In search of ‘a Seattle-type corner’

Posted Feb 18, 2014

While discussing what he labels a “deep” 2014 NFL Draft Class on Tuesday, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock used the term “Seattle-type corner” when it came to what many teams are looking for.

Let the Seahawks-themed scavenger hunt begin.

Among the items on teams’ shopping lists as they prepare for the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week is “a Seattle-type corner.”

Mike Mayock used that term during a conference-call Q&A session Tuesday, and the analyst for the NFL Network didn’t stop there in alluding to one of the elements of the Super Bowl champions that set the Seahawks apart – long, physical cornerbacks who can disrupt a play before it ever gets started, and also head it off at the pass once it does get started.

We know them as Richard Sherman, the 6-foot-3, two-time All-Pro who led the NFL with eight interceptions during the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl; Brandon Browner, the 6-4 corner who put the jam in playing receivers off the line and also down field before being injured and then suspended in December; and Byron Maxwell, the 6-1 corner who stepped in for Browner and intercepted four passes in the final four regular-season games.

The rest of the league? They know them as the cornerbacks who come with a fingers-crossed approach. As in, how can we get one of those guys?

“The thing I love about Seattle is, they define what they want – long corners, they’ve got the big safety, you can’t get enough edge rushers,” Mayock said. “So I think if you put the tape on of Seattle, there are going to be more and more teams around the league that are using that as a blueprint.”

And, as Mayock pointed out, it carries over to safety, where the Seahawks feature an All-Pro tandem where, according to traditional NFL standards, one is too big (strong safety Kam Chancellor) and the other is too short (free safety Earl Thomas).

“It’s already begun to change, because as we’ve become a pass-first league teams are looking more and more for that free safety that can cover, that has more range, that can possibly drop down and cover a slot (receiver) without having to go to nickel,” Mayock said in response to a question where Thomas and Chancellor were referred to as “the golden standard in the NFL” at the safety positions.

“I used to think it had to be two safeties that were interchangeable. But what Seattle has really done, they’ve said, ‘We’re going to do our best to keep Earl Thomas deep, because he’s got great range and ball skills. Then we’re going to use the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Kam Chancellor like a linebacker that has safety speed.’ So they’ve got two distinct roles, and I think teams are trying to figure out what the best way to play the safety position is.”

The good part about winning the Super Bowl was, well, winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The flipside is that the Seahawks now hold the 32nd, and final, pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on May 8.

But Mayock even offered some encouraging words in that regard, calling this year’s draft class “the deepest and best I’ve seen in probably 10 years.” It’s deep enough and talented enough that there will be a quality player there when the Seahawks finally make their pick in the first round.

“That’s been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts that I’ve talked to throughout the league,” Mayock said of the depth and quality labels. “I had one GM tell me the other day that having a Top 20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top 10 pick last year, so I think there’s more depth and I think there are certain positions that are stacked this year and you can get a quality player through three or four rounds.”

The Seahawks also have been doing that, and beyond, with alarming regularity since coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider were hired almost in tandem in January 2010. Sherman? A fifth-round draft choice in 2011. Maxwell? A sixth-round pick that same year. Chancellor? A fifth-round pick in 2010. Linebacker K.J. Wright? A fourth-round pick in 2011. Linebacker and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith? A seventh-round draft choice in 2011, when he wasn’t even invited to the Combine. Versatile corners Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane? Fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2010 and 2012.

Mix in a few higher-round draft choices – Thomas (first-round pick in 2010), middle linebacker and leading tackler Bobby Wagner (second round in 2012) and linebacker Bruce Irvin (first round in 2011). Add a few free-agent additions – linemen Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel last March. Make a couple trades – with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 to acquire end Chris Clemons and the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011 to land tackle Clinton McDonald. Blend all of that with a couple of holdovers – nose tackle Brandon Mebane (third-round pick in 2007) and end Red Bryant (fourth-round pick, as a tackle, in 2008).

What it creates is a unit that led the NFL in average points, yards and passing yards allowed, as well as interceptions and turnovers, during the regular season before the Seahawks defeated the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and throttled Denver Broncos in the postseason. What it also points to is the winning formula the Carroll and Schneider have used to acquire all this talent.

“I think Pete and John do a great job,” Mayock said. “They have a clear philosophy. They know what they’re looking for. The two of them are joined at the hip.”

Not to mention the pick, when it comes to selecting players in the NFL Draft.

Could the rich possibly get richer in this draft?

“There are going to be a lot better choices, depending on the position you’re looking for, sitting at 32,” Mayock said.