I've started breaking down the Seahawks' roster pre-training camp and pre-free-agency. I wanted to take a closer look at the cornerback position. In my armchair GM series, I stated that the Seahawks would keep a pretty large group of corners for training camp and see who shines and stinks. I set that group as Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis, Josh Pinkard, Kennard Cox, Marcus Brown, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and (UDFA) Darrin Walls. Past this group, there's a chance that Kelly Jennings gets re-signed here. Ideally, he'll be re-signed to play the nickel back spot and in the bandit package, but there's still a chance they view him as the best bet opposite Marcus Trufant (though I doubt it).
No one really knows how big of a splash the Hawks plan to make in free agency, but if they decide to loosen up the pursestrings for a big name cornerback, there are a few on the market. Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph, and Antonio Cromartie are all players that should fetch big paydays. If they were to go after one of those players my vote would be for Joseph - he's young (27), on the verge of being 'elite', and would instantly upgrade our entire secondary with his coverage and ball skills.
There are some intriguing UDFA players that I could see the Hawks targeting as well. Ryan Jones, Kevin Rutland, and Darrin Walls are the three I've picked out of the bunch that could be on the Hawks' radars. John Schneider has specifically stated that they have their eyes on one corner in rookie free agency, so keep an eye on that when the lockout is lifted.
Because the Hawks run a lot of DB-heavy sets (the Bandit, dime and nickel packages), they could possibly keep a larger number of cornerbacks this season than in years past. Last season, they kept 6; this season, it could be as high as eight to accommodate their personnel needs. Let's take a look at some of their options;
The Seahawks will likely go into camp with Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis, Josh Pinkard, Kennard Cox, Marcus Brown, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, and Byron Maxwell. They'll likely invite at least one UDFA to compete and it's up in the air as to whether they'll pursue a big name free agent for that position.
If they do, like I said above, the top three targets would be Asomugha, Joseph, and Cromartie. Past that, you see a lot of RFA's so the CBA limitations would be important. Both Brandon Carr and Chris Carr would be interesting options, but Brandon is a RFA regardless of the new CBA so his pursuit is doubtful; Chris is 5'10 so I doubt the Hawks would pursue him. Same goes for RFA Brent Grimes - he's 5'10 and would cost a first rounder likely. Ike Taylor is a real possibility at 6'2 195 but is older (31) so that doesn't mesh with a team that's trying to get younger at every position. Josh Wilson ... well I just don't see that happening. I wouldn't argue against it, but it seems doubtful. Richard Marshall is a decent corner but doesn't really represent a big upgrade over what we currently have on the roster. That leaves us with Kelly Jennings.
Why re-sign Jennings? Well, he's played here his entire career, played better in 2010 than in past years, and doesn't project to likely start if he goes elsewhere. If he can accept that he's probably more valuable to the Hawks as a nickel and dime package player and wants to stay, I'd welcome the move. Ideally, barring any big free agency moves, I'd like to see a healthy Marcus Trufant as our #1 and Walter Thurmond as our #2 corner in 2011, but I still think that Jennings can have value in a more limited role. Everyone knows how much our secondary struggled last season and he didn't help, but Jennings is still very fast, decent in coverage, and is a reliable tackler when asked to be. This might not be a popular move, but he's well-liked in the locker room and he's a hard worker so I wouldn't be against it under the above conditions. His ability to play the quicker and smaller slot guys could come in handy and he'd theoretically be more effective in the DB-heavy packages, in slot rather than on the outside against bigger, stronger opponents.
As far as the UDFA's go, I would guess that Kendrick Burney is a no-go. Though he's thought to be a good coverage cornerback, he's 5'9 so I can't imagine the Hawks going out of their way to sign him considering their recent roster moves.
As I wrote earlier, three corners struck me as possible Seahawk targets:
CB Ryan Jones, Northwest Missouri State
Jones has good size at 5'11, 200 and is very fast, running in the 4.4 range at his pro day. He also ran a respectable 4.18 short shuttle, put up 225 20 times, and registered a 40" vertical. He's been described as more of an athlete than polished football player at this point but he's worked hard at his technique and did produce 6 interceptions last season for Northwest Missouri State. For what it's worth, Wes Bunting is high on him as a developmental player and he'd come cheap at this point. He sounds kind of like a Pete Carroll project to me.
CB Kevin Rutland, Missouri
Has good size/speed ratio at 6'0 190 and runs in the 4.4s. He's pretty raw, and isn't likely to start at corner any time soon, but could be a good developmental project for the Hawks because of their DB heavy packages. He's developed good ball skills that had 120 tackles, 16 passes defended, and 6 interceptions in his career at Missouri. He's a bit wirey but has good hands and reads the QB effectively. He's got long arms and has been effective in re-routing receivers off the line so he could be on the Hawks' radar in free agency.
CB Darrin Walls, Notre Dame
Another guy with good size and speed at 6'0 188, 4.4s in the 40. He's best as a physical press corner and is adept at jamming receivers at the line. If beaten, he has the recovery speed to trail. He sat out his junior year for personal reasons and may be why he wasn't drafted, but he's got the physical makeup to be a starter in the NFL. Also a strong special teams contributor. Could be exactly the type of flyer that Carroll is looking for.
This is kind of a tough one. My thinking is that the Hawks will keep 6 to 7 corners in 2011, so with that in mind I'd stick with Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Roy Lewis, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, and Byron Maxwell. The caveat point on this group would be the addition of a free agent, which would mean Brandon Browner or possibly Roy Lewis could be on the bubble (he could also be on the PUP list to start the year). If no free agents are pursued, the bubble guys would be Kennard Cox, Marcus Brown, and any of the UDFAs they bring in.
Overall, I think the Hawks have some good depth at the position but lack a true #1 with Marcus Trufant's age and injury history hindering him. If the Hawks went out and signed a #1 guy they'd be in very good shape but I'm not sure how likely they are to do it. Rather, I am more inclined to believe they'll sign a UDFA or two, bring back Jennings, hope to create more pressure on the quarterback from the defensive line, and hope it helps improve the secondary's effectiveness.