Seahawks Training Camp Primer: Cornerbacks
Over the course of the next four weeks, we will be breaking down each of the Seahawks positional groups as we slowly creep towards the start of training camp.
Though the famous “Legion of Boom” no longer resides in Seattle, let’s take a closer look at a young, hungry cornerback group that hopes to live up to the lofty standards set by their predecessors.
Projected Starters: Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers
Perhaps shouldering the burden of replacing a legend a bit too much, Griffin endured a turbulent second season with the Seahawks. He played like a star at times, including intercepting Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky twice in Week 2 and helping shut down Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in Week 14. But inconsistent tackling, missed assignments, and lingering issues playing the football in coverage remained problematic throughout the course of the year, earning him one of the lowest grades for any NFL cornerback from Pro Football Focus. With a new diet, he cut his weight back down to 194 pounds and has been studying film extensively with plans on taking a big leap forward in 2019.
While Griffin didn’t meet expectations last year, Flowers did the exact opposite after being thrust into the starting lineup in Week 1. With minimal experience playing cornerback coming out of Oklahoma State, the 6-foot-3 defender was viewed as a developmental project when the Seahawks drafted him in the fifth-round. But he caught on to his new position quicker than anticipated, managing to start 15 games while producing 67 tackles, three forced fumbles, and six pass deflections. Coach Pete Carroll believes he’ll be ready for a “monster” year after another full offseason shoring up his technique and improving his understanding of the position.
Reserves: Akeem King, Neiko Thorpe, Jamar Taylor, Kalan Reed, Jeremy Boykins, Simeon Thomas, Derrek Thomas, Davante Davis
Used largely as a situational reserve last season, King used a strong month of December to earn a new one-year contract in March and will receive the first crack at winning the nickel cornerback job as a replacement for Justin Coleman. The 26-year old hybrid defender offers plenty of skills that should translate well to the position, as he’s a steady tackler against the run and created two quarterback pressures on a handful of blitz attempts last year. His agility and change of direction skills will be challenged at the position, however.
Aside from King, Reed and Taylor will also battle for the starting gig in the slot, with each player offering prior game experience at the position. Reed didn’t appear in a single game in 2018, but it was telling that Seattle still kept him on the active roster for most of the season. After appearing in seven games with the Titans during his first two years in the league, he’s a viable candidate to win the job entering his second season in Seahawks. Taylor will be looking to bounce back from a rough year split with the Cardinals and Broncos and return to 2016 form, when the speedy corner intercepted three passes and recorded 13 passes defensed for the Browns.
Thorpe met with a couple of other teams during free agency, including the Bills, but opted to return to the Seahawks on a one-year deal. He hasn’t played many defensive snaps over the past three years, but he’ll remain an insurance option behind Griffin and Flowers at the outside corner spots while making his money on Seattle’s kick and punt coverage teams.
Boykins and Simeon Thomas both spent time with Seattle’s practice squad last season, but neither player earned a promotion to the active roster. Boykins will compete for snaps as a nickel corner, while Thomas will be fighting for a reserve role on the outside.
With Carroll and general manager John Schneider running the show, Seattle has built a reputation for uncovering undrafted gems, including defensive tackle Poona Ford a year ago. Looking at this year’s undrafted class, Derrek Thomas and Davis may have the most legitimate shot at making the team given the lack of depth behind Griffin and Flowers. Though he’s raw and only has played cornerback for a few years, Thomas possesses the size (6-foot-3) and speed (4.44 40-yard dash) Carroll craves at the position, while the 6-foot-2 Davis offers valuable versatility after playing both cornerback and safety at Texas. If either player can carve out a role on special teams, a roster spot will be within reach.
What to Watch: Among Seattle’s most anticipated camp battles, finding Coleman’s successor in the slot will be critical for Ken Norton Jr’s defense. King will enter camp atop the depth chart at the position, but it’s far from guaranteed he’ll win the job, as Reed and Taylor hold an experience advantage over him and may have better skill sets for the position. Carroll also mentioned Boykins as a worthy competitor earlier this offseason, but his opportunity may have been negated by Seattle’s decision to draft safety Ugo Amadi, who may also get a crack at playing nickel corner. Griffin and Flowers are cemented as starters on the outside, but the Seahawks will have to find capable reserves behind them during training camp and the preseason. Look for Simeon Thomas, Derrek Thomas, and Davis to duke it out for one of the final roster spots.
Stat to Know: According to Pro Football Focus, King received a tackling grade of 89.5, fifth-best among 141 cornerbacks with at least 150 defensive snaps.
X-Factor: Immediately following the conclusion of April’s draft, Carroll indicated Seattle didn’t plan to start Amadi off playing multiple positions, but that declaration barely lasted 72 hours. The Swiss Army knife out of Oregon started seeing work at nickel cornerback right away during the Seahawks annual rookie minicamp and continued receiving snaps there throughout the rest of the team’s offseason program. Questions remain about whether or not his change of direction skills will allow him to cover NFL slot receivers, but he’s a sound tackler against the run, can wreak havoc as a blitzer from the slot, and has quality ball skills, which will give him a chance to steal the starting gig as Coleman’s replacement.
Prediction: Griffin may not have played as well as expected last season, but the Seahawks still believe the sky is the limit for him and Flowers on the outside. Those two should be firmly entrenched in the starting lineup for at least the next two years, leaving the nickel position as the only significant question mark at cornerback. In the long run, Amadi may be Seattle’s best option in the slot, but to kick off the 2019 season, King will secure the starting job by winning a tightly contested competition against Reed and Taylor. With Amadi making the team as insurance behind King and Thorpe securing his spot as a special teams stalwart, Reed and Taylor will both be cut, the ever-so-intriguing Derrek Thomas will sneak onto the roster as a potential starter-in-waiting, and Davis will be retained on the practice squad for continued development.