When the Seattle Seahawks signed Neiko Thorpe last year, it was barely news. I mean honestly, when the Seahawks re-signed Thorpe in March, it may have even been less of a headline than when he originally came to Seattle after two years in Oakland.
In a month, he could be starting at right cornerback against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. He’d just be the latest in a relatively long list of unlikely corners to make an impact under Pete Carroll.
Undrafted out of Auburn, Thorpe played on Kansas City’s practice squad in 2012, then was activated for nine games, making four tackles. Then much like Brandon Browner once upon a time, Thorpe was out of the NFL. He spent 2013 with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL (also a Browner-type connection) before landing a futures contract with the Raiders in early 2014. Thrope spent two years in Oakland, gaining significant playing time in 2015 which included 36 tackles and an interception. However, he was released during final cuts last year and then spent two days on the Indianapolis Colts.
The move came two days after the Seahawks 12-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, and Thorpe spent the next 15 games making a place for himself on special teams. Now with DeShawn Shead on the DeShawn Shelf while recovering from a torn ACL, Thorpe is in the lead to be the right cornerback when Seattle is in nickel formation.
Remember: The Seahawks are in nickel formation a lot. Thorpe, or whoever takes that position, is basically a starter same as the slot cornerback is. It’s just a continuation of getting used to the idea that there are really two starting linebackers and three starting corners, not the other way around.
Since taking over in 2010, Carroll has cycled through these starting corners:
2010: Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Walter Thurmond
2011: Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Trufant
2012: Sherman, Browner, Trufant
2013: Sherman, Browner, Byron Maxwell, Thurmond
2014: Sherman, Maxwell, Marcus Burley, Jeremy Lane
2015: Sherman, Cary Williams, Shead, Lane
2016: Sherman, Shead, Lane
Now which of those players were brought in under Carroll with high expectations from outsiders, based on everything we’d expect like high draft status or a big contract? Sherman was a fifth round pick, Lane was a sixth round pick, Maxwell was a sixth round pick, Browner was a CFL signee, Thurmond was a fourth round pick, Shead was a UDFA. The biggest signee — Williams — was also the biggest disappointment.
How will Thorpe fit in this season?
For now, it looks like Sherman and Lane will be starting in two-CB sets, but on three-CB sets, Lane will move back inside, where he was for over 70% of the defensive snaps last season. The starting outside job in those situations then is up for grabs, with Thorpe and third round rookie Shaquill Griffin being the frontrunners. Griffin is the guy that everyone has their eye on because he’s the highest-drafted corner by Seattle in the Carroll-John Schneider era, but Thorpe was re-signed for a reason.
“Neiko looked good at Oakland, technique-wise,” Carroll said during the season. “He had been coached—not quite the same as us—but well enough that we could see that he was a press corner. He could do it. He had good size and all that. He’s strong, he’s comfortable with it. It’s not too big for him to be up on the line of scrimmage, challenging good players and fast guys, big guys, doesn’t matter. Very versatile and a really good all-round football player, which has been demonstrated by his special teams work. He’s been a fantastic special teams contributor for us. That is kind of the way Shead came along too. It shows you that savvy and instincts and stuff. Good tackler too, so he fits in with our guys. (Richard) Sherman and Shead have always been good tacklers and fit guys on the edge. Neiko is like that too and he demonstrated that right off the bat.”
Thorpe’s experience, tackling, and ability to press could be what turns him into a Seahawks starter come September. We’ve seen what that’s done for Browner, Maxwell, Shead, Lane, Thurmond, and Sherman. It’s got them paid. There are no guarantees that Thorpe will get the job, or that if he does that he’ll be able to keep it, but confidence from Carroll — the best DBs coach ever with an undeniable track record — gives me confidence.
Then his free agency destination of 2018 will really be big news.