Arriving via trade just prior to the 2017 season, Justin Coleman quickly took over the nickel corner job and made it his own. Coleman boasted the fifth lowest passer rating when targeted in the slot, two pick-sixes, nine pass breakups and a penchant for blitzes as he established himself as one of the Seattle Seahawks’ best defenders.
Following an offseason filled with turnover, Coleman entered the 2018 season as one of the only known quantities on the Seahawks’ defense. Coleman, along with Shaquill Griffin and Bradley McDougald, are tasked with shaping a new generation of Seattle defensive backs, and have gotten off to a great start.
Coleman began his season with two tough tests back-to-back, seeing Emmanuel Sanders and Allen Robinson come inside and line up across from him in the slot on occasion in weeks one and two. He came out of both matchups unscathed as his 2017 form carried over into 2018 without a hitch.
In Week 4, Coleman faced another tough test in the form of the legendary and ageless Larry Fitzgerald. And on the Cardinals’ first scoring drive, Coleman passed that test excellently.
On a 1st-and-10 from the Seahawks’ 10-yard line, Josh Rosen targeted Fitzgerald along the goal line, only for Coleman to close on the future Hall of Famer and knock the ball away. Then on third down, he was again targeted and again answered, defending the pass.
Coleman was flagged for pass interference in the end zone later in the first half, leading to Arizona’s first touchdown, though even that mistake is excusable. An argument could be made Coleman was making a play on the ball, however he failed to turn his head around and initiated contact. Rightly or wrongly, it’s an easy flag for the official to throw.
Perhaps the biggest contribution of the game from Coleman came towards the end, though. With the Cardinals facing a 3rd-and-6 from Seattle’s 29-yard line, David Johnson took a handoff as Arizona was somewhere between trying to get a first down, and killing the clock, before what would’ve been a field goal to take the lead. Coleman came up strong in run support, dropping Johnson for no gain. Phil Dawson would miss the subsequent 45-yard field goal attempt, giving the Seahawks the chance to win. Which they did.
The value of pure nickel corners has risen in recent years, as sub packages become the new base defense. Prior to the start of the 2018 season, the Miami Dolphins and slot corner Bobby McCain set the bar, agreeing to a four-year, $27 million extension. Before McCain’s extension, Patrick Robinson turned a career year with the Eagles into a four-year, $20 million contract. Rounding out the deals handed out to slot corners in 2018 was the aptly named Nickell Robey-Coleman receiving a three-year, $16.75 million deal from the Rams.
Coleman should see a sizable bump from the $2.9 million he’s earning this season, after being given a 2nd round tender as a restricted free agent this past offseason.
There’s still a long way to go in the 2018 season, but Coleman is in line to earn a long-term deal from someone in free agency. In the modern NFL, where nickel packages are more frequent than base defenses, Coleman is well worth the investment and should be among the highest paid defenders in Seattle.