Eric Berry is not Ronnie Lott. Eric Berry is not Rod Woodson. Eric Berry is not Kendrick Lewis. Eric Berry is not Earl Thomas. You know who Eric Berry is, and, well, it’s elementary – he is Eric Berry. The 5th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Fifth Dimension; Eric Berry brings a dimension to the Kansas City Chiefs defense that cannot be seen from the highest of definitions. The impact Berry has on the Chiefs defense goes well beyond your typical tackle, sack, INT statistical analysis. Valuable is defined as something of considerable use, service, or importance. One could argue Berry may be one of the most valuable players in the NFL.
Truly understanding Berry’s use, service, and importance must first start with painting the picture of who he is. Traditional archaic positional definitions of our granddaddy’s football automatically devalues Berry. Start over, remove the idea of a free safety and strong safety from your mind, a “tabula rasa”. This is no slight of Earl Thomas, Jairus Byrd, Reshad Jones, Eric Weddle, Donte Whitner, Mark Barron, Devin McCourty or Kam Chancellor as they fit one of those vintage definitions one way or the other. They have very defined roles and responsibilities based on the definitions of the position they are in. Berry, on the other hand, is put in a position where he is the defining factor of those roles and responsibilities.
The first knock on someone’s football intelligence quotient is to claim Berry is a liability in coverage. His coverage limitations are degraded, not because of his actual performance on the field, but because what is expected of a safety. As stated earlier, erase your thoughts of the expectations and the outdated definition of a safety. According to our good friends at ProFootballFocus, Eric Berry was the highest thrown at safety in the NFL. Quarterbacks threw at him a total of 63 times. While being thrown at the most in the NFL, Berry only gave up 37 receptions and the QB rating while throwing at him was good for 18th lowest out of the top 86 safeties graded by the same source previously mentioned. Those are stats, a good baseline in comparing the players in a vacuum. Nothing of note in the statistical analysis proves he is a liability in covering, when asked to.
A strong safety spends most of his snaps either moving forward or spending a majority of his time within a certain yardage of the line of scrimmage and is commonly the player that supports the run/underneath pass game. These players are typically bigger than free safeties but smaller than most weakside linebackers. Statistical analysis really shows that Berry is an above average in run support, rarely a missed tackle, and has the ability to fill gaps and shed blocks. Also highly regarded for his instincts, awareness, and closing speed.
The most underrated part of Eric Berry’s game is his ability to rush the passer. How often are safeties asked to rush the passer? Defensive coordinators have a few plays asking for a safety to blitz or rush the passer. Berry was asked to rush the passer the most times out of safeties in 2013, he also lead safeties in sacks, pressures, and hurries. Berry was often asked to rush the passer in obvious and not so obvious passing downs. A key to an offense is being able to execute consistently while being unpredictable. That is also what made Berry so successful at rushing the passer. Who has a safety rush the passer on average of 4 times a game? He averaged at least one pressure a game. Only a few 4-3 OLBs had averaged more than 1 pressure per game.
While watching Eric Berry I am constantly in awe. One play he could be covering one of the oppositions top targets, blanketing a tight end on a 10 yard out, and forcing a incompletion. The next play he could be lining up at weak inside linebacker, blitzing, and causing the QB to feel uncomfortable forcing an early inaccurate throw. Then the next play filling an A gap on a half back dive, which allows Derrick Johnson to scrap his block and make a tackle near the line of scrimmage. You rarely see Berry asked to play centerfield, which is where a safety gets a lot of his glory. Reading, reacting, and just making the right break, the right time to get an interception or getting a pass break up. You cannot discount a player for the lack of being asked to do something and then saying he is not good at it. I am not good a tight rope walking, but I have never tried it – does that make me terrible at it? (Most likely yes.)
A player’s worth is defined by the impact he makes not the position he plays. Berry was not only targeted the most out of any safety but also rushed the passer the most. He was also asked to be a major contributor on run defense. I don’t know what position Eric Berry plays, but what ever he is asked to do, what ever role you define for him – no one does it better, and it’s not close.