When you look at the Seattle Seahawks' draft history under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, it's pretty remarkable to look at the production rookie third-round pick Shaquill Griffin had in 2017 as an immediate starter in the NFL.
Historically, the Seahawks have taken a different approach with drafting young cornerbacks as they select them in later rounds and work them into their defensive scheme and get them to master the kick-step technique. The kick-step is a big adjustment for a lot of players not only because of the complexity of it, but because it's just something they've never done before. Richard Sherman explained the technique in a piece for The Players' Tribune:
*The technique we use in Seattle is a little different. Ours is more of a true press. Some people call it a read-step, or a kick-step. The real difference is that it's more aggressive than soft-shoeing. Instead of backpedaling and mirroring the receiver, we stand in there. We don't give. We don't take a step until the receiver's first movement, and then we kick back in the direction the receiver releases. If you guess wrong, and you kick the wrong way, you're kind of done. You'll have a lot of ground to make up. So that instinctive first step at the line of scrimmage is crucial. *
Over the years, current Seahawks like Byron Maxwell and DeShawn Shead primarily saw work on special teams until they were ready to play in the system. Even Sherman went that route his rookie season until Week 8.
But for Griffin, who received a lot of help from from the All-Pro Sherman on learning the technique among other things, he said he felt that's where he made the most progress as his rookie year progressed as a key member of the Seahawks' secondary who had to adjust to it right away.
"My off-man and press," Griffin said. "I came in and learned a whole new technique – the step-kick is something I never did before, ever. I learned so much from that and I think that's the main thing I improved on and I want to continue to get better at that … a lot of the off coverage that we start to do. It was very important for me to learn as much as possible this year going into next season.
"You can watch film on it but it's different when you're actually going through the technique. After a while it's muscle memory, the more I did it, the better I got at it and the easier it was for me."
Added Carroll: "I don't know if Richard told him everything to do, but he showed him. Sherm had come back with a resolve to really be technique-perfect and he had set out throughout the whole offseason to re-capture really the essence of the technique and the skill that he had acquired over the years, and at times, it had gotten a little bit out of whack and not quite as solid as he had been, and he took to it and that just happened to be all that Shaq saw. Sherm is a great worker, so he (Griffin) had great example and illustration for what we were looking for."
Since Carroll and Schneider joined the franchise in 2010, they hadn't taken a cornerback as high as they did Griffin, who was selected with the 90th overall selection in 2017 out of the University of Central Florida. But they saw a unique player they believed could impact the secondary and provide depth behind Sherman and alongside veterans Jeremy Lane and Shead — who was recovering from a serious knee injury.
Griffin went on to provide a lot more than just depth for the Seahawks' secondary, playing significant snaps in 15 of 16 games for the team opposite of Sherman before eventually being given an even larger role after Sherman's season was cut short due to an Achilles injury. Considering how the adjustment has been for cornerbacks under Carroll and Schneider to the NFL, there's no doubt Griffin had one of the most productive seasons for a rookie under the two.
"There hasn't been anything but the most positive things that we have talked about when talking about Shaq's process, from anticipating that he was going to be able to handle it before we even really tried, we had really high hopes for him because every indication is that he is going to be a great football player and a great contributor on this team," Carroll said Tuesday.
In addition to only missing one game, Griffin finished with 59 combined tackles on the season, which was among the top-20 in the category for rookies. His 16 passes defended only trailed Pro Bowl corner Marshon Lattimore and Tre'Davious White among first-year players and he was one of nine rookies to record a sack in 2017. Griffin had a few minor mishaps, but that can be expected with a rookie.
"He's had a great season," Carroll said after the final game of Griffin's year. "He really has a great future. I've tried to explain to you guys, his mentality is so on point and he is so clear thinking and poised. He has nothing to get in the way of a great career. He should be a fantastic player."
Griffin finished the year with only one interception — it came in the season finale against the Cardinals — but that shouldn't overshadow how well he played. After the game, Griffin stored the ball in his locker and said he's giving it to his parents in Florida.
"He finally got his first pick of the season (on Sunday), but he'll have a lot of interceptions in the future and big returns and all of that kind of stuff," Carroll said.
"The whole thing today was to stay on top," Griffin said when asked about the play. "My whole thing was that I knew I had help underneath so there was no reason for me to try to go heavy or try to jump a route. Right before the play, we kept talking about it and saying they were going to throw it right to me. The whole thing was to stay on top and I did, he threw it right to me and I just tried to make a play and I had to bring it in."
Carroll said the next step in Griffin's development as he looks to acquire more picks is to take everything he learned his rookie season and use it to grow in 2018. There's always competition around the Seahawks, so there's no guarantee Griffin will be the starter again next season, but they certainly have those expectations for him after how he performed this year.
"He has to use his experience and utilize what he has gained," Carroll said. "He missed some stuff this year and he let a couple of plays get away that he totally can handle and its just awareness and as we talk about the game slowing down a little bit more and recognizing things a little bit sooner than he does now, all of that will come. He has an enormous amount of growth in him from year one to year two. He's been so much in the middle of it, he hasn't had a chance to step back and really gain the prospective that will really help him. He'll be smarter today than he was at any part during the season just because he has separated already and when he comes back, it will clear up for him and he'll just be better. We'll have the highest of expectations for him, and we're fortunate to have him."