What Is A Cornerback In Football

A cornerback in football is a defensive position that is mainly responsible for stopping the opposing team from completing forward passes. Cornerbacks spend most of their time covering wide receivers to ensure the opposing eam’s quarterback is not able to throw to them.

Corners typically have a relatively small stature but make up for it with their speed and technique. This position also has responsibility in the run game but this is much less important than their ability to perform well in pass coverage.


As we stated earlier the main responsibilities of a cornerback is to stop the opponent from successfully passing the ball. To do this the corner back is put into pass coverage. When in pass coverage the corner’s only focus on the play is that no pass be completed.

Pass coverage from corners is typically played in two common methods, man coverage and zone coverage.

Zone Coverage

Zone coverage in football refers to covering a specific area of the field. For example, let’s say the defense were playing a cover 3. In this situation, each cornerback is responsible for their deep third of the field.

This means their job is to protect this deep third and ensure any in it is covered. Zone coverage is very common in football and is an important skill to have as a cornerback.

Man To Man Coverage

The other form of coverage you may find yourself in is man to man. This coverage is exactly as it sounds. The cornerback is assigned a specific offensive player for the play. The cornerback must then follow this player around the field in order to ensure he doesn’t get open.

In most cases, other defensive players will be playing some zone coverage while you play man coverage. This means when playing man to man you will not always be in a 1 on 1 matchup. Other defensive players will often come to your aid especially on deeper routes.

This is because it can be quite difficult to cover wide receivers 1 on 1 at the NFL level.

Run Game Responsibilities.

Despite mainly being utilized for pass coverage purposes cornerbacks also have a hand in the run defense. Their actual assignments in the run game vary greatly depending on your defense and personell.

Though it is common that cornerbacks are responsible for stopping the running back or runs towards the sideline. Since this is where the corner usually line up this position is in the prime spot to make a tackle on these plays.

Corners are not going to be a major piece of your run defense but they should be able to step up when necessary especially if a ball carrier is coming their way.

Cornerback Attributes

There are many different attributes that go into being a successful corner but for time’s sake, we’ll cover the major ones. Those being speed, agility, and physicality.


Speed is one of the major factors in being a quarterback simply due to the speed of wide receivers. It is no secret the wide receivers usually considered the fastest position in the sport. Since cornerbacks are required to cover these players speed is a neccesity.

That being said corners do not need to have the same level of speed as a receiver to cover him. As long as a corner has decent speed and utilizes their cushion well they should be able to keep up with receivers.


Agility in a cornerback is incredibly important in order to react to quick cuts by wide receivers. Other terms often used to describe agility in corners is loose hips. Corners need to be able to rotate their hips quickly in order to match the route of the receiver.

This is an incredibly important aspect of pass coverage for a corner back.


Physicality is the final attribute we are going to cover in this guide. In physicality we mean much more than just tackling. There are several aspects to playing cornerback that require the player to be physical.

First off is in press coverage, when playing press the more physical you are the more successful you will be. This sort of physicality with receivers can be used throughout pass coverage as well, though it must be discreet in order not to be called.

Cornerbacks also need great physicality when it comes to breaking up passes. Oftentimes breaking up a pass is quite a physical process. This is especially true when multiple players are going for the airborne ball at once.

This makes the physical aspect of a cornerback important in terms of pass coverage and run defense.


The build of a cornerback is relatively flexible compared to other positions. The heights at cornerback is less of a concern that it is at other positions. It is helpful to have height at corner because this makes it easier to break up passes.

That being said many players that have the elite speed and agility required for cornerback do not have the height. This leaves leagues like the NFL having some players at the position measuring six feet two inches while others measure five foot seven.

The overall size of a cornerback should be quite small. You need to stay light at this position in order to keep up with the wide receivers. Though there are some responsibilities as a cornerback that are not a large part of the position. Putting on more weight in order to stop the run is not something that is often done by cornerbacks.


On most plays, the cornerback is going to line up near the sideline with one on each side of the field. Typically a cornerback is going to be your right-most and left-most players in your defensive formation.

It is for this reasons that the cornerback is often responsible for sealing the edge and forcing the runner back inside on runs towards the sideline.

On most plays the corner will either stay in their zone which is typically close to where they started the play. Or they will follow their wide receiver where ever he takes them on the field.

A variation of corner referred to as the slot corner plays in between the outside wide receiver and the formation. This cornerback is responsible for covering the slot receiver.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this guide to understanding the cornerback position. If you have any more questions regarding this position in football please be sure to let us know and we’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Leave a Comment