With three-tenths of the season gone, a fifth-round Seattle Seahawks cornerback is the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Not officially of course; in our hearts and minds only. But those are the only places that count at this point. And yes, Tariq Woolen is that good. How good do you think? He’s better than that. Allow these five sections to convince you, if needed:
It makes all the sense in the world to begin with the interceptions, the best thing a cornerback can do. (Especially if he has the ability to house them on the regular.)
Woolen is already halfway to the single-season record for most consecutive games with a pick. He’s working on a three-game streak; six is the mark he’s chasing, set by Trevon Diggs. Hat tip to @SalishCHawk for finding the link.
Woolen hangs around the WR, essentially baiting Marcus Mariota into a reckless throw over the middle in Week 3. Woolen's only regret will be not evading the spec-tackle-ular play of Falcons TE Parker Hesse (46), who saves points, and maybe the game too pic.twitter.com/xDRqzzEfvs— John Skellingt n Fraley (@johndavidfraley) October 10, 2022
Once more, with the full clip, because when you pick six Jared Goff, you get the full clip. pic.twitter.com/pj29F8KFu3— John Skellingt n Fraley (@johndavidfraley) October 10, 2022
Woolen brings ballhawking to a defense that last season couldn’t manufacture even one interception from its corners until January. He’s a precious bright spot on a defense that has given up more yards per play than anyone else (6.6) and more points per game (30.8) than anyone except the Lions. Woolen’s a playmaker, the playmaker, the reason drives don’t feel hopeless when the opponent is getting seven yards a play.
You might say Coby Bryant has entered the chat, with his two forced fumbles, and Uchenna Nwosu is still waiting for his props from his performance in Week 1 at the goal line against the Denver Broncos. Sure. They’ve shined. Still, there’s no denying the electricity in the air when the ball comes Woolen’s way.
Champ Bailey had a nice little career, right?
Final note: Three interceptions is tied for the NFL lead. No biggie.
The Preliminary Stats
Unfortunately for the Seahawks defense, opposing quarterbacks have figured out it’s not wise to target Woolen, so he’s seen 20 throws his way. That’s only four a game.
20 targets, three INTs. You throw at the rookie, and it’s got a 15 percent chance of coming back the other way.
Which is why, when you look at his passer rating against, it’s a measly 35.3 on his pro-football-reference page, a ridiculous 13.2 per CBS, and 40.2 on PFF. That last number’s good for sixth. Not sixth among rookies. Sixth among all cornerbacks.
Final note: It’s an obligatory reminder at this point, but for some of you this is news — a quarterback who spikes the ball into the ground every time finishes the game with a 39.6 rating.
The Advanced Stats
Among qualifying corners, Woolen has some interesting peers in the advanced analytical realm.
That’s a lot of digits and to save you the trouble of squinting, the highlights are aplenty.
YAC: 54 via PFF, 18 via PFR
Completion % against: 55.0 via PFF, 47.1 via PFR
Missed tackles: 0 via PFR
Coverage grade: 64.3
That is indeed Darius Slay, Bradley Roby, James Bradberry, Marlon Humphrey and our good pal D.J. Reed alongside Woolen on the chart. The company you keep...
You’d like to see Woolen cut down on the penalties. Six is a lot, even if some are dubious. That’s when you remember he’s STILL A ROOKIE. He’s five games in. The grabby habits can be coached up and out. A veteran’s ability to get away with some contact is a skill acquired by... veterans. Which Woolen isn’t. Though he’s playing like one of the best.
Final note: All the stats love Tariq Woolen. There is no need to cherry-pick.
Everyone who’s watched a quarter of Seahawks football this season has heard the announcers mention Woolen’s 40-yard dash time, because it’s irresistible: 4.26 seconds. But there’s a difference between combine speed and game speed, observers always say. Or is there?
Tariq Woolen hit 22.45 mph at Senior Bowl, making him fastest player since game began using GPS tracking data. Seahawks say @_Tariqwoolen hit 22.9 mph (on same @ZebraTechnology) chasing Taysom Hill. This might be fastest I’ve ever seen player on a field. pic.twitter.com/51XvwZ5NHF— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 10, 2022
Nagy employs a warm, hot, arousing word: “ever.” It’s one thing for Steve Raible to gush about Woolen’s roadrunner legs, and quite another for an unbiased observer to go hyperbolic.
Woolen’s footwork is so precise that one of the things I first noticed is how he doesn’t take very long to pivot and change direction, or very long to engage his second gear and accelerate to top speed. if Kam Chancellor was a monster truck who could run you over at less than a moment’s notice, Woolen is an F1 supermachine who’ll leave you in his dust on any straightaway.
Now his pick six in Detroit. The feet. THE FEET. They react so quickly. And this time he doesn't let one of those evil offensive players square him up. Elite change of direction with elite speed? pic.twitter.com/T8ThT953Tq— John Skellingt n Fraley (@johndavidfraley) October 10, 2022
Final note: DK Metcalf was clocked at 22.1 mph during his fabled pursuit of Budda Baker. You know the play.
As mentioned previously, we’re looking at a rookie with less than a third of a season under his belt. 331 defensive snaps to his name. From a small school, Texas-San Antonio. Converted in college from wide receiver to corner.
He’s 23. He’s 6-4, 205 pounds, so the size of Richard Sherman with the speed of Percy Harvin. He can set the edge, and even an awkward tackle is still a tackle. Week 1 provides evidence.
Tariq Woolen that’s how you set an edge!!! pic.twitter.com/iEzHQeNibJ— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) September 13, 2022
Ex-WRs tend to have better hands than your average defensive back. You can see how well Woolen adjusts, and hangs on, to the wobbly mallard Andy Dalton lobs at the sideline here:
Andy Dalton, victim number three of not accounting for Woolen's reflexes, vision and outrageous speed pic.twitter.com/D5GQ4neLrw— John Skellingt n Fraley (@johndavidfraley) October 10, 2022
Plays special teams, even. The man does everything. As with any player, staying mentally tough as the opposition adjusts is what separates the good from the great. We know Woolen can be good. We’ll find out soon enough if he can be great.
Final note: Jamal Adams could learn a thing or two from Woolen’s soft mitts.
It wouldn’t be a full Tariq Woolen post without this very specific coda: the other scoring play he authored. While it was not Woolen himself who scored here, it was his practically indefensible speed that allowed him to knife through the line like a smooth criminal and hand a golden platter to DB-mate Michael Jackson.
Call it a hunch, but this won’t be the last time this season we see Woolen on the right end of six points scored.