Analysis: The Seahawks' New Cornerback Competition + Nigel Warrior Tape Breakdown

Even at this late stage, the Seahawks have upgraded and re-shuffled their cornerback competition. Matty F. Brown explains how we reached this point and studies the game of the wild-card in the group: Nigel Warrior.
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Conventional NFL thinking suggests that a team’s starting lineup would be finalized after their last preseason game. The Seahawks, however, did not achieve this at cornerback. 

Instead, we have witnessed a total re-jig from general manager John Schneider and a positional battle that is more akin to the beginning of the offseason, not the end. Numerous new faces have arrived.

The Seahawks had—and still have—just one corner under contract after this season: 2021 fourth-round pick Tre Brown. Driven by the circumstances of little future at the position and patchy depth, Seattle has heavily reloaded at the outside CB position in the weeks following exhibition football. Heading into the offseason, corner was an obvious weakness for the present and coming years.

The Seahawks will view Tre Flowers’ re-emergence on the right side as a successful element of their attempted competition. Flowers was handed the right cornerback spot after D.J. Reed sustained a hip strain.

While it is nice that Flowers is playing with a newfound confidence and has been repeatedly praised by coaches, he was not strenuously pushed. Moreover, Flowers’ weaknesses as a player remain consistent: he struggles to break with short area quickness or agility, an issue particularly accentuated by in-breaking routes.

On the left side—where head coach Pete Carroll has historically placed his No. 1 corner—the prototype free agent addition of Ahkello Witherspoon failed to seize his opportunity. Witherspoon relied heavily on his feet in press coverage, rarely using his length. Can anyone remember the last time Witherspoon connected with a jam in press coverage?

Signed to a one-year, $4 million deal, Witherspoon was shipped off to the Steelers for a fifth-round draft selection in 2023. As has been proven throughout his tenure, Schneider is never afraid to admit his mistakes and, thankfully, the GM was ahead of this error early.

Brown looked ready to take the left corner spot from Witherspoon ahead of the team's second preseason matchup versus the Broncos. However, Brown suffered a “mild knee sprain” that Carroll has described as: “a couple of things we’re working on, but none of them are debilitating." With Brown out, Damarious Randall was pushed into the competition and played overly conservative. He was cut.

Seattle jumped ahead of the Texans’ second round of cuts, snagging John Reid for a conditional seventh-round pick before the last preseason fixtures (Read a breakdown of his game here). The 2020 fourth-round pick received his work at left corner. 

“John Reid has done a really nice job," Carroll assessed on September 6. "He plays really fast and has competed like crazy out here and has the ability to play multiple spots.” 

However, Reid is currently on the practice squad.

With the Seahawks still lacking a suitable left cornerback option, the recovered D.J. Reed switched sides in the practices after Seattle’s third and final preseason game.

Reed started his experience on the perimeter on the left. However, his best play came on the right—a large portion of this will be thanks to further experience and confidence.

The evidence shows that the Seahawks remained justifiably dissatisfied with their cornerback options exiting the preseason. It is fascinating that the Seahawks’ front office still attempted to fix the position at that stage. Moreover, their unusual process has produced better options and value than one would typically expect at this point in the process. That’s especially true given Seattle’s sparse resources this offseason.

The Seahawks repeated their Reid trick with the final cuts, trading a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jaguars for Sidney Jones. Jones’ major issue in the league has been health. 

Though athletically Jones is not in the long or small mold, he is the type of technician and ball-hawk that Seattle has sought. 

“Sidney's not coming in here standing around, he wants to play,” Carroll told reporters last week. 

The Seahawks added more suitable competition for Flowers.

Seattle also signed the athletically-gifted Mike Jackson Sr. to its practice squad—a big, long, athletic corner option. Not finished, Seattle also reportedly added Blessuan Austin—another big, long man, although his testing was impacted by injury.

Then there is Seattle’s wild-card: Nigel Warrior. Waived by the Ravens, Seattle claimed the 23-year old Warrior on September 1. 

The Ravens were deep at cornerback. We already saw signs of this when Baltimore traded 2021 fifth-round corner Shaun Wade to the Patriots early in the offseason. 

Essentially: Warrior’s release by a team deep at his position is not as large of an indictment of his game as it would be if a needy-at-cornerback franchise had cut him.

Tennessee’s pro day was cancelled due to COVID-19, which certainly did not help Warrior in the draft process that saw him go unpicked. He was able to test at a private workout.

At six-foot, 197-pounds with 325/8-inch arms, Warrior fits Seattle’s long corner mold.

He ran a 4.52-second 40-yard-dash time, a short shuttle in the mid 4.2-seconds and a 6.7/6.8-second 3-cone. The impressive short area quickness testing makes Warrior stand out from the other corners on the Seahawks’ roster, with Seattle not appearing to prioritize this as much.

Warrior jumped 33.5-inches in the vertical and 10-foot-3-inches in the broad. He finished with 10 bench press reps.

Prior to the Ravens converting him to cornerback, Warrior was a safety in college at the University of Tennessee. He led the Volunteers with four interceptions and nine pass breaks ups in his senior year, with things starting to click in his game.

“Really tough, he's a physical, tough dude and plays really hard,” described Carroll. “He played a lot of safety at Tennessee and you can see the mentality come out in his play.”

Warrior’s safety background shows up in his concept recognition and, of course, his uber-physical play-style, as he showcased in the 2021 preseason. It’s fitting that he took the No. 39 in Seattle. 

“We love the guys that show that kind of energy about the way he plays,” Carroll concluded.

In off-coverage, Warrior’s fluid backpedal and seamless transitions from it allows him to stay in his pedal for a lot of short-to-intermediate routes, enabling him to tightly contest most of these catch-points. An added bonus was his intelligent leverage maintenance. 

Meanwhile, in press coverage, Warrior’s tape leaves you wanting more press assignments from the Ravens (It suits Baltimore to play its outside corners off a lot of the time due to its scheme). Warrior is a tough and accomplished jammer, while staying square with his feet. He looks to mirror-step, keying the receiver release. Seattle coaches use this technique but will also coach Warrior the outside read step. 

Check out the full Warrior tape thread here:

Carroll mentioning John Reid—a practice squad member—over Warrior—a 53-man roster member—on Monday may not be a good sign for the latter's first impressions. He also reportedly did not practice. Only Sidney Jones and Reid were talked about by the Seahawks’ head coach.

Carroll also provided detail on the development plan for the position. 

“The cornerback spot, it depends. If we try to make them into something different than what they are, then they might struggle,” Carroll revealed. “But these guys are not, we don't ask them to do that. We ask them to play in the mentality and the mold that they bring.”

These Seahawks' molds became clear following the selection of Tre Brown.

“And then tweak from there,” Carroll continued. That's always been the way we've done it. You know corners come in all different sizes and shapes and styles and all of that. And I think that's one of our strengths. That we're able to see that and coach to it.”

All of the newcomers at corner face a tricky battle to make an impression in such a short time-frame. This is not a one-week deal, though. Not only will the Seahawks look at their depth throughout the season; they will also seek to keep some of these corners for 2022 and beyond. The front office has, even at this late stage, given the coaching staff various options. Old friend Richard Sherman remains unsigned.