With DeShawn Shead likely facing a long recovery for his ACL injury suffered late in the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks find themselves without any sure thing starting at outside cornerback opposite Richard Sherman headed into 2017. That need, combined with a crop of defensive back prospects considered deep enough for the Seahawks to target an immediate-starter candidate at the 26th selection, suggests Seattle might nab someone like Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley or Washington’s Kevin King according to two recent projections.
However, as Kenneth Arthur reminded us after Mel Kiper, Jr., mocked Tankersley to the Seahawks, the Seattle organization has never drafted a cornerback higher than the fourth round under John Schneider. The reported depth of the draft class at the position also supports the Seahawks maybe laying low and hoping for greater value at cornerback with a later pick, although as always once the draft starts that’s always contingent on who Seattle has highlighted compared to who gets taken off the board.
The current need is also subject to what happens after free agency begins in March. In the 2015 offseason, the Seahawks signed Cary Williams to replace incumbent starter Byron Maxwell lost during the same free agency period. But the Williams contract proved a poor fit as he lasted fewer than three months into the next season and Seattle was still getting out from the guaranteed money on that deal in 2016.
The Seahawks have a little bit of cap room in 2017 but the lesson of the Williams contract may make this front office reticent to chase players like Stephon Gilmore or A.J. Bouye on the market this time around. Williams’s failure to adjust to Seattle’s special techniques for playing its style of man-free coverage, notably the “kick-step” move, seem to spell trouble for players inserted directly into such an important role without development within the system.
With that in mind, although I’m sure the Seahawks may seek for depth in the draft or try to sign someone on a more provisional deal in the open market, it may be quite reasonable to look for Shead’s successor (or at least placeholder) among the talents already on the Seattle roster. Beside Shead’s injury, the presumption that the Seahawks cornerback cupboard is bare enough to stock with a top draft pick comes from looking at the players who finished the season on the active roster: beyond Pro-Bowler Sherman, Jeremy Lane had a frustrating season as a rotational slot corner and DeAndre Elliot and Neiko Thorpe were effective special teams gunners but not particularly reliable in coverage.
However, John Boyle points out two additional players who might be in the mix: Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Mohammed Seisay. Seisay and Jean-Baptiste, in addition to being teammates at Nebraska, are not technically under contract with Seattle once the new league year begins, but both with be exclusive rights free agents, which is basically equivalent to being controlled by one-year team options at the Seahawks’ choice of price. There’s also Pierre Desir, who Seattle signed to the practice squad late in the year and listed as a free safety—presumably to install him as below-roster depth after Earl Thomas’s injury. But Desir was drafted as a cornerback in 2014 and played there for the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers. Desir, like Perrish Cox and Demetrius McCray, signed futures contracts with the Seahawks last month.
None of those names may be as inspiring as a potential first-round draft pick, but Jean-Baptiste at least has a second-round pedigree and the physical attributes that Seattle has profiled for its starting cornerbacks. Though neither Jean-Baptiste or Seisay contributed last year and so their names probably connote disappointment following erstwhile offseason potential, Jean-Baptiste got injured in the first preseason game and Seisay had been starting to make contributions before tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the final warmup contest. If either can stay healthy come training camp, they may be factors in the competition with any acquisitions between now and then.
Again, I can’t guarantee any of these guys develops into a future Seahawks starting cornerback or even make the team in 2017, but the larder isn’t quite as empty as it appears at first glance. Among Seisay, Jean-Baptiste, Desir, Elliot, Thorpe, Cox and McCray, Seattle might or might not find its next Sherman or even Shead, but it does have some options.