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Rookie Impact: The short and long term outlook for Tre Brown

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma The Oklahoman-USA TODAY NETWORK

When the Seattle Seahawks selected Tre Brown out of Oklahoma last Saturday, he became the third highest drafted cornerback under Pete Carroll. The only players picked higher? Walter Thurmond III and Shaquill Griffin in 2010 and 2017, respectively. Adding further intrigue to the pick, Brown is also the only corner to be drafted by Seattle whose arm length falls under the prerequisite 32” that has served as the baseline for Carroll’s defense. Pete and John may have foreshadowed this a bit in their press conference the previous Wednesday; when pressed by Corbin Smith on whether DJ Reed influenced their thinking on physical requirements, Carroll responded ambiguously but praised the former 49er’s performance in 2020.

Indeed, Seattle broke from their previous mold and took the athletic playmaking Sooner with the 137th overall selection that they acquired by trading down with Tampa Bay. My immediate reaction was to believe that Seattle was willing to break from their established trends to spend a late 4th rounder on a potential Nickel corner, as they had previously found an under the radar steal when they traded for another paradigm-breaker in Justin Coleman in 2017, who snagged three interceptions, found the endzone twice, and defended nineteen passes over two seasons. However, Carroll stated the following day that Tre Brown would, in fact, get an opportunity to play outside the numbers as he did in college, saying specifically, “We didn’t draft him as a nickel, if that’s what you are asking, we did not.” Knowing this, the future is wide open for Brown. But what kind of player will he be in 2021? Let’s take a look.

The Competition

The Seahawks suffered some big departures in the CB room this year, losing multi-year starter Shaquill Griffin along with exciting but oft-injured Quinton Dunbar in free agency. In response, they signed veterans Ahkello Witherspoon and Pierre Desir, who will join DJ Reed, Tre Flowers, Demarious Randall, and Gavin Heslop as the only non-rookie corners on the roster at the moment. Witherspoon and Desir have some recent starting experience, and are much closer to the prototypical Seahawks DBs we have seen in the past, though both have had up-and-down careers and neither projects as a “surefire” bet to land a starting role. Rather, Desir is going to battling for a roster spot, and Ahkello signed a one-year, $4M contract; this isn’t guaranteed starter money, but it does indicate that the team likely views him at minimum as a legit contender. The CB corps has talent, but has even more questions heading into 2021. In addition to the above mentioned veterans, the Hawks have reportedly signed one UDFA corner to date, who we will get to later. Additionally, Seattle has Ryan Neal listed as a corner, and he is definitely a versatile player, though I would assume we will see him continue to develop at the safety position after a promising 2020 where he capably filled in for an injured Jamal Adams and made a case for continued playing time even after the All-Pro returned. Similarly, Marquise Blair was getting game reps at Nickel prior to his injury, so he will be a name to watch this summer, and Ugo Amadi rounds out the safety/nickel hybrid spot and will be in the mix, as well.

The History

The Seahawks have a storied history of drafting and developing mid- to late-round corners under Carroll, some with great success (Richard Sherman), others with great disappointment (Tharold Simon), and some who land somewhere in the middle (Walter Thurmond III, Tre Flowers). However, finding a true analog for Tre Brown is impossible — quite simply, he is a different kind of player than any of these guys. While the draft-and-develop model has provided some great stories, produced multiple Pro Bowlers, and at least one future Hall of Famer, there have been more examples of players who were exciting but failed to grow into reliable players, or even into “players” at all. Not every Day Three draft pick will find a career in the NFL, but continuing to bet on a model of success that has provided diminishing returns isn’t exactly the stuff of dynasties. Listed below is every corner who the Hawks have drafted in rounds three through five. Outside of Brown, Seattle has only drafted one other corner in the fourth round (Thurmond III) and one player in the third, so I decided to open up the qualifications for the sake of comparison.

CBs drafted by Seattle Rounds 3-5

Player Season Round GP GS Rec Allowed PD Int % Def Snaps ST Snaps
Player Season Round GP GS Rec Allowed PD Int % Def Snaps ST Snaps
Walter Thurmond III 2010 4 (111) 14 1 24 7 0 - -
Richard Sherman 2011 5 (154) 16 10 39 17 4 - -
Tharold Simon 2013 5 (138) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tye Smith 2015 5 (170) 4 0 0 0 0 0 25
Shaquill Griffin 2017 3 (90) 15 11 45 15 1 80% 49
Tre Flowers 2018 5 (146) 15 15 46 6 0 91% 83

Not to double down on bad memories, but as you can see, only three of the above players started more than half of their rookie games, and while Thurmond III always looked promising, he never started more than three games in a season, and only compiled a grand total of eight starts over the span of four years, recording a lone interception along the way. Richard Sherman, of course, was better at life than everybody, and Shaquill Griffin was better than average, though he is unlikely to be in the Ring of Honor conversation anytime soon. Tre Flowers is Tre Flowers, and will be battling for playing time next season. Unfortunately, snap counts stats aren’t available at Pro Football Reference prior to 2012, but we can guess that Sherman played a pretty high volume in 2011 once he took over as a starter. In addition to these guys, Tharold Simon and Tye Smith round out the bunch, the former being a player many of us would rather forget, and the latter being one who many of us would be hard pressed to remember (side note: I actually saw Tye Smith play in person when the Towson Tigers beat Cooper Kupp and the Eastern Eagles in the 2013 FCS semifinals, although I can’t honestly recall hearing his name until after the fact). Essentially, this is a long way of saying the following: there isn’t a historical precedent for Tre Brown on Pete Carroll’s squads. But it is clear that the formula needed some adjusting, and this makes for an exciting — if especially unpredictable — rookie season.

Week 1 role

Tre Brown should get some opportunities. Paramount to his success will be his ability to demonstrate proficiency with the kick-step technique, of which he said he is familiar with in his draft press conference, and whether his physicality from college will translate to the pros; he has the athleticism and he plays sticky — though he gets a bit too sticky at times and draws some flags. Minimizing penalties is going to be a necessity. Brown has the talent, both as an athlete and as a defensive back, but he is going to be facing a lot of competition. For this reason, I won’t be at all surprised to see him start the season as roster depth who is fighting for an active spot on gamedays. Since he has a background on Special teams, I think his best path on to the field initially will be as a special teams ace. He takes a lot of pride in his ST prowess, especially as a gunner (a strong point for fellow rookie, D’Wayne Eskridge, as well). In his own words, “Every time I get out there, I’m going to try to destroy you, be the fastest guy out there, and just make those plays. I pride myself on special teams, just like defense.” Having played a swath of NFL talent in college, he has the experience to translate to the pros, and he has a serious knack for showing up in the biggest moments. For some examples of this, watch the highlights below; Brown has made a bit of a name for himself for making clutch plays when it really counts against conference rivals.

The Seahawks love playmakers, and finding one as motivated as Brown could go a long way towards once again laying claim to the NFC West throne in the seasons to come.

Where will he be by Week 18?

Bold prediction time: Tre Brown will start the year out fighting for playing time, will be seeing meaningful snaps by mid-season, and will be a starting corner by the end of the season. Admittedly, this is more of a “gut” feeling than anything else, but I can back up my conviction with the following facts:

  1. Tre Brown allowed a ridiculous sub-40% completion percentage when targeted over the last two seasons, and he did so playing high level competition.
  2. He may be undersized, but he overperforms. He has great speed, next-level instincts, and packs a powerful punch. He likes to hit and he isn’t afraid to mix it up. He is a good and willing tackler. These are all traits that will make him a favorite of Pete’s early on.
  3. The Seahawks broke from their previously firmly held measurables to take a player like Brown, and he is stepping into a wide open competition at his position. He may not win immediately, but he has too much talent and perseverance to ride the bench for too long.

The Seahawks don’t “gift” starting spots to players, and nothing will come easy for Brown, but I don’t think he’d have it any other way.

Where will he be in 2022 and beyond?

The future is an open book for Brown. He could reset the prototype for the Hawks, or he could reinforce it if he struggles. I think that he has far more upside than bust potential, and I know that he will make a case for playing time, but I do wonder how soon he can make a compelling case. While I have a difficult time imagining a Seattle defense in this era that features DJ Reed and Tre Brown as the starters outside, I also get the vibe that Carroll and Schneider are showing some willingness to adjust their approach and evolve with the times. Tre Brown may be the beneficiary of this evolution; he can be a starter in this league, and he will get a chance to prove that in Seattle. His ceiling is difficult to define, but imagining him growing into a DJ Reed kind of player with even more upside seems very attainable. I think his floor will be similar to Ugo Amadi — a player who is a talented, driven performer who seems to find a way to make a couple noteworthy plays a week. That is to say that I think we are a long way from anointing him a future All-Pro before he sets foot on Lumen field, but I also think he is somebody who the 12s will be cheering for at least a few years to come.

UDFA Competition

So far, the only undrafted corner to reportedly sign with Seattle is Bryan Mills, who played college football at North Carolina Central in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Mills is a long-limbed DB who picked off five passes in 2019 before opting out in 2020. He previously played JUCO football with Antelope Valley and the College of the Canyons in 2017 and 2018, respectively, before making the jump to Division I. He has a good amount of upside and is a classic developmental prospect. He will be an interesting player to follow throughout the summer.

Conclusion

Tre Brown has a wide open path in front of him. He will be facing constant competition and nothing will be handed to him, but something about his personality indicates that he likes it this way — when you watch his Senior Bowl performance, you can see how he wears his motivation on his sleeve. I stand by my prediction that he will go from battling for a spot on the active roster to starting by the end of the year, somewhat akin to Richard Sherman; he fought tirelessly for every rep he received on special teams, and it took a couple injuries for him to grab hold of a starting spot. Of course, once he got that spot he held on and never looked back. Brown has the aptitude and the willingness to do much the same. The competition at corner will be fierce, with only DJ Reed projecting as a likely starter at this point, though nothing is certain in a rebuilt position group. I am really looking forward to watching Brown play in the preseason and I expect him to take every opportunity to endear himself to the coaches and fans early on with his electric play and fiery on-field attitude. But don’t take it from me, Tre Brown says it better than I ever could:

“I feel like we can be very special, if not the best secondary in the league. All we have to do is just create that team that is sort of like the legion of Boom. When you have a name for yourself, you carry yourself and your pride carries along with it, and that goes a long way for how you play on the field.” -Tre Brown in his draft press conference

Thanks for reading, and check back soon to read Stone Forsythe’s Rookie Impact!