A constant throughout the decade Pete Carroll and John Schneider have spent at the helm of the Seahawks are unearthed gems at cornerback. Whether it was Brandon Browner from the CFL, Richard Sherman or Byron Maxwell on day three, or even Shaquill Griffin in the third round, Seattle has consistently found value above expectation when acquiring corners.
Though the Seahawks can feel comfortable at the position currently, with Griffin, Tre Flowers, and the newly acquired Quinton Dunbar, adding another developmental prospect to the group would be wise. Neiko Thorpe, a free agent, appears unlikely to return—and if he does, his roster spot would not be a lock. Instead, the final cornerback spot should go to a young player, with the physical traits Seattle desires, who could potentially develop into the latest in a line of Seahawk cornerback success stories.
The Scouting Combine was unkind to Seattle’s quest for this type of prospect. Of the 38 corners who were invited to Indianapolis, just five cleared the Seahawks’ size and athletic thresholds for the position. Compounding the issue was that all five of the players who did fit into Seattle’s profile for corners had shortcomings of varying degrees. As the pre-draft process progressed, however, further options emerged—a thin group of long-limbed cornerbacks grew a little bigger.
Now, just a few weeks away from the draft, the Seahawks will have several options to add to the perimeter of their defense, including three high-ceiling developmental prospects.
Of the eight outside cornerbacks who fit Seattle’s size and athletic thresholds in the 2020 NFL Draft, Harper is the most intriguing and possesses the highest ceiling. A former teammate of Flowers and Chris Carson’s at Oklahoma State, Harper went on to Southern Illinois following his dismissal in his sophomore season. Harper remained in good standing with the Cowboys, however, as he participated in their pro day in mid-March.
It was at that pro day Harper met with the Seahawks’ consultant Alonzo Highsmith, as I reported afterward. On that day, Harper excelled: Had he been invited to the combine, he would’ve ranked 5th in the forty-yard dash (4.41), 3rd in the vertical jump (40”), 3rd in the short shuttle (4.1) and 1st in the three cone (6.7) among corners. On top of his superb athleticism, he has the requisite size (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) and arm length in the 98th percentile for corners, at 33 7/8”.
Transitioning into Seattle’s defense as a cornerback is a challenge, such is the unique technique asked of them. However, Harper displays a few traits that suggest he would do so comfortably. On vertical and sideline-breaking routes, Harper does a good job of taking away space, pinning the wideout to the chalk and not allowing them room to work. He is consistent in turning and finding the football, and utilizes his length well to disrupt the pass. Over his final two seasons at Southern Illinois, Harper totaled 20 PBUs and two interceptions. His movement, both in coverage and in finding the football, is representative of the high-level mobility his testing suggests.
With big, long cornerbacks becoming increasingly en vogue, Harper is unlikely to make it beyond the middle of day three—especially in this draft class. However, with his high-level athleticism and ideal size, he is exactly the type of prospect the Seahawks should look for at the position.
Another player who was not invited to the combine, Stony Brook’s Heslop drew many teams to his pro day including Seattle. Standing an even 6-feet with 32” arms, Heslop tested well in the drills pertinent to the Seahawks’ evaluation of cornerbacks and shined in the short shuttle and three cone.
Heslop’s positioning in coverage is solid and he has the burst to close at the top of routes or negate separation. In coverage, Heslop uses his length and size well, but does not consistently find the ball at the catch point, instead depending on his length to save the day—it’s an area that will need improvement before he can be a viable starter. Heslop’s ball skills could improve—he failed to intercept a pass during his four-year college career—however, he did total an impressive 30 pass breakups over that time.
Against the run, Heslop is aggressive and brings the fight, whether it is to the blocker across from him or the ballcarrier. Seattle will have an appreciation for his tackling, aggressiveness and the certainty with which he breaks on the football.
It’s not a surprise the Seahawks are looking into Heslop and appearing at his pro day. Both his size and play style suggest he would be a fit in Seattle. Similar to Harper, Heslop will need to develop, but the foundation of a player who could be a starter in the Seahawks’ defense is there.
The lone cornerback to have emerged from the combine having cleared all of Seattle’s athletic thresholds at cornerback, Iowa’s Ojemudia was also the player who most resembled a Seahawk. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds with 32 1/4” arms, Ojemudia is physical at the line and in coverage. He consistently uses his length to his advantage and finished his time with the Hawkeyes totaling six interceptions and 23 pass breakups. Iowa played both cover-2 and cover-3 consistently during Ojemudia’s time there.
Schematically, Ojemudia is a strong fit for Seattle. He is disciplined in zone coverage, happy to stay on top of wideouts and not give up leverage, while depending on his closing speed and length at the catch point. As a prospect, Ojemudia is a better player—or further along in his development—than either Harper or Heslop. As a result, he is likely to be selected early on day three. The Seahawks would be getting a player who could potentially play as early as year one. With a trio of corners with starting experience already in Seattle, however, that may lead them to favor developmental players later on.
The Seahawks are in an excellent position at cornerback, comfortable in the knowledge they have three options on the perimeter and the ability to be versatile against different styles of slot receivers. With both Dunbar and Griffin on expiring deals, and Flowers’ inconsistent play, Seattle would be well served to add another developmental piece to the group as a contingency—and can do so on day three.