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Draft on tape: Safety to corner conversions featuring Tre Flowers and Marvell Tell

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Success comes with a price. Pete Carroll’s ability to develop long, day three cornerbacks into studs exploited an NFL inefficiency. Then the market corrected itself. Corners of the Seahawks prototype became the new trend as various teams tried to incorporate Seattle’s press cover-3.

That hype among front offices has somewhat dwindled from the peak “we need a Legion of Boom” days. But teams are far less likely to sleep on the next Richard Sherman type. The most casual 12 knows that John Schneider takes outside corners with arms at 32-plus inchs. In short: finding a Seahawks-type CB is harder than it used to be. That led to Seattle picking Oklahoma State’s Tre Flowers, a safety, in the 5th round of 2018.

Flowers’ tape was rough. Yet he showed plenty of traits that would translate to the Seahawks’ cornerback technique. He: processed two receiver route combinations well; shuffled, half-turned and moved like a Seattle corner; played with sound leverage; and was always around the football. Furthermore, he ran a 4.45s 40-yard dash at 6ft 3, 202lbs with 33 7/8” arms.

I wrote that “the process of becoming a defensive back with starting ability is likely to take longer than one offseason.” Flowers proved me wrong, going on to master Carroll’s technique in one season while outperforming second-year starter Shaquill Griffin. The rookie safety, cornerback conversion was an absolute revelation.

This brings us to a 2019 draft prospect: Marvell Tell. At USC, Tell strictly played safety—often deep as a two-high player or rotated to single-high. Yet his evaluation projects to outside cornerback.

Let’s start with Tell’s testing, which really alerted people to his position-switch potential.

Arms: 33 1/8” TICK

Height: 6ft 2” TICK

That’s one hell of a combine and pro day. It’s prompted some to mock Tell as high as a round three pick to Seattle, such as Rob Staton of Seahawksdraftblog and the Seahawksdraftshow. Tell’s film matches his testing. He is one of the most gifted movers in this class, playing with a fluidity, agility, and twitch that is rare for any prospect—particularly one of his size.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers and athletic ability. There are positives to his game not based in athleticism too:

Here’s an example of him bringing the contact to the runner. Carroll loves aggression in his corners. His scheme asks them to be the force run defender on occasions (set the edge, force the running back to cut up inside or change direction), which gets the corners tackling. Furthermore, the step-kick press technique the corners are taught requires an aggressive jam that mugs the receiver at the line of scrimmage.

Tell firing downhill is a blur in short areas:

The above clip brings us to the first issue: ball tracking. Tell locates the ball from safety aggressively, occasionally resulting in poor eye discipline that sees him get beat but overall is a preferable trait for Carroll. However, Tell struggles to track the ball once it has left the quarterbacks hands, taking bad angles and losing sight of it. Many potential picks are passed up, which is exactly what Carroll does not want from his corners.

Though he wouldn’t be backpedaling with the Seahawks, instead operating with a half-turn or shuffle, Tell’s route diagnosis and angles to the receiver are raw.

Projecting Flowers into Seattle’s scheme was an easy task because he played with traits that could easily convert. The issue with Tell’s game is that he struggles with a lot of the things the Seahawks will ask him to do. Check out the first three negatives of my report on him:

The final concern regarding Tell is his play strength and toughness. While Flowers could rock guys and clearly worked out, evidenced by his 18 bench press reps, Tell only seemed to make an aggressive hit when he had to and only put up eight reps. Having strength at the line of scrimmage is synonymous with an effective jam.

Flowers is testament to Carroll’s coaching of defensive backs. His incredible rise to one of the best number two CBs in the league proves that if Seattle likes a raw prospect, they can coach them up. They probably prefer deep safeties to corners at this stage as they don’t have to unlearn technique and are instead lumps of clay. Even seasoned veterans such as Cary Williams struggled to grasp the step-kick technique, rendering him a free agent bust.

If the Seahawks deem Tell worthy of a pick, then they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Utilizing Tell’s length at the line of scrimmage to attack will help his game, albeit with the step-kick taking a while to learn. Interviewing him and gaining insight into his character will have given the team a sound idea of whether Tell is the sort to learn and develop. I just don’t see the same desirable traits that were present in Flowers and still feel day two is far too high. As a day three, bigger project than Flowers ever was? If the character feels good, go ahead.