Now that the 2022 NFL season is over, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortunes in 2023 and beyond. With free agency kicking off next month and the draft following in April, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands prior to the start of the new league year. So far this week, we've covered, quarterback, safety and running back, and today we focus on cornerback. Check back Friday when we turn our attention to receiver.
The Seahawks started training camp with a trio of veterans manning the outside and nickel cornerback spots for the No. 1 defense. Sidney Jones IV, who started 11 games for Seattle in 2021, was at one outside spot, while Artie Burns, a free-agent acquisition, was at the other, and Justin Coleman, back with the Seahawks after signing in free agency, was the nickel corner.
Injuries, as well as the quick development of a trio of young players, including a pair of rookies, changed things in a big way at that spot, however. Mike Jackson, a former fifth-round pick who had appeared in just four games in his first three seasons, spending most of his time on practice squads in Dallas, Detroit, New England and Seattle, was one of the surprises of camp and the preseason, taking over at left cornerback for an injured Burns and never letting go of the job. Rookie Tariq Woolen proved to be more than the raw, athletic development project many people thought he would be, and emerged as one of the NFL's bright young stars, tying for the league lead with six interceptions on his way to a Pro Bowl selection. Fellow rookie Coby Bryant took over the nickel role despite not playing that spot in college, and proved to be a quick learner and a playmaker, forcing four fumbles.
There were, of course, some growing pains with so many young and inexperienced cornerbacks on the field, but the good far outweighed the bad, and sets the Seahawks up very well for the future at that spot.
Question to answer this offseason: Will there be any changes to the lineup in 2023?
With Woolen emerging as one of the league's top young cornerbacks, it's clear he's going to be a big part of Seattle's defense going forward, and Jackson and Bryant also made it clear that they're going to be tough to unseat for playing time. When Tre Brown, a 2021 fourth round pick who showed a lot of promise as a rookie before a season-ending knee injury, returned from that injury, he was added to the competition at left cornerback, but Jackson was able to hold onto that job.
Can Brown, with a healthy offseason and a full training camp, unseat Jackson? And does Bryant stay at nickel or could there be any thought to moving him back outside if another nickel option emerged? The Seahawks will likely add to that position group in some manner this offseason, be it free agency or the draft, but as promising as the trio of Woolen, Jackson and Bryant was in 2022, it will be tough for any players to unseat that group heading into the 2023 season.
Biggest reason for optimism in 2023: Promising young talent, led by Pro-Bowler Tariq Woolen.
The Seahawks will look to add talent at cornerback this offseason, because that's what they do at every position every year, but they also go into the offseason knowing they're in good shape there even if they don't make any big investments at that position. Woolen and Bryant both have three years left on their rookie deals while Brown has two more years left on his, while Jackson is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning he too will very likely be back. Heading into an offseason knowing you're going to have your top four cornerbacks returning is a great place to start, especially when one of those players is overflowing with potential after a Pro-Bowl rookie campaign. Because as good as Woolen was in 2022, there's still plenty of room for him to grow, particularly considering he only spent two seasons at cornerback in college after converting from receiver.
"He's just as raw as you can get," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle's Wild Card loss in Santa Clara. "… He'll see so much more than what he was seeing right now. It's a freaking blur like it's a storm blowing at him. We're trying to sort it all out. It will be much better for him. He can be a complete player. He can do it all. He'll be able to be a run factor when he needs to be. He needs to learn all the different nuances that happen with all the different alignments and positions that he gets put in and be able to be as solid as that as when he is outside lined up on guys. He's really best when he is lined up on the guy and covering him. He's really clear on how that works and that's when his eyes are tight to what he is looking at. It's the other stuff, the experience stuff that he is going to grow at, but he had tremendous experiences this year to learn. He's really curious and anxious and wants to be great. He was really broken up about the (playoff loss to the 49ers). He didn't like his game at all last week. His heart is in the right place to get good. I think the sky is the limit for him for sure."
Take a look back at some of the best photos of the Seahawks rookie class from the 2022 season.