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Originally published Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 7:40 PM

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Richard Sherman: The case for NFL defensive player of the year

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman led the NFL with eight interceptions and made many of his big plays at crucial moments in games.

Seattle Times staff reporter

By the numbers

1st in NFL

Sherman’s eight interceptions this season led the league.

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Cornerback Richard Sherman has no interest in being an island, a term fellow NFL cornerback Darrelle Revis coined to describe the side of the field he shuts down.

“I want to be a tourist attraction,” Sherman said earlier this season. “You come, I take your money and you go.”

If that’s the case, Sherman has charged a premium in some of Seattle’s biggest moments this season. For that reason, he should be the NFL’s defensive player of the year.

Sherman has eight interceptions, which ties his total from last season and leads the NFL. Many of Sherman’s biggest plays have come in decisive moments.

• With Carolina in position to take the lead, he combined with safety Earl Thomas to force a fumble at the Seattle 8-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks held on for a 12-7 win.

• He picked off Houston quarterback Matt Schaub in the fourth quarter and returned it for a game-tying touchdown. The Seahawks won in overtime.

• He picked off St. Louis quarterback Kellen Clemens in the second quarter and set up a touchdown. The Seahawks’ offense played one of its worst games, but Sherman’s interception led to a 14-9 win.

• He picked off Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer twice inside the Seattle 40 and kept Seattle in the game until the final minutes.

Seattle’s defense is about forcing turnovers, and no player embodies that more than Sherman. He is willing to occasionally get beat for a chance at a big play. More often than not, he’s right.

“Some corners are good at different phases of man coverage, whether it’s pressing at the line, maintaining leverage or finishing on the ball,” said former scout and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. “Richard is good at all three. That’s unique and why he’s considered one of the best.”

Sherman, of course, thrives in man-to-man coverage. He uses his size — he’s 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds — to jam receivers at the line and disrupt their rhythm.

He largely eliminated San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin in the second game of the season that way. Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards the previous game. He had one catch for seven yards against Sherman.

“How many true No. 1 receivers are there in the NFL?” former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. “Maybe five or six? You’re not talking about a lot. He can take any one of those and probably hold his own. You take the other 20 to 25 teams, and he dominates their best receiver.

“Anytime you can take the best receiver out of the game, that really allows you to do things. It gives you an extra guy to play with scheme-wise. I guess the best way to say it is what he does gives you a 12th man to play with.”

Sherman is not the most athletic cornerback in the NFL, but he compensates for that with savvy. He’s often able to predetermine receivers’ routes from studying film.

There are times when Sherman nonchalantly backpedals before the snap, his arms dangling at his side. It looks like he’s not trying. But in those moments, Sherman thinks he knows what’s coming and wants to bait the quarterback.

“I know this: He’s a guy who does just about everything you would want him to do in the back end and does it all very, very well,” Riddick said. “Whether it be cover slot guys, outside guys, tight ends, play press, play zone or tackle. And he’s going to play his best in the big moments.”

Sherman is also at his best when teams challenge him on deep balls. He picked off Eli Manning that way. Same with Colin Kaepernick.

“Any time that ball goes in the air,” Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said, “it looks like he’s playing receiver.”

Sherman capped his regular season by being named first-team All Pro for the second straight season.

“He’s got size, he’s competitive, he can play with any receiver in the league,” Angelo said. “You just don’t see that. That’s a rare thing.”

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