Watching Alterraun Verner play has been a great deal of fun the past two years. He burst onto the scene his rookie year with 85 solo tackles, 11 passes defensed and 3 interceptions. In 2011 Jerry Gray played Cortland Finnegan as the the slot corner in nickel and dime packages, resulting in Verner being pushed to the outside. The results there were still solid, as he finished with 43 solo tackles, 8 passes defensed and 1 interception. In two short years Verner has established himself as a great asset to the defense. In fact his play last year was so good it ranked sixth in yards per pass compared to all other cornerbacks by Football Outsiders. As you can see in the link, it gets even better when you consider he also ranked twelfth in success rate and sixth in yards after catch.
The challenge now is that the Titans defense lost the number one player on that list in Finnegan. With Jason McCourty remaining on the outside, filling Finnegan's slot role falls to ATV. Fortunately, as the Tennessean pointed out a while back, it's one he's embraced:
Verner's enthusiasm towards playing the slot (as well as his experience in that position earlier) stirs up a great deal of optimism in me. He was excellent last year, but it's quite possible he can improve on those results. He has the opportunity to make an impact in a variety of ways.
"I want to play inside," Verner said. "I like being inside, being with the linebackers, getting to blitz and guard some of the slot guys because that is where the ball goes most the time with the Wes Welkers and the great tight ends — they like to work those areas especially on third down. I would love to be that guy like Cortland was last year."
Recently, Pro Football Focus did a post focusing in on slot corners. In it they listed Cortland Finnegan as a "Tough, Quick Guy," saying:
Cortland Finnegan found a home in the slot in 2011. He did a great job of using his quickness to break on short passes and he had his best year in run support since we started grading in 2008.
ATV has big shoes to fill for sure. This is how PFF defined the "Tough, Quick Guy" role:
The tough, quick guy is the answer to the Wes Welker-type slot receiver. He must be quick enough to handle the "two-way go", but the best way to slow the Welkers of the NFL is to press them at the line–so there’s also a certain amount of aggressiveness associated with the position. It’s no surprise that the best slot corners generally also excel in run support as the skill sets overlap.
Considering all these things, I consider Alterraun Verner a player to watch for in 2012. Casual NFL fans may not know him just yet, but once he comes off the edge to hit their favourite QB or has a game-sealing interception they'll certainly be taking note.