Despite entering the 2021 season with championship aspirations, the Seahawks lost five of their first eight games and never fully recovered, finishing in last place in the NFC West with a 7-10 record.
Early in the season, after an underwhelming competition played out in training camp, the Seahawks quickly benched veteran Tre Flowers and shifted D.J. Reed back to right cornerback in Week 4. As the year progressed, one of the team's most glaring weaknesses quietly became an unexpected strength thanks to the surprising play of Sidney Jones playing across from Reed and contributions from reserves Bless Austin and John Reid in spot starts down the stretch.
Looking back at the season in retrospect, how did Seattle's cornerbacks perform as a group in 2021? And what comes next at the position?
2021 Stats: 78 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups
Overall Season Grade: B+ (87.5)
What Went Right: After transitioning back to his natural position at right cornerback in Week 4, few corners in the NFL were better than Reed over the final three months of the season. Per Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks completed just 46.2 percent of their pass attempts - the third-lowest among qualified corners - and posted a mediocre 69.7 passer rating when targeting him in his final 12 games. He didn't allow a single touchdown during that span while registering a pair of interceptions and four pass breakups. In addition to playing the role of shutdown defender in coverage, he also set a new career-high for tackles, continuing to excel as a run defender despite his smaller 5-foot-9, 188-pound frame. Thanks to his tackling prowess, he also allowed just 114 yards after the catch, the eighth-lowest total among NFL corners.
What Went Wrong: Though he bounced back in a major way after moving back to his natural position, Reed struggled mightily on the left side in Seattle's first three games. He allowed a pair of touchdown receptions in a loss to the Vikings in Week 3 and gave up seven receptions on 10 targets to open the year. Missed tackles were also somewhat problematic for Reed at times, as PFF charged him with nine missed tackles and a 10.2 miss rate.
Closing Thoughts: Low interception numbers likely cost Reed a Pro Bowl bid, but his numbers across the board stacked up against the NFL's best. He held opposing quarterbacks to a lower completion rate than three All-Pro selections and allowed less touchdown receptions than all four of them at his position. Just turning 25 years old in November, his best days may be yet ahead of him and the Seahawks should be inclined to open up the checkbook in efforts to keep him.
2021 Stats: 10 tackles, one pass breakup
Overall Season Grade: B (84.0)
What Went Right: Brown wasted little time making an impact when he finally earned his first defensive snaps in Week 6 at Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger tried to test him early in the game on a go route, but the rookie stayed hip to hip with his receiver and the pass sailed incomplete. Later in overtime, he made a fantastic third down tackle on Ray Ray McCloud to force a Steelers punt. Three weeks later in Green Bay, he broke up a fourth down pass from Aaron Rodgers for a turnover on downs. In five games, he allowed just eight catches on 17 targets for a 59.7 passer rating in coverage while contributing 10 tackles.
What Went Wrong: Injuries dogged Brown in his first NFL season, starting with a knee sprain suffered during the preseason that landed him on injured reserve until Week 6. After impressing the coaching staff in three straight starts upon his return, his knee buckled as he tried to defend a pass to Cardinals receiver A.J. Green, tearing his patellar tendon and undergoing surgery shortly thereafter. In his brief audition at left cornerback, he also missed a pair of tackles and will have to clean up that part of his game when he comes back to action.
Closing Thoughts: Out of Seattle's three draft picks from the 2021 class, Brown was easily the most impressive in limited time on the field. He looked like a potential long-term starter, playing with the physicality and aggressiveness Carroll covets in the secondary. Assuming he fully recovers from a significant injury, he should be in the hunt for a starting job to open the 2022 season regardless of what happens with Reed and Jones in free agency.
2021 Stats: 66 tackles, eight pass breakups
Overall Season Grade: B (83.0)
What Went Right: Thrust back into the starting lineup for a second time when Tre Brown suffered a year-ending knee injury in Week 11, Jones put together his best extended run of play as an NFL cornerback in November and December. Targeted 29 times in his final seven games, he allowed just 128 yards on 17 receptions, the fifth-lowest total in the league during that span. While he allow a touchdown unlike Reed, he still produced four pass breakups and didn't yield a pass play of more than 18 yards, giving Seattle a quality one-two punch on the outside down the stretch. Where Jones may have improved the most, however, was as a run defender. Playing with more physicality than anticipated, he produced 41 tackles in those final seven games with just four missed tackles, which helped him limit receivers to 44 yards after the catch.
What Went Wrong: Struggling to acclimate to a new scheme after being acquired from the Jaguars in late August, Jones got torched in his first two starts replacing a benched Tre Flowers. He allowed two touchdowns and 270 yards receiving on just 11 receptions in those two games, leading to Brown earning his first start in Week 7 against New Orleans. The former Washington standout also wasn't able to get his hands on any interceptions, failing to pick off a pass for a first time since 2018.
Closing Thoughts: Like Reed, Jones has youth on his side, as he will turn just 26 in May. Considering injuries hindered his development during his time with the Eagles earlier in his career, the former second-round pick may just be scratching the surface of his potential and fits well with the Seahawks' scheme. While re-signing Reed must be the first priority, keeping the tandem together in 2022 would be a wise move as long as the price to keep Jones fits into the budget.
2021 Stats: 54 tackles, one interception, two pass breakups
Overall Season Grade: C (74.5)
What Went Right: Replacing an injured Marquise Blair as Seattle's primary slot cornerback for a second straight season, Amadi tied his previous career-best in tackles and also recorded his first NFL interception in a Week 17 win over Detroit. Though he rarely came on the blitz, he still managed to produce a pair of batted passes at the line of scrimmage and two quarterback pressures.
What Went Wrong: Picked on by opposing quarterbacks more effectively this year, Amadi regressed in coverage statistically, allowing an 83.6 percent completion rate and 577 receiving yards against him. Unable to match up with shiftier slots much of the time while also getting exposed in matchups against bigger tight ends, he only got his hands on the football three times on 67 targets. Efficient tackling wasn't necessary his forte either, as PFF credited him with eight missed tackles and a 13.3 percent miss rate on the season. He also drew five defensive holding penalties, with four of them coming on critical third and fourth down situations.
Closing Thoughts: Since arriving as a fourth-round pick out of Oregon, Amadi has provided the Seahawks with invaluable snaps taking over for Blair in the slot and remains a quality special teams player. But his deficiencies in coverage coupled with his penchant for grabbing receivers and drawing penalties could put him in a bit of tenuous spot next summer, as the team would be wise to bring in additional competition for the nickel role to push him.
2021 Stats: Eight tackles
Overall Season Grade: C- (72.5)
What Went Right: Austin didn't get to play many defensive snaps for the Seahawks, but he did flash in coverage in a Week 15 loss to the Rams. Targeted twice by Matthew Stafford, neither pass was completed with the young cornerback glued to the intended receiver, including a slot fade to Odell Beckham Jr.
What Went Wrong: While Austin did show well in coverage in limited action, he did allow six out of eight targets to be completed against him for 71 yards and committed a trio of penalties - albeit questionable ones - to prolong a pair of scoring drives for the Rams. He also missed two tackles on just 10 attempts, proving to be less reliable than his cornerback counterparts.
Closing Thoughts: Scheduled to be a restricted free agent, Austin still offers some intrigue due to his size and previous starting experience. But the Seahawks won't be tendering him and if he does come back, it will likely be on a veteran minimum deal to compete for a roster spot rather than battle for a starting role.
2021 Stats: 12 tackles, two pass breakups
Overall Season Grade: C- (71.0)
What Went Right: Like Austin, Reid made a few plays late in the season spelling Reed and Jones after they tested positive for COVID-19. Making his first start with the team against the Bears in Week 17, he produced a pair of pass breakups in coverage and gave up three receptions on six targets.
What Went Wrong: In three games where we played more than 10 defensive snaps, Reid botched a few coverage assignments, including giving up a long completion to Cooper Kupp in Week 15. He also got boxed out by tight end Jimmy Graham on what wound up being the game-winning touchdown late in regulation against the Bears.
Closing Thoughts: Though Reid didn't get to play much in his first year with the Seahawks, the former Penn State standout made enough happen on the field to merit another look in training camp. It's possible he could be an in-house option to compete against Blair and Amadi for the nickel role next season.
Seahawks 2021 Positional Report Cards
Offensive Tackle - Coming Soon
Guard/Center - Coming Soon
Safety - Coming Soon
Specialists - Coming Soon