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Shaquill Griffin should not be written off after a difficult sophomore season

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears zMike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

As a rookie in 2017, Shaquill Griffin was all but anointed the successor to Richard Sherman as the Seattle Seahawks’ shutdown corner. Griffin, a third round pick, started 11 games as a rookie in a promising first season. Griffin’s crowning as Seattle’s next great cornerback was completed following Sherman’s release, with Griffin’s switch to Sherman’s vacated left cornerback position.

However, 2018 didn’t bring about an All-Pro selection for Griffin, unlike Sherman’s sophomore season. Though Griffin’s sophomore slump was greatly exaggerated, he didn’t exactly step into Sherman’s role as an elite cornerback, either. After allowing 3.2 receptions per game as a rookie, Griffin allowed 3.4 per game in 2018. His yards per reception allowed also failed to improve, increasing from 13.1 as a rookie to 14.2 as a sophomore. Worse still was Griffin’s on-ball production, as his passes defended dropped from 16 to seven (though he did increase his interception total from one to two).

The way in which Griffin’s season ended, making several high profile mistakes in the Seahawks’ loss to the Cowboys, only served to increase the criticism surrounding him. However, his performance was not nearly as bad as some would make it seem. Griffin, playing on a bad ankle—against the type of wide receiver in Amari Cooper who matches up well against Griffin at full health—allowed six catches for 52 yards on 11 targets. The touchdown he allowed was a perfect throw and catch, with Griffin providing solid coverage.

Griffin was hardly perfect on Saturday night, but you would be hard pressed to find a Seattle defender who was. Hell, Bobby Wagner, who tackles everything, missed Dak Prescott on what was essentially the game-sealing run.

There could be a number of reasons as to why Griffin failed to live up to the (lofty) expectations of him in 2018. The most obvious one would be that he took on an entirely new role, as the defense’s number one cornerback, and all the responsibilities and challenges that come with that spot. And there’s certainly some truth in that. But a bigger reason may be what comes with stepping into the number one cornerback spot in Seattle’s defense—for Griffin, it meant switching sides.

Upon entering the NFL, Griffin had to learn Pete Carroll’s rare technique for cornerbacks, a tall task in itself, and one that much more experienced corners have failed to do. (See Williams, Cary.) Instead, Griffin acquitted himself well—as well as any rookie has done since Sherman.

Then, in year two, Griffin had to continue to try and master this technique, while switching sides. The mechanics of the position, which he spent an entire year learning and adjusting to, were flipped completely. Geoff Schwartz, a former NFL lineman and now a writer for SB Nation, told Pro Football Focus about the difficulties of switching sides on the offensive line in 2012:

“Playing offensive line is a very technical position. Being a great athlete and a physical player can only take you so far if you don’t use proper technique. You must drill over and over again to get the footwork and hand placement down. On top of that, mentally switching things over in your head can be tough at first. You’re used to reacting to movement on one side of the line of scrimmage, now it’s happening on the opposite side”.

Though I’ve never played cornerback, nor been a member of any type of Legion of Boom, I would imagine the same goes for defensive back. Athleticism, physicality, footwork, hand placement and mentality: All incredibly important traits for a cornerback to have, and all thrown into flux for Griffin over the course of his first two seasons. Despite all of that, he’s largely been a good cornerback, a position that in itself is difficult as a young player.

Tre Flowers gives the Seahawks another ultra exciting prospect at cornerback, as Carroll ushers in a new era in the defensive backfield. However, Griffin should not be forgotten about, or written off, as he enters his third year—and really, just his second, as he continues to take on the role of Seattle’s left cornerback.