Cornerback Josh Norman made headlines on Thanksgiving when he called out wide receiver Dez Bryant after the Carolina Panthers blew out the Dallas Cowboys, 33-14. While many casual football fans are just now learning of the defensive standout for his comments about the elite wide out, many are also starting to take notice that Norman is one of the NFL's best players.
With the way Norman has played in 2015, he might be the most underrated player in the NFL. He’s been the league’s top cornerback this season, making a case to be named Defensive Player of the Year. But Norman is not a household name, and defensive players like J.J. Watt, the defensive backs in Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” and even his own teammate Luke Kuechly are have received far more recognition.
It’s only a matter of time before Norman starts to get the recognition that he deserves. Playing in his fourth NFL season, the 27-year-old plays for the 11-0 Panthers, who have a legitimate chance to go undefeated.
Cam Newton has gotten plenty of deserved MVP buzz for leading Carolina to a perfect record, but Norman has been essential to the team’s success. The Panthers have a top-five scoring defense, which is highlighted by their ability to stifle opposing quarterbacks.
Following the team’s drubbing of the Cowboys, which saw Tony Romo throw three interceptions, the Panthers have a league-best opposing passer rating of 68.7. Before Thursday’s contest, Norman had allowed a 38.7 passer rating and just one touchdown on 61 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. He shut down Bryant, who caught just two passes for 26 yards.
Dez Bryant has 0 catches on 4 targets from 24 1st half plays. On 87.5% of his plays, @PFF top rated CB Josh Norman has lined up across him
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) November 26, 2015
Bryant is just one of many No.1 wide receivers that has been a non-factor against Carolina. Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson is the NFL’s seventh-leading receiver, but he caught just one pass for 27 yards against the Panthers. The following week, Norman helped limit DeAndre Hopkins, the NFL’s third-leading receiver, to 53 yards. The next best receiver to face Carolina this year was Mike Evans, and he recorded just 32 receiving yards.
Norman played well in 2014, but he’s been even better this season. He has 40 tackles and two forced fumbles, while already setting a career-high with four interceptions. Norman returned two of those picks for touchdowns, and he was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September.
In today’s NFL, it’s easier to pass than ever. Thirteen quarterbacks have a passer rating better than 95.0, whereas only four quarterbacks finished the season with a rating of 95.0 or better 10 years ago.
The rules allow for there to be very few “shutdown” cornerbacks in the NFL, but Norman has joined that elite group.