- Eric D. Williams, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- Nine defensive backs were selected in the first round of this year's draft, with some NFL observers stating that it was a nod to the way lanky cornerback Richard Sherman helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to a dominant Super Bowl win this past season
Of course, that sentiment is a bit ironic; Sherman was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft.
At first blush, San Diego Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett appears very different when compared to Sherman. At 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds, Verrett is the shortest of the five cornerbacks selected in the opening round; Sherman is 6-3, 195 pounds.
They both wear their hair in long, flowing dreadlocks and aspire to work in broadcasting after their playing careers are over. And though Verrett can't be classified as shy, he certainly doesn't create a stir, and doesn't fill up a quote sheet the way Sherman does.
But taking a closer look: Verrett and Sherman share some common ground that gives Chargers fans reason for optimism -- hope that the TCU product could be the answer to San Diego's inconsistent play in the secondary.
Like Sherman, Verrett is a student of the game. Verrett said extra film work led to his uncommon ability to make game-changing plays. Since 2012, Verrett led the Football Bowl Subdivision in passes defensed, with eight interceptions and 30 pass breakups.
"I feel like my coaches put me in the best situations to make plays," Verrett said. "We studied film like crazy at TCU. Every Monday when we studied film we had to break down each personnel group they favored for running plays and passing plays. We looked at receiver splits -- everything.
"So going into each week, I already knew my opponents' routes in certain formations. So it allowed me to make more plays."
Verrett's mother, Cynthia Verrett, said her son's attention to detail started at an early age, during his days playing running back in Pop Warner football.
"Sometimes for breakfast when we would go out to eat, he would take the condiments and line them up as if they were players," Cynthia Verrett said. "And he would just kind of move them into different positions. Or if he was alone in his room, he would stand in the mirror and watch himself over and over again, so that he could perfect himself. So he's always been very driven, and very motivated that he was going to be successful."
Both Sherman and Verrett have enormous chips on their shoulders. Sherman's draft status -- with 23 cornerbacks selected in front of him -- serves as constant motivation for him to stay humble and work hard.
For Verrett, it's others doubting his ability to make plays in the NFL because of his height. Verrett's father, Warren Verrett, said that his son always has been the smallest on the football field, but it has never affected his ability to impact the game.
"If he didn't get it, he would just go to the side and practice and practice," Warren Verrett said. "You never had to tell him to do his homework. He always understood what he had to do. And he just knew that his time was going to come, and he had to take advantage of it."
Sherman and Verrett both come from inner-city environments, growing up in two-parent families that provided discipline and a strong sense of self in the home.
"My parents are hard-nosed people," Verrett said. "We don't back down from anybody. So being down there on the football field, I'm going to be competitive. I'm going to be that guy that wants to make plays. So when I'm out there on the football field, I'm playing with a chip on my shoulder. I'm motivated."
So how are your parents hard-nosed, Jason?
"I used to get whuppings all the time," Verrett said, smiling. "I try not to stay in trouble, but sometimes as a kid you're going to do the wrong thing. But they definitely kept me in the right direction."
Said Warren Verrett: "We just provided love and discipline. And being that he's inquisitive, for him to understand, we had to keep him on the straight path. We kept God in our lives, and he understood my responsibilities as a father, and his responsibilities as a son."
Warren Verrett recently retired as a business manager with the United Parcel Service. A lifelong Oakland Raiders fan, he said things changed when his son was drafted in the first round by the Chargers.
Another son, Tre, a graduate of Winston-Salem State University, also works for the Raiders' organization.
"I've been a Raiders fan all my life, so it's going to be interesting," Warren Verrett said. "But like he said, as soon as the Chargers drafted him, I'm a Chargers fan now. So I'm going to support my son, but I might have a [Raiders] T-shirt on [underneath my Chargers jersey]."
Asked at the end of last week's news conference what it meant to have his family sitting in front of him, Jason Verrett had to blot tears from his eyes.
"They mean everything," he said. "It kind of hit me hard now being in this situation. Just having both of my parents in my life growing up, it's kind of hard because I have a lot of family members who don't have both of their parents.
"And just being able to see both of my parents here with me is definitely a good experience. I got a good role model in my brother, and I'm just excited."