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High Potential, High Risk? Seahawks' Cornerback Group Offers Intrigue, Plenty of Questions

On paper, Seattle has accumulated a fascinating blend of veterans and rookies at the cornerback position. But questions persist about whether or not they have long-term starters on the roster rolling into 2022.

Investing a pair of draft picks and adding free agent reinforcements at the position, while uncertainty looms, the Seahawks have set themselves up to have great competition at the cornerback for the upcoming 2022 season.

Finally able to stay healthy, Sidney Jones became a quality starter down the stretch last season after John Schneider acquired him from the Jaguars for a sixth round pick. While Jones will aim to lock down the left side, Seattle made a bold decision not to re-sign D.J. Reed, who had been arguably a top-10 starter in the past couple of seasons after being plucked off waivers from San Francisco. With Reed leaving for the New York Jets in free agency, the right cornerback position is wide open.

Last year, Tre Brown showed great flashes of elite play during a limited sample size in his rookie season, allowing less than a 50 percent completion rate in three starts. Brown, like Jones, is sticky in man coverage and provides Seattle with much needed versatility in the calls they can make. He is, however, coming off of a major patellar tendon injury, so he has a ways to go in his recovery before he is back out on the field.

To bring in more competition for the cornerback position, Schneider signed Artie Burns from the Bears during free agency, reuniting him with associate head coach Sean Desai, who served as his defensive coordinator last season. Desai is held in high regard around the league, so bringing Burns in with him should not be taken lightly. 

Burns, a former first-round pick out of Miami, had his best season to date with Desai a year ago and Seattle is banking on the veteran recapturing that successful play he ended last season with. With the Seahawks' new-look defensive coaching staff, they hope to see him take another step in his career rejuvenation after a couple lean years in Pittsburgh and put it all together to turn his plus-athletic tools into on field production.

“Artie did a really nice job," coach Pete Carroll said following Seattle's final minicamp practice. "We really jumped in with Artie in our press stuff. Artie's really fast, he's really long, and he's got a nice feel for it. He jumped in, he played with the first group most of camp and did a nice job. Real positive about him.

However, Schneider wasn’t done upgrading the secondary after signing Burns in free agency. During the 2022 NFL Draft, Seattle selected Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen in the fourth and fifth round on consecutive selections, showing how important of a need the organization viewed the position.

Coming from Cincinnati where he won the Jim Thorpe Award, Bryant enters the league as the more pro ready cornerback. At 6-foot-1, 193 pounds, he possesses decent top speed and athleticism, but his physical tools are not what is most often raved about. 

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Exhibiting tremendous football IQ, Bryant always seems to know where to be at the right spot at the right time. With Seattle transitioning to more two-high shell coverages on defense, cornerbacks will more often have help over the top. This could help players such as Bryant who lack elite speed and can have issues occasionally getting beat downfield by faster receivers in man coverage, allowing him to thrive in zone underneath with his ball-hawking tendencies.

"He's a football player, natural play maker, he's got great hands, he might catch the ball as well as anybody on the team," Carroll said of Bryant. "He's got terrific hands and you could see that adds to a guy's confidence when they're faced with the opportunity to make plays. He's one of those guys, that's why he was recognized around the country. He's a big-time player, he did a nice job."

On the flip side, the Seahawks selected a physical specimen with immense untapped potential in Woolen. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 200 pounds, Woolen has rare size and elite top end speed (4.26 40-yard dash) for the position.

While Bryant comes in pro ready, Woolen is a raw prospect oozing with physical tools, making him well worth the fifth round gamble. His collegiate career at UTSA was interesting as he flipped from receiver to cornerback similar to another famous player in Seahawks history. Seattle hopes with proper coaching to quickly develop him and allow his physical attributes to take over.

"He was the flashiest in camp," Carroll assessed of Woolen's play. "He missed some early time, but once he got out here, shoot, you couldn't miss him out there because he's long and tall and he is really fast. He's fast, fast, and the style of play, we would style him like you would've seen Brandon Browner and he's 6'4 and so they'll look similar. He's got a step on Brandon, or four."

Though he will need time before he's ready to see the field on defense, if the Seahawks can coach Woolen up on the technical intricacies of playing corner in the NFL, including the kick step technique, they may have a potential future star on their hands down the road.

Looking at the position as a whole, Seattle has a lot of upside with this reconstructed cornerback group, but there is a lot of risk there too. Jones, Burns, and Brown all have significant durability question marks and each have suffered severe leg injuries at some point in their respective careers, while Bryant and Woolen don't have an NFL snap on their resume yet.

In time, if the young corners acclimate quickly and the veterans mesh with defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt's scheme, choosing to let Reed depart for $11 million per year may prove to be a wise move for the Seahawks. Of course, that frugal roll of the dice could also blow up in their faces if the current cast of characters doesn't play up to their potential and the veteran thrives in New York, making the position one to monitor closely once training camp opens next month.