. So it’s really all the same so you just have to be patient and wait for that sign, that signal to show you where they’re really trying to go.
No, Samford isn't a nationally renowned football powerhouse, but it did send safety Jaquiski Tartt to the league last year. Tartt went 41st overall to the San Francisco 49ers and had 65 tackles, two sacks and one interception as a rookie. So what's in the water in Birmingham, Ala.? Bradberry says that Samford uses the same defensive schemes as Sherman's Seattle Seahawks. The emphasis is Cover 3, match-up zone. The fact that cornerbacks coach Sam Shade played in the NFL himself 1995-2003 helps, too.
The Bills got a close look at Bradberry's game at Samford's pro day. General Manager Doug Whaley was in attendance.
While cornerback isn't an immediate need for the Bills, they'll be stockpiling at the position as long as Rex Ryan is head coach.
Bradberry grew up competing at the Boys and Girls Club every day as a kid. His mother worked 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so he spent his days battling his peers in football and basketball. Like Burris, he believes he brings the "dog" mentality needed.
"You can’t be scared of your opponent," Bradberry said. "You have to compete at all times.”
Here are the 10 best cornerbacks available in the draft...
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State (6 foot 1, 209 pounds): Arguably the No. 1 prospect in the draft, Ramsey is an elite athlete (4.41 in 40, 41.5-inch vertical) who won ACC indoor and outdoor long jump titles in addition to his 22 pass break-ups in the field the last two seasons combined.
2. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida (5-10, 204): Undersized but has a nose for the ball and earned first-team All-SEC honors in all three of his seasons; seven interceptions the last two years.
3. William Jackson III, Houston (6-0, 189): Led the nation with 23 pass break-ups and ran a 4.37 in the 40. Long, speedy cornerbacks are difficult to fin, so expect Jackson to go early.
4. Eli Apple, Ohio State: Had 53 tackles (5.5 for loss), three interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 2014 and then saw teams steer clear more often in 2015; will need to learn to move his feet more often and grab receivers less in NFL.
5. Artie Burns, Miami: His six interceptions were the most by a player from The U since safety Sean Taylor had 10 in 2003, and Burns has NFL-ready athleticism. He ran the 60-meter hurdles on Miami's track team.
6. Mackensie Alexander, Clemson: Quarterbacks simply avoided Alexander for long stretches as his line of no picks and 11 pass break-ups the last two seasons suggests. Technically sound and sticks with receivers downfield.
7. Jalen Mills, LSU (6-0, 191): Maybe no school produces defensive backs like LSU and Mills has the look of an effective nickel cornerback. Tough, experienced and can blitz from the slot.
8. Xavien Howard, Baylor (6-0, 201): Howard led his team in picks (four and five) and pass break-ups (13 and 10) the last two seasons. Physical, feisty press cover corner will compete through the whistle.
9. Juston Burris, N.C. State (6-0, 212): Can play outside, inside and relishes the one-on-one combat required.
10. Cyrus Jones, Alabama (5-10, 197): Return ability moves him up teams' boards. Jones averaged 12.6 yards per punt return with four touchdowns, one shy of tying the FBS record.