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Other teams looking to follow Seahawks’ blueprint

Posted Apr 24, 2013

Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, two big cornerbacks who drew little interest from other NFL teams, have formed a tandem that has other clubs looking to acquire what the Seahawks already have.


(The opinions and analysis contained in this feature are those of the author and others credited and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department)

BEST OF THE BUNCH

A look at the position heading into the April 25-27 NFL Draft

Rank Player, School Ht Wt Projection
1/7 CB Dee Milliner, Alabama 6-0 201 1st Round
2/11 CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State 6-2 210 1st Round
1/20 FS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas 6-0 214 1st Round
3/24 CB Desmond Trufant, Washington 6-0 190 1st Round
4/29 FS Eric Reid, LSU  6-1 213 1st or 2nd Round

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com


ANALYZING THE DRAFT CLASS

The word: The top corner on NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s list had been Milliner. Until last week. Now he has Houston’s D.J. Harden at No. 1 – and No. 14 overall, with Milliner at No. 16. “He finds the football,” Mayock said of Hayden. “What I like about him is once he finds it, he turns into a running back. … He finds the football and makes a play on it.” Mayock also likes Vaccaro, offering, “I’m a big believer that Vaccaro is going to be gone in the Top 20.” His next two safeties are Florida’s Matt Elam and Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien, and Mayock points to the depth at the position, too. “After those three, there is a little bit of a drop off and it depends on what kind of player you like,” Mayock said. As for the cornerbacks, he says, “The corner thing is a little different.” Starting at the top, obviously.

What about: Elam. The Florida strong safety is the No. 1-ranked strong safety in this year’s draft class after registering 76 tackles in nine starts last season and 78 in 13 starts in 2011. A bit undersized for the position (5-10, 202), Elam made his share of big plays for the Gators – a club-high 11 tackles for losses, two interceptions and two forced fumbles; and played his best in the biggest games – 11 tackles and a sack in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, as well as other strong outings against Florida State, Georgia and LSU. Rang has him rated as the 36th-best prospect overall who could sneak into the bottom half of the first round. Elam’s brother, Abram, also is a safety and has played in the NFL with the Cowboys, Jets, Browns and Chiefs.

Don’t forget about: Rontez Miles. From the school (California University in Pennsylvania) that brought the Seahawks quarterback Josh Portis and guard Rishaw Johnson as undrafted free agents the past two years comes Miles, a free safety who was a four-time all-conference selection. Like Portis and Johnson, Miles began his career at a bigger school (Kent State) before finding a home at the Division II level. Rang projects him as a sixth- or seventh-round pick and has Miles rated as the 10th-best player at his position.

Seahawks situation: General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have pieced together a secondary that is second to none in the league since arriving in 2010. That year, they selected All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas in the first round of the draft and added Pro Bowl-caliber strong safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth round. In 2011, they added All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the draft and reached into the CFL to grab Pro Bowl-caliber corner Brandon Browner. Those moves have produced a productive foursome that plays with a swagger – and under the moniker “Legion of Boom.” The backups they’ve added also are young and talented, but untested – safeties Jeron Johnson, Chris Maragos, Winston Guy and DeShawn Shead; and cornerbacks Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell. Long-time starter and former first-round draft choice Marcus Trufant is an unrestricted free agent and the club addressed the nickel back spot he played last season by signing former Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield in free agency.

Two years ago, every team in the league said “no thanks” to Richard Sherman during the NFL Draft – and for most teams, it was several times.

For four seasons, while toiling in the CFL, Brandon Browner couldn’t get an NFL team to give him a tryout, let alone sign him.

Now, the XXL cornerbacks the Seahawks acquired in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft (Sherman) and signed to a future contract in January of 2011 (Browner) are the kind of long, physical players every team is looking for entering this year’s draft on April 25-27.

That’s the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Browner, who used his 6-foot-8 wingspan to produce 23 passes defensed and six interceptions in 2011; and the 6-3, 195-pound Sherman, who used his 6-foot-5½ wing span and wide-receiver skills to intercept eight passes and turn in a league-high 24 passes defensed last season.

The players who man the corners for the Seahawks’ No. 4-ranked defense, and the way they play the position, were the talk of the NFL Scouting Combine in February and also during on a weekly basis last season in conference calls with opposing coaches.

Sherman, an All-Pro last season, and Browner, who played in the Pro Bowl after the 2011 season, were referred to as “giants,” “difference-makers” and “the first thing that jumps out on that defense.”

As Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said at the combine, “Certainly some of the things Seattle has done … I think what they’ve tried to do is fit their scheme to what their personnel is. And we’ll certainly try to do the same thing.”

Starting with the cornerbacks, and how those cornerbacks play.

In this draft class, there are some longer, bigger corners. Like Alabama’s Dee Milliner (6-1, 198), the consensus top player at his position. But there’s also Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes (6-1, 217), Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks (6-1, 185) and Washington’s Desmond Trufant (5-11, 190).

While they might not measure up to the oversized standards that Sherman and Browner have set in this quest to find the new normal, these four possess more length than the typical 5-10 corner.

“I have only one corner with a first-round grade,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.

And that would be Milliner. As for the rest, Mayock added, “There are four or five corners in college that can play that boundary corner. Typically, that means a tough, smart guy than can tackle, but is speed deficient. And almost all the top corners this year are boundary guys.”

But sometimes it takes going beyond the boundaries in your thinking about the position. And that’s something Seahawks coach Pete Carroll learned from Bud Grant while an assistant on his Minnesota Vikings staff from 1985-89.

“Really, the decision for me was like 20 years ago,” Carroll said. “So this didn't just happen. We happened to hit two big, long, tall guys at the same time. When you're a bump-and-run oriented group and that's part of the mainstay of your philosophy, you realize that the length that guys have at the line of scrimmage is a big asset.

“Some guys have long arms, and some guys have the broad shoulders and the big wingspan and all. But when you put together guys that are 6-3 and 6-4 and they have all of that, it just makes for a larger target for them at the line of scrimmage so the receivers have to go a longer ways to get around them. That's as fundamental as that is, really.”

It’s just not as easy as it sounds, or as simplistic as Sherman and Browner have made it appear.

“You add to it, the weight and strength of those guys and they're hard to shove and push and jostle when you go to the football,” Carroll said. “So our guys are definitely a factor on guys all of the time. And if we're close, we have a chance of making the play. Some guys are close, and they can't get to the football, but our guys are pretty darn good at that so that has been a factor.”

It definitely has, as teams have begun self-scouting this offseason while preparing for free agency and the draft. Finding two corners who have combined for 213 tackles, 21 interceptions and 70 passes defensed the past two seasons will do that.