The median piece in this five-part series details several defensive backs on whom the Seahawks might take a chance in a later round of the draft or as undrafted free agents. Part one covered some overlooked defensive linemen, while part two detailed a quartet of linebackers.
As with parts one and two, criteria for these prospects include relatively little media coverage, the expectation that they’ll last into day three (rounds 4-7) of the draft or go undrafted, and enough of the unquantifiable concept known as "upside."
Although this year’s list of Seahawky outside cornerbacks is fairly brief—they want taller, long guys with 32"+ arms—once I took into account potential slot corners and all the safeties, the initial pool of defensive backs I examined was massive. Whittling down that list was a somewhat arbitrary chore, so I’ll include several additional names for each position group.
In these articles I refer to SPARQ, an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness, the name for a formula developed by Nike to assess overall athleticism in several sporting fields. Zach Whitman over at 3sigmaathlete has effectively reverse-engineered the formula (referring to it as "pSPARQ") for American footballers and has done a great job compiling all the figures and explaining what those mean.
(Note that height is expressed in the following standard format: the first digit is feet, the next two digits are inches, and the fourth digit is fraction of inches in eighths—so 6013 equals 6’1 3/8", 5117 equals 5’11 7/8", and so on. Also note that some of the player highlight vids have explicit lyrics, so mute as needed.)
This is a nice and deep safety draft, with plenty of athletic and hard-hitting works-in-progress sure to be available in the later rounds and undrafted ranks. Although Seattle has perhaps the NFL’s best starting safety duo with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and quality depth with Kelcie McCray and Steven Terrell, a few rookies will probably compete for backup spots in the secondary and on special teams.
The trio of undervalued safeties covered here share similar traits: hard-hitting, quick and athletic, solid and aggressive tacklers, good production. Each should be available in a later round, though I’d be a bit surprised if more than one of them went undrafted. Seattle had an official visit with one of these players, and I wouldn’t doubt that they’re keeping tabs on the other two as well.
Tevin Carter, Utah
Carter, the Las Vegas Bowl MVP (two interceptions, one returned for a TD), looks like a deathbacker candidate. He has quickness, strength, and explosiveness to go with very good instincts and tackling ability. He plays with great enthusiasm and is often at the epicenter of defensive plays. His pSPARQ score is below average, but none of his numbers are that poor—slow short shuttle and three-cone times aren’t major concerns.
He only played two seasons at Utah after bouncing around a couple of junior colleges, and wound up with 72 total tackles (41 solo), 9 tackles for loss, 4 passes defensed, and 4 interceptions. He’s a former receiver, so his ball-tracking skills are honed, and he has good hands.
It’s worth noting Carter’s list of high school athletic accomplishments, which are great and varied: he played both wide receiver and defensive back, and was rated a 4-star WR by both Scout and Rivals; he lettered in track and basketball, and was one of the best high school track athletes in the entire state of California, including winning the Los Angeles City title in the 200-meter sprint when he was a senior. When it comes to academics he’s excelled as well, having made the honor roll his senior year of high school and then completing two bachelor’s degrees at Utah.
Carter looks like a 6th or 7th round pick.
Carter’s pro day summary:
Height, weight: 6012, 218
Arm length: 32"
40-yard dash: 4.54 seconds (1.60 10-yard split)
Short shuttle: 4.44 seconds
Three-cone: 7.23 seconds
Vertical jump: 34"
Broad jump: 10'4"
Bench press reps @ 225 lbs: 19
Will Parks, Arizona
Parks played both "spur" and "bandit" positions in Arizona’s 3-3-5 odd stack defense, each of those a defensive back/linebacker hybrid role in which the defender will take on tight ends, running backs, full backs, and offensive linemen who come out to block on the second level. The spur plays on the strong side (like a smaller SAM) while the bandit lines up on the weak side; the bandit is typically the rangiest player on the defensive side of the field.
Parks has experience in multiple difficult positions in an exotic defensive formation. He plays like a hyperactive wolverine on the field and hits like Kam Chancellor. He saw action in 53 games in his four years at Arizona and never missed a contest. He totaled 4 interceptions, 20 passes defensed, and 21 tackles for loss in his career.
Although Parks had some poor test numbers at his pro day and rates low in pSPARQ, he plays with more athleticism than the numbers indicate. The Seahawks liked him enough to bring him in for an official meeting in late March.
Parks fits as a late-round pick.
Parks’ pro day summary:
Height, weight: 6003, 204
Arm length: 30 5/8" (per ESPN)
40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (1.64 10-yard split)
Short shuttle: 4.45 seconds
Three-cone: 7.02 seconds
Vertical jump: 31.5"
Broad jump: 9’5"
Bench press reps @ 225 lbs: 21
Kentrell Brice, Louisiana Tech
The fastest (4.38 best 40 time) and most athletic of the safety trio covered here, Brice would have placed fifth in his position group at the combine had he been invited—no safety there had a better vertical jump or broad jump, only one had a faster time in the 40-yard dash, and only one did more reps on the bench press. He doesn’t rank higher among his peers due to a mediocre short shuttle and a curiously slow three-cone, neither of which is that big of a deal.
To go with Brice’s exceptional athleticism, excellent tackling, fearlessness, and hard-hitting play was very good production across the past two seasons: 111 solo tackles (146 total), 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks (4 in 2014), 3 interceptions, 6 QB hurries, 13 passes broken up, 16 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles. He takes on ball carriers, receivers, and quarterbacks with equal aplomb.
Though Brice was primarily a strong safety in college, with his traits he should be able to play some free safety and slot corner in the NFL, and also provide special teams value. Like the other two safeties here, I project Brice in the 6-7 round range, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him taken as early as round 5.
Brice’s pro day summary:
Height, weight: 5114, 206
Arm length: 31 5/8"
40-yard dash: 4.41 seconds (1.54 10-yard split)
Short shuttle: 4.40 seconds
Three-cone: 7.62 seconds
Vertical jump: 42"
Broad jump: 11’1"
Bench press reps @ 225 lbs: 21
Some other noteworthy safeties
Michael Caputo, Wisconsin - Had official Seahawks visit; the very definition of hard-nosed.
Taj Letman, Marshall - Had a private workout for Seahawks.
Justin Simmons, Boston College - Top SPARQ safety in the draft, no longer under-the-radar enough and likely a round 3-4 pick.
A.J. Hendy, Maryland – Number two SPARQ safety in the draft, but I left him off the main list due to character concerns.
Xavier Walker, Middle Tennessee State - Tall and lanky free safety, though quite strong and athletic.
Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State - Played strong safety opposite Xavier Walker, had a whopping 19 INTs in career, no longer under-the-radar enough due to rising stock. I think Byard will go a bit too early for the Hawks, but he should be on their radar.
Several mock drafts out there have projected the Seahawks taking a cornerback with their first overall pick, presumably due to the Cary Williams debacle of 2015 and the supposed lack of "Boom" in the "Legion of." I don’t see it—Seattle hasn’t drafted a CB in the first round since 2006 when they selected Kelly Jennings from Miami (FL), four years before the John Schneider/Pete Carroll era. With Jeremy Lane up and coming, plus great depth and certain competition at the position, I think they’ll wait until round 4 or 5 of the draft to take their first corner.
James Bradberry, Samford
I knew that my research into the unheralded ranks of college players was getting deep when I considered omitting James Bradberry because I thought he might be too well-known. Bradberry was recognized enough to receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, where he tested behind only Jalen Ramsey and Vernon Hargreaves among corners. So he has the athleticism to go with the length that Seattle desires in an outside cornerback—Bradberry is almost 6’1" and has incredibly long arms (33 3/8") for his size.
The available film on Bradberry is limited, but he does show flashes, and he reportedly looked very good in Senior Bowl practices. Louis Riddick of ESPN said that Bradberry is "a big, strong, physical corner who can really get up on the line and press you and play physical at the point of attack."
He started 45 games over 4 seasons at Samford, and wound up with notable career totals: 128 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 8 interceptions (2 each year), and 27 passes broken up.
Is Bradberry worth the risk as a round 5 or 6 pick? I don’t think he’ll last past the 6th round, and could be gone by the time Seattle is on the clock late in the 5th. If he has the passion and coachability that the Seahawks look for, they could take a chance on him.
Bradberry’s combine summary:
Height, weight: 6006, 211
Arm length: 33 3/8"
40-yard dash: 4.5 seconds (1.53 10-yard split)
Short shuttle: 4.21 seconds
Three-cone: 6.91 seconds
Vertical jump: 36"
Broad jump: 11’
Bench press reps @ 225 lbs: 16
Vernon Harris, Dartmouth
Trivia question: Who’s the highest-drafted NFL player to come out of Dartmouth? Give up? I quickly did when I pondered that. It’s halfback Bob MacLeod, taken 5th overall by the Brooklyn Dodgers (!!) in the 1939 draft. He played all of one season (1939). In the modern era, the highest-drafted Dartmouth guy was linebacker Reggie Williams, who enjoyed a fine 14-year career with Cincinnati. The last Dartmouth player to see any significant time in the NFL was Casey Cramer, who played RB and TE for Tampa Bay in the mid 2000s.
So back to Harris, who had 3 interceptions and 50 total tackles in 2015; he made the All-Ivy League First Team for two consecutive years, and he profiles well for a Seahawky corner: size (6010, 197 lbs), length (32" arms), athleticism, physical and instinctive play, good production. His pro day numbers, which include a 4.53-second 40, a 35.5" vertical jump, and an 10’3" broad jump, would place him at around the 60th SPARQ percentile for NFL cornerbacks.
Though Harris won’t come close to supplanting Bob MacLeod as the top-drafted Dartmouth man, he looks like a good prospect in the undrafted free agent ranks.
Harris’ pro day summary:
Height, weight: 6010, 197
Arm length: 32"
40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds (1.59 10-yard split)
Short shuttle: 4.34 seconds
Three-cone: 7.34 seconds
Vertical jump: 35.5"
Broad jump: 10’3"
Bench press reps @ 225 lbs: 14
Tre Jones, Mount Union (Ohio)
With James Bradberry and Vernon Harris projecting as outside corners, I wanted to move on to a slot corner-type, so Tre Jones from wee little University of Mount Union made the list.
Mount Union might be a small Division III program, but they are a juggernaut in their weight class: Not only have they produced two very good current NFL wide receivers in Cecil Shorts III and Pierre Garcon, but they’ve made the D-III title game eleven straight years, and won it all in 2015 with a 15-0 record. That gives the school 12 titles, the most of any NCAA football program at any level.
So what does this small-school guy boast on his resume?
Terrific production. Jones finished his collegiate career with 18 interceptions, including 7 each in 2014 and 2015. He also broke up 27 passes over 2014-15.
Reliability and availability. He started all 30 games over the last two seasons and has no injury history that I could find.
Honors and awards. D3football.com All-America Second Team, D3football.com All-North Region First Team, OAC Lee Tressel Award (the top defensive back in the conference), All-OAC First Team.
Jones, who doesn’t turn 22 until late September, projects as a 7th round or priority undrafted free agent.
Jones’ pro day summary:
Height, weight: 5100, 194
Arm length: (no data)
40-yard dash: 4.56 seconds (1.53 10-yard split)
Short shuttle: 4.26 seconds
Three-cone: 6.72 seconds
Vertical jump: 37"
Broad jump: 10’7"
Bench press reps @ 225 lbs: 14
Some other noteworthy cornerbacks
Daryl Worley, West Virginia – Another tall (6’1"), long (33 3/8" arms), physical safety similar to James Bradberry. I flipped a mental coin on which guy to cover in greater detail, and the little Tarvaris Jackson on my shoulder called "heads" for Bradberry.
DeAndre Elliott, Colorado State – At 6’1" with 32" arms, Elliott also fits the Seahawks outside corner physical profile, and should be available in a later round than Bradberry or Worley. I have a slight preference for Bradberry and Worley over Elliott because they’re longer and more physical, but Elliott boasts great athleticism (41" vertical leap) and showed tremendous improvement in 2015.
Blake Countess, Auburn – The small slot corner (just under 5’10", 184 lbs) who benched 225 pounds a ridiculous 21 times met with the Seahawks and is super-fluid in coverage.
The next installment in this series will switch gears and move to
long snappers the offensive side of the ball with a look at tight ends and wide receivers.