In the Seahawks' season-opening loss in Denver, the Broncos went after Tre Flowers quite a bit and completed several passes on the rookie cornerback, but even though Flowers' NFL debut didn't go perfectly, it showed him something important.
He could play cornerback at this level.
"I was targeted a lot in that game, and I felt like I was moving with everybody, and I wasn't a liability as much as I thought I would be," Flowers said a day after his rookie season came to an end in a playoff loss at Dallas.
And yes, "I wasn't a liability" isn't exactly a super high bar to clear, but that was hardly a given for Flowers, a fifth-round pick who played safety at Oklahoma State. When the Seahawks selected Flowers during an eventful stretch of their 2018 draft—they picked Shaquem Griffin five picks ahead of Flowers and traded up to select Michael Dickson three picks later—then later announced they planned to convert him to cornerback, the easy assumption to make was that he would be a developmental project who might help on special teams as a rookie. After all, even experienced corners have been slow to adjust to Seattle's defense, which is particularly demanding on cornerbacks, so to expect a safety picked in the fifth round to contribute right away was probably unrealistic, right?
Well due in part to injuries, and in part to his rapid development, Flowers found himself on the field as Seattle's starting right cornerback in Week 1, and he held that job down rather well throughout his rookie year. Was it perfect? Hardly. But all things considered, Flowers played very well in 2018, especially considering his limited background at the position.
"Tre had a fantastic season," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who from the first day of rookie minicamp last May took a special interest in the young defensive back. "Played all the way through the stretch of the season where you might see a guy get worn down, he wasn't. He fought through it and was very competitive.
"The sky is the limit for him really. He's got all of the attributes that you're looking for. He's a real heady player too, and he's going to learn and he's going to grow. That savvy that he gains—he's one of those guys that the day he steps back with us in April, he's going to be a whole new football player because of what he's been through. You can't clear away from that first experience until you get away from it and then you look back and all of the stuff, all of the lessons—he should be a tremendously improved player, which is really bright, because he played a good football season for us anyway."
As Carroll notes, Flowers had a good 2018 season even if you take away the fact that he was a rookie learning a new position—hardly an inconsequential detail. As a rookie, Flowers was tested often, and he almost never broke Carroll's No. 1 rule for a corner: stay on top, or in other words, don't let a receiver get behind you for a deep reception. Flowers, whose safety background helped him in run defense, finished the year with 67 tackles, third most on the team, had six passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. And while he didn't record an interception as a rookie, two of his pass breakups were intercepted by teammates.
Flowers' rookie season, both in terms of on-field production and off-field work ethic, impressed not just his coaches but veteran teammates as well.
"I love the progression that Tre Flowers has gone through during the course of the season," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "He has always had the physical tools. I think it was just a mental part of him getting the confidence necessary for him to be out on an island sometimes and be successful and hold his own. He's done a fabulous job of that."
Asked about Flowers late in the season, safety Bradley McDougald said, "He's a rookie, but he's a veteran in my eyes. He's doing all the little things right. He comes to work early, he gets his treatment, he gets his body back together, he stays, and he listens."
And now, after a rookie season that exceeded all reasonable expectations, Flowers can actually spend an offseason preparing to play cornerback instead of preparing for the pre-draft process as he did last year, or to get ready for another season playing safety, as he did in college.
"Being a former safety, I feel like I got better with my feet," Flowers said. "I still get on my heels a little bit, so that's something I'll work on. But I feel like I'm better at man-to-man coverage… Playing at a high level consistently, that's going to be my main thing next year, consistency."
And overall, the goal is just to continue to improve and build off of an impressive rookie season.
"I'm going to work on everything," Flowers said. "I finally get to focus on one thing other than running the 40… I'm glad all that's out of my life so I can focus on football. I can't wait.
"It's really my first offseason as a corner, so it's going to be great."
Take a look back at some of team photographer Rod Mar's best behind-the-scenes moments from the 2018 season.