clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Senior Bowl preview: Defensive backs to watch for the Seahawks

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-South Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to the defensive line, the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary is set to undergo an offseason of transition. Richard Sherman is a potential cut candidate, coming off a torn Achilles. Kam Chancellor won’t retire, but may not be able to play a down of football again. Earl Thomas might get an extension… but might go to the Dallas Cowboys? And one of the team’s longest serving coaches, former secondary coach and defensive coordinator, Kris Richard, has moved onto Dallas. Out of last year’s secondary group, perhaps only Shaquill Griffin is a surefire starter/contributor on the 2018 Seahawks.

There won’t be a completely clear picture of which secondary players fit into Seattle’s ideals until the conclusion of the Combine - 32 inch arms is non-negotiable - but we have Senior Bowl measurements and with it, a group of corners and safeties to look at. In addition to the arm length, only one drafted cornerback in Pete Carroll’s time has been shorter than 6-feet - Walter Thurmond - and the ideal weight is 195 pounds, while they’ve been more inclined to accept heavier than lighter (only Jeremy Lane weighed in at less than 190). That knocks out the 5-10 Chandon Sullivan and D’Montre Wade, as well as the 183-pound Jamarcus King, although they could re-enter the picture if they test exceptionally well in the three cone or vertical.

That leaves four cornerbacks in Mobile who fit the Seahawks’ measurements. Additionally, there’s several versatile, box-defending safeties that could fit into Seattle as Chancellor’s successor.

Levi Wallace (CB, Alabama)

Height: 6003

Weight: 176

Arm Length: 33 ⅜”

Weighing in at just 176 pounds to begin Senior Bowl week, Levi Wallace should be too small for the Seahawks’ ideals. However he battled the flu in January and reportedly played the National Championship at just 167 pounds. Wallace says he expects to be around 185 for the Combine in March. Regardless of any lingering effects from his flu, Wallace has been impressive during Senior Bowl practices, along with having the longest arms among the cornerbacks. With the Crimson Tide, Wallace was a walk on as a freshman, turned starter in his final season, while allowing an opposing passer rating of just 41.9.

In coverage, Wallace plays much bigger than his ideal weight of 185. Using his terrific length, he’s able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and not give up space, even against much larger possession receivers. He has solid technique, rarely opening up to run before the receiver has gotten out of his frame. His game off of the line of scrimmage resembles that of a Seattle cornerback, as well. In his one season as a starter, Wallace posted 18 pass breakups to go along with three interceptions. He gets himself in a terrific position to make plays on the ball, and more often than not he does just that. In run support, Wallace is willing and physical, coming up to make tackles whenever possible.

Wallace’s draft stock will live or die by his Combine performance and however much weight he’s able to put on before the trip to Indianapolis. But with exceptional arm length, great ball skills and a gritty personality, he resembles a Seahawks cornerback.

Christian Campbell (CB, Penn State)

Height: 6005

Weight: 192

Arm Length: 32 ½”

A typical big bodied, physical cornerback that Seattle has shown a penchant for liking in the past (Mike Tyson, DeShawn Shead), Christian Campbell has the body type the Seahawks look for in a cornerback. In the open field however, Campbell looks static, and I don’t think he’ll test particularly well in the three cone, a crucial drill for Seattle’s corner ideals. He’s had similar struggles all week in Mobile, losing receivers in the open field.

One thing Campbell does have going for him is his play at the line of scrimmage. He’s an exceptional press corner, winning routes immediately by getting his hands onto receivers and either redirecting their route or stymieing them completely. His arm length and physicality are conducive to jamming and succeeding with it, but once he’s forced to turn and run, he can lose receivers. Campbell’s length and body type are appealing for the Seahawks, but there’s a strong possibility of him being a total disaster if forced to learn Carroll’s kick-step technique.

Isaac Yiadom (CB, Boston College)

Height: 6007

Weight: 187

Arm Length: 32 ¼”

Perhaps the most Seahawk-y of any cornerback at the Senior Bowl, Isaac Yiadom is a similar prospect to Wallace. He’s outstanding at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, redirecting routes and winning with length and physicality. He shows a knack for the ball when it arrives, posting nine pass breakups and two interceptions in his final season with the Screaming Eagles. Like Wallace, Yiadom is a physical cornerback in run support, finding the ball carrier and finishing plays on the edge.

If anything will give Seattle pause in their evaluation of Yiadom as a potential fit, it’s how he might transition from press to the kick-step. He lacks fluidity and lost receivers often when he didn’t land his jam and was forced to open his hips and run immediately. As evidenced by Cary Williams, Griffin and almost every other corner the Seahawks have added, it’s impossible to know how a cornerback will perform in their system until they’re with the team and taught it. There’s a lot to like about Yiadom’s game and fit with Seattle, but the lack of fluidity and short-area quickness is a reason for concern, too.

At the Senior Bowl and moving forward in the pre-draft process, Yiadom is absolutely a player to monitor for the Seahawks. How he tests at the Combine in the agility and explosion drills will help to give an idea how he might translate his game into Seattle’s system.

Kameron Kelly (S/CB, San Diego State)

Height: 6015

Weight: 195

Arm Length: 32 ¼”

Recruited to San Diego State as an athlete and lined up at safety for his first three seasons, Kameron Kelly switched to cornerback in his senior season and looked like a potential developmental starter. With good height and weight at 6-1 and 195 pounds, and long arms (32 ¼”), he perfectly fits the measurements of a Seahawk cornerback. The former safety has natural ball skills and physicality for the position, posting a college career-high seven pass breakups in his one and only season at corner, while adding three interceptions.

Kelly’s length, physicality and knack for finding the ball translated immediately to cornerback. He was at his best pressing at the line of scrimmage and sitting on shallow or intermediate routes, where he was able to break on passes and keep the play in front of him, similar to at safety. As expected, Kelly struggled with a lot of the finer parts of cornerback, susceptible to passes over the top off of double moves, as well as getting lost on crossing routes.

A position switch late in his college career - and small school background - makes Kelly firmly a developmental pick on day three. But with good size, length and ball skills, he is the type of developmental prospect that Seattle has proved to target in the past. With a full season of cornerback play under his belt, he’s further along than Tyson and Shead were when they were brought into the Seahawks. Kelly should test well at the Combine, and expect him to be a target of Seattle on the last day of the draft.

Armani Watts (S, Texas A&M)

Height: 5104

Weight: 191

Arm Length: 31 ⅝”

Last year, I thought Armani Watts’ running mate in the Aggies’ secondary, Justin Evans, could be a potential cornerback-convert for the Seahawks. He ended up in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers, starting nine games at safety and performing well. Watts and Evans were interchangeable similar to Thomas and Chancellor, but it was Watts who took on the role of the enforcer.

At just 5-10 and 191 pounds, Watts played above his size around the line of scrimmage and in the box against SEC competition. He was physical both setting the edge and filling lanes against the run, working through the mix at the line of scrimmage and making tackles. Much like Chancellor, Watts is a steady, reliable tackler against the run, able to locate the ball and arrive at the ball carrier on time. Additionally, Watts played with the timing and short-area quickness necessary to show up in the backfield, registering 10 tackles for loss in his senior season.

In coverage, Watts played both the deep zone and shallower, breaking on passes with good recognition. He repeatedly showed a penchant for making plays on the ball, finishing his career with 10 interceptions, 17 pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Watts’ experience playing as a single-high safety, as a defender in the box, or in zone coverage over the middle makes him a good fit as a safety in Seattle’s defense. Chancellor’s future and the need for a strong safety is completely unclear at the moment, but if Seattle is in the market for a new partner for Thomas, Watts could be an excellent addition.

Kyzir White (S, West Virginia)

Height: 6021

Weight: 216

Arm Length: 32”

An ideal back-end player for the modern NFL, Kyzir White played all over the place at West Virginia, lining up in the slot, as a deep safety, defending the edge and as a traditional strong safety. White has the size to cover tight ends, the quickness and change of direction to cover slot receivers, and the athleticism to cover running backs out of the backfield. Although he is much bigger than Tyrann Mathieu, White could offer a similar skillset to the Honey Badger without having a defined role or position early in his career.

White is a fascinating test case for the future of defenses against increasingly positonless NFL offenses. While he may end up as a traditional strong safety in the NFL, that could end up limiting his impact. Against the New Orleans Saints, White has the speed and fluidity to cover Alvin Kamara both out wide or out of the backfield. Against the New England Patriots, White has the size and strength to lineup on the edge and subsequently split out wide across from Rob Gronkowski when the Patriots turn to their lethal line-up-in-jumbo-then-flex-our-weapons-out-wide strategy at the goal line. Rather than declaring him a strong safety and having him play the position on a weekly basis, a team might be better off using him as an answer to an opposition’s most dangerous weapon from week-to-week.

If the Seahawks use a day two selection* on White, it’s likely because they see him as the heir to Chancellor. In a division where David Johnson and Todd Gurley regularly destroy defenses as a receiver out of the backfield, White would be an excellent answer against the NFL’s most dynamic weapons.

*It’s utterly pointless to operate under the assumption Seattle’s picks will remain as is. John Schneider will move down the board as he sees fit, and recoup selections used in trades. I fully expect the Seahawks to pick multiple times on day two.