A nickel corner in football is a defensive player that is typically responsible for covering slot receivers or running backs in pass coverage. The nickel corner is the fifth defensive back on the field and is the namesake for the nickel defense.
The number one responsibility of a nickel corner is to be proficient in pass coverage. A nickel corner only gets on the field when the defense uses a nickel defense. In this defene the nickel back will replace a linebacker or defensive lineman.
This type of defense is typically used when the opposing team is going to pass the ball. In other words, nickel corners are almost exclusively used in pass defense. In order to play this position effectively, these corners must be able to cover their assignment consistently.
Though running against a nickel defense is not common it still does happen. In these situations, the nickel corner has run game responsibilities.
On these plays, the nickel corner will have to make up for a lack of size and do his best to stop the run. This is typically not the forte of nickel corners but if they want to stay on the field they must be able to handle this responsibility as well.
On some occasions, the defensive coordinator may ask the nickel corner to blitz. This means the corners only purpose during the play is to chase down and tackle the cornerback.
This is not a major part of a nickel corners game but most will have some opportunities to rush the quarterback when playing this position.
Nickel Corner Attributes
Agility is one of the most most important aspects of playing the nickel corner position. Since you most often covering slot receivers you must be ready for the quick cuts and acceleration.
In order to keep up with these often elusive receivers nickel backs will need to maintain a high level of agility.
Whether it is interceptions or pass breakups, nickel corners need to know what to do when the ball is coming their way. As a nickel back your main responsibility is stopping the pass.
Staying with the receiver is one thing but being able to swat the pass when it comes your way is another. In order to be an effective nickel corner in the NFL ball skills are necessary.
Strength Despite Size
Since nickel corners play close to the line of scrimmage strength can be quite a helpful attribute. The receivers nickel corners cover aren’t large which often means that nickel corners are smaller themselves.
Though when a run play occurs these corners will often have to fight through blocks of offensive lineman. Not to mention bring down running backs and tight ends after they get the ball.
For this reason, a nickel corner should be able to lay a solid hit or fight off a block from a player much larger in stature.
The positioning of the nickel corner is quite straightforward. The two starting corners will cover the outside receivers and it is the nickel that is tasked with covering the slot.
Depending on where the slot receiver lines up the nickel corner can be on the left or the right of the formation. In most cases, the nickel corner will simply follow the receiver and line up accordingly.
As we stated earlier nickel corners typically are shorter, smaller corners since they often play against slot receivers. These corners are tasked with covering the tall deep ball receivers on the outside. This means having height is a necessity.
This leaves most nickel corners sitting around five-ten or lower. These players are usually not large in stature looking similar to slot receivers. They do not tend to carry a lot of muscle mass and usually have little to no body fat.
We hope that this guide to understanding nickel corners in football has taught you everything you needed to know. If you want to learn more about nickel corners see our guide to the nickel defense and how it works.