When the Seattle Seahawks opened training camp, they had an almost entirely rebuilt position group at corner. Now several degrees of separation removed from the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks found themselves looking at names like Witherspoon, Desir, and Brown where once names such as Sherman, Thurmond, and even Griffin once populated the depth chart. The former two are no longer with the team and the latter rookie remains injured and has yet to establish himself as a pro. So when Seattle traded for Sidney Jones, another move at cornerback seemed forthcoming. Indeed, Seattle made said move on Saturday, bringing third year player and former 6th round selection Blessuan ‘Bless’ Austin to the Pacific Northwest. And what kind of player is currently boarding a flight from Newark to SeaTac? Let’s take a look.
Much ado has been made this offseason of the Seattle front office breaking from tradition and pursuing defensive backs who are notable departures from their previous physical profile. Bless, conversely, is a return to the tall, long-armed rangy corners that Carroll has typically preferred. Standing at 6’1” with 32.5” arms, Austin definitely looks more like the recently departed Pierre Desir or Ahkello Witherspoon than he does the still rostered DJ Reed or Tre Brown. At his Rutgers Pro Day, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65, though he did improve on this at a private pro day, running a 4.56. As a Scarlett Knight, Bless played four seasons, accumulating four interceptions — one pick each season — while playing in 25 games. However, the mere fact that Austin is in the NFL now is a bit of a marvel in and of itself — as a collegiate athlete, he suffered not one but two ACL tears, requiring multiple surgeries and a lengthy recovery time. The second injury came just one game into his senior season, and ultimately kept him sidelined into his rookie year.
“A sixth round pick out of Rutgers in 2019, Austin’s starter status is less impressive once you look under the hood. He got playing time essentially because the Jets were so thin at cornerback. He wasn’t a quality starter. His performance was that of a fringe roster player. His name recognition likely will lead to greater shock and outrage than this move truly justifies. The Jets have a lot of late round and undrafted projects on the roster. Austin was one of them. Nobody would be shocked to see any of them go. I think people should think of him in this context rather than “returning starter.” It helps to explain the move quite a bit.”
The move to release him was called “mildly surprising,” as Bless projected as a starter again this season, although Robert Saleh confirmed that the cornerback room in Jersey is going through a youth movement. So let’s look at some film and see if a cross country trip might be the change of scenery that Austin needs to reboot his career.
In his injury-muddled career at Rutgers, Bless displayed some exciting talent when on the field, demonstrating his ability to use his length and ranginess to his advantage. While he was far from a lockdown corner in college, he showed enough to earn a draftable grade despite his concerning medical history. As a pro, he hasn’t lacked for on-field experience, starting 16 of a possible 18 games over two seasons — six as a rookie and ten in year two. But the on field results have been mixed.
In his two seasons as a Jet, Austin rated more positively in run defense than in pass coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Indeed, looking at some of his highlights, he does display an impressive ability to use his length and physicality as a tackler. He finished 2020 with 63 total tackles in eleven games. Prorated over a full season this would see him flirt with the century mark. See the following two clips for examples of his ground game prowess.
Now, just in case anybody was starting to worry that Bless only goes after Josh Allen, here he is against the Cinncinatti Bengals in 2019.
Bless had a much better season in coverage as a rookie, albeit while only playing in six games. https://t.co/Z7BiEXBrzf— Stan 'the boy' Taylor (@GoodGuyAtSports) September 5, 2021
Bless Austin joins a cornerback room that is still figuring out its identity. How much of a hand he will have in the rebuild will be up to him; he will certainly get some opportunities to see the field if he can hang on to a spot on the active roster. He joins Tre Flowers as the only corner on the roster with 32+” arms, but he will almost certainly need to demonstrate value as a depth player and special teamer in order to stick around. Of course, even if things don’t work out at the VMAC, Bless may still find his way onto our television screens one day.