RENTON, WA - Under the leadership of general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have adhered to very specific measurables and athletic testing metrics when evaluating cornerback prospects. Specifically, dating back to their first draft together in 2010, Seattle had not drafted a cornerback with shorter than 32-inch arms.
But when D.J. Reed - who stands 5-foot-9 with 31 5/8-inch arms - emerged during the second half of the 2020 season playing well on the outside, Carroll made comments suggesting the organization could make adjustments in regard to their preferences at the position in the future.
"Everybody's known the long-arm corners and all that stuff, that's what I've always wanted,” Carroll said following a Week 15 win over Washington. “They [cornerbacks] come in different shapes and sizes, you know? And we just have to be open to it and not be stubborn about everyone has to be like this mold."
Further proof of Carroll and Schneider modifying their approach in practice came early on day three of the draft, as the Seahawks traded down eight spots to recoup a sixth-round pick from the Buccaneers before selecting Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown with the 137th overall pick in the fourth round.
Measuring in at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds with sub-30-inch arms at the Senior Bowl, most draft pundits saw Brown moving inside to the slot in the NFL. However, Carroll immediately slammed the door shut on that possibility, showing how much Reed's stellar play opened his eyes to how effectively smaller, quicker corners who don't fit the team's former prototype could perform in his scheme.
"Whether he's playing inside or outside, he's going to do fine. We're thinking of him as a corner to play on the outside," Carroll remarked. "We didn't draft him as a nickel."
Speaking with reporters shortly after receiving the call from Schneider, Brown wasn't sure what the Seahawks had in store for him position-wise. But he made it clear he would play anywhere the team needed him and simply wants a chance to compete and contribute.
"I'll play wherever they want me to play," Brown told reporters via Zoom. "If they need me inside, I'll go in there and play inside and contribute right away. If they need me to play outside, I can also do that. My range is pretty wide, so it doesn't matter."
Starring for the Sooners as a three-year starter, Brown played the vast majority of his snaps lined up on the outside, enjoying tremendous success in the high-octane Big 12 were defense is often optional on Saturdays. Over four seasons, he produced 141 tackles, four interceptions, and 31 passes defensed, earning Second-Team All-Big 12 recognition in 2020.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brown finished first among all qualified defenders at the FBS level for lowest passer rating against (26.9) in single coverage. He also didn't allow more than 70 receiving yards in a game in each of the past two years. Carroll indicated the team was blown away by sticky coverage in 1-on-1 drills at the Senior Bowl, solidifying his standing as a draft weekend target.
Sealing several big victories for his team, Brown also became known for his proclivity for producing crucial plays in the clutch. In last year's Big 12 title game, he set up two touchdown drives with long kick returns and eventually intercepted a pass inside two minutes to play to turn away Iowa State. Two years earlier, he produced a safety on a fourth quarter sack to put Texas away in the annual Red River Rivalry.
Asked to describe his game, Brown emphasized his physicality, high football IQ, and of course, his 4.42 40-yard dash speed. Most importantly, he isn't about to let his size serve as a limitation for his game.
"You're getting a physical guy, you're getting an intelligent guy, a fast guy out there on the field and a guy who is scrappy," Brown responded. "A guy who goes out there - doesn't matter what size you are or how big you are - I'm gonna compete regardless. Size never meant anything to me and you're getting a guy with a great, scrappy mentality."
Brown also will provide the Seahawks with tremendous versatility on special teams. Along with excelling as a kick and punt returner at Oklahoma, he was widely regarded as one of the nation's best "gunners" flying downfield to make plays on punt and kick coverage and should immediately contribute in that capacity as a rookie.
"When you say what position do I play, I just say I'm an athlete," Brown said. "I do special teams really well. When I get on the field, I'm going to give it my all. Kickoff return, guarding you on the punt return as well, every time I get out there I'm going to try to destroy you, be the fastest guy out there and just make those plays. I pride myself on special teams just like defense."
Looking at the big picture, the decision to select Brown as an outside corner presents a substantial shift in philosophy for the Seahawks. Even two years ago, he may not have even been on their draft board because he didn't fit their desired mold.
This isn't to say Seattle no longer covers cornerbacks with length. As Carroll pointed out, the offseason signing of 6-foot-3 Ahkello Witherspoon illustrates that.
But as Schneider elaborated, the franchise has to be willing to adapt when necessary. In the case of Brown, his football-related skills, competitive nature, and background playing and excelling against the nation's best receivers far outweighed his lack of measurables. With him still remaining available in the fourth round, the team wasn't about to let him slip out of their grasps.
"I'm sure Tre Brown would love to be 6-foot-2. If he was 6-foot-2, he'd be picked in the top 10, right?" Schneider smiled. "You could see him every weekend running all over the place in the Big 12 with all these receivers and all the speed that's out there and competing his tail off."
"Yes we'd love to have big corners and we did great when we got here, but you gotta adjust to the times too and there's only a certain amount of players you can pick from and it's more about the person like we talked about last night. This guy's a true competitor, he's on the upswing, he's overcome a lot. He's got a confidence about him and a competitiveness about him we love and we treasure."
That's lofty praise coming from one of the NFL's most respected general managers, especially considering Schneider wisely plucked Reed off waivers less than a year ago. Coupled with Carroll's comments, the Seahawks clearly have high expectations for Brown, who will be thrown right into the competition against Reed, Witherspoon, Tre Flowers, and Pierre Desir when the team returns to the field.