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Seahawks 2021 pre-draft checkup: Seattle’s defensive backs

Part 3 of a 9-part series

Seattle Seahawks v Washington Football Team Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Welcome to Part Three of the Seahawks 2021 Pre-Draft Checkup!

Today we’re looking at Seattle’s secondary.


Turnover, thus far

Out:

  • Lano Hill - free agent; unsigned
  • Quinton Dunbar - free agent; signed with Detroit
  • Shaquill Griffin - free agent; signed with Jacksonville
  • Neiko Thorpe - free agent; unsigned

In:

  • Ahkello Witherspoon

Net result: Seattle currently has 3 fewer DBs than they ended last season with.


Safeties

Let’s start with an easy one.

The Seahawks have two excellent starting safeties in Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams. Both of them need extensions. Hopefully Seattle gets that done in the next few months so it’s not hanging over the season and (potentially) causing a distraction.

Seattle also has Ryan Neal who showed last year that he’s a starter-caliber player in this league. Needing to figure out how to get him on the field is a good “problem” for Seattle to have.


Nickel

Second verse, same as the first.

The Seahawks have two excellent options at nickel. Marquise Blair won the starting role in training camp last year but then got hurt in the 2nd game of the season. Ugo Amadi answered the call and locked down the position.

In my opinion, Amadi should be the presumptive starter, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll enter Week 1 with the job.

Blair was a 2nd round pick the same year (2019) that Amadi was a 4th round pick. Blair has better size, but Amadi has more experience (due to Blair’s injury last year).

This will be a fun battle to watch during training camp.


Outside corners

I won’t lie or try to sugarcoat this.

I am honestly worried about our outside corners.

Like worried worried.

And it’s not (just) because we lost BOTH of last year’s Week 1 starters in free agency.

I mean, sure, losing both starters hurts. But how much?

Shaquill Griffin

  • Good, not great.
  • Incredibly inconsistent.
  • I would have balked at giving him half of what he got from Jacksonville.
  • Super happy for him as a person (and as a player), but believe that moving on was the right call for both sides.

Quinton Dunbar

  • Bummed that he signed with Detroit for “so little.”
  • I feel like we didn’t really have a good read on him (for a variety of reasons).
  • Not nearly as bummed as I feel like I should be.

Okay, so if I’m not “worried worried” about our outside corners because of what we lost (i.e. Griffin and Dunbar) then it must be that I don’t like who we have, right?

Sort of.

But that’s not really it either.

First thing first

I actually “love” D.J. Reed and I am thrilled that he got Pete to finally acknowledge that the “Seattle measurables” aren’t written in stone.

The fact that we poached Reed from the 9ers when they tried to slide him through waivers is the cherry on top.

Speaking of the Niners . . .

I like that we got Ahkello Witherspoon from San Francisco in free agency.

Granted, he wouldn’t have been my first choice and I think that we overpaid for him (a little bit) - especially considering the fact that the next time he plays a full season will be the first time he plays a full season.

But Witherspoon has a ton of potential and, if he’s healthy, then I think he’s a good fit.


So why am I “worried worried”?

Two reasons.

One: I am not convinced that either Reed or Witherspoon is a starting-caliber corner for the Seahawks and don’t believe either should be handed a starting spot “by default” (which seems to be the case as things stand now).

Two: There are 6 other outside corners on the roster and I would NOT want to see any of them in the starting lineup in 2021. (i.e. If we have injury issues at corner in 2021, we’re going to be in a world of hurt!)

Let’s work backwards . . .

Our cornerback depth consists of Tre Flowers, Damarious Randall, Linden Stephens, Jayson Stanley, Gavin Heslop, and Jordan Miller - probably in that order.

The fact that Tre Flowers would be the first man off the bench if the season started tomorrow is downright terrifying.

No matter how many times I tell myself, “Flowers shut down D-Hop,” my mind just keeps replaying the 1,800 times that Flowers lined up 10 yards off the receiver on 3rd and (less than 10).

No.

Thank.

You.

So what about Damarious Randall?

As far as I can tell, Damarious Randall is “fine” and he could end up being a long-term starter here. Who knows. Certainly not me.

What I do know is that he’s making a move from safety to corner and although he was previously a corner, he’s still changing positions and that’s not easy at the professional level.

If anything, I would say the jury is out on him and will probably remain out until at least midseason.

The other four outside corners are camp bodies and practice squad candidates as far as I’m concerned.

Now, let’s talk about D.J. Reed and Ahkello Witherspoon.

Both are former enemies rivals.

Both played under Robert Saleh in San Francisco.

Saleh used to be in Seattle.

To me it’s pretty telling that (a) both Reed and Witherspoon were available, and (b) neither was ever a full-time starter for the 9ers under Saleh’s watch.

Experience matters

Reed played in 15 games with 2 starts his rookie season (2018). He had zero starts in 16 games in 2019. Last year he played in 10 games for us, but it’s questionable if he would have had any starts were it not for injuries to Griffin and Dunbar.

Witherspoon played in 12 games his rookie season (2017) with 9 starts. In 2018, he started 12 of the 14 games he played in. Like Reed, he played in 10 games with 8 starts his 3rd year in the league. In 2020, he started 4 games and played in 11 overall.

Skill matters more

Statistically, Witherspoon is ACES. His coverage grade in 2020 was #4 overall among CBs with 200+ snaps. The “problem” is that he only had 211 snaps last year.

And he averages just under 12 games a year (47 games in 4 seasons).

D.J. Reed’s coverage grade was tied for 42nd. Removing CBs with less than 200 snaps last season moves him up 11 spots.

For the record, PFF graded 229 cornerbacks last year.

WORTH NOTING: Reed’s PFF coverage grade was the highest on the team last year (among defensive backs).

To recap:

In 2020, Witherspoon was one of the best cover corners in the league and Reed was the highest graded DB on our roster.

And yet I’m unconvinced that either should be starting for us in 2021.

Perhaps I am being irrational.

I will probably come around by the time the season starts. Especially if we add a corner (or three) in the draft. I mean, give me Ifeatu Melifonwu and/or Benjamin St-Juste and my outlook on our cornerback group gets markedly better.

Especially if either (or both) of them can push for a starting role in 2021.

Right now though . . . I’m worried.

Like worried worried.