When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Coby Bryant in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft, the team moved him from outside cornerback to the nickel/slot corner position. Bryant had an immediate “Welcome to the league” moment when he was torched by Jerry Jeudy for what was Russell Wilson’s first touchdown as a Denver Bronco. Later in the season he had a sack, a four-week stretch of forced fumbles, as well as a couple of interceptions that were unfortunately called back due to penalties on his teammates. As the season progressed, he didn’t force another turnover and had a few games where his tackling was an issue.
No worries, he’s a rookie.
Then 2023 training camp started and suddenly Coby’s role is a little less clear.
Thus far Bryant has remained a nickel corner, but rookie Devon Witherspoon has (for the moment) taken his first-team snaps when he’s practiced. We’ve yet to see what the first-team formation looks like when Riq Woolen returns to drills, but so far it looks like Bryant is losing out a bit in the crowded cornerback competition.
In dime formations (six defensive backs) Bryant has also been getting snaps at safety, a position he’s not played since high school. The Seahawks’ unofficial depth chart lists him as a strong safety.
This is what defensive backs coach Karl Scott said to The News Tribune about giving Coby looks at safety:
“He’s instinctive as far as playing in space,” Scott said of Bryant.
“As far as what the league is going to in match-ups and all that good stuff, the day and age of a ‘box’ safety (think: Kam Chancellor, near the line of scrimmage like a linebacker) are long gone. Few and far between are guys that can actually cover, inside, and not just the tight end.”
Bryant also dealt with a toe injury earlier in the offseason, so that’s impacted his training camp.
This is a lot to digest, because it’s hard not to read all of this as Bryant having a reduced role in the defense this season. If Woolen and Mike Jackson stay in their respective roles and Devon Witherspoon is the starting nickel, then Bryant has effectively lost a starting job.
You can look at Bryant’s safety look as evidence that Seattle really values versatility in the secondary, and if Bryant can double as safety/corner depth then you have a lot of flexibility with what you want to do in nickel and dime+ formations. Alternatively, the coaching staff drafted Witherspoon in part because Bryant was a weak link in the defense, as outlined in the Football Almanac article. Being a nickel corner has more value than ever considering that’s the predominant formation across the NFL, so don’t look at “Witherspoon at No. 5 overall is playing nickel?!” necessarily as a negative.
What’s interesting about Bryant’s situation is that Seattle has had safeties convert to slot or outside corners under Pete Carroll — Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi, Marquise Blair, DeShawn Shead, to name a few — but the last corner to safety conversion of note was probably the 5 minutes Brandon Browner returned to the team in 2016. Needless to say it didn’t work out and he was released before the season started.
This will be something to monitor closely during preseason. And no, if Bryant ends up not working out, he’s not a bust as a fourth-round draft pick. But since he was the one taken with the pick the Jets sent in the Jamal Adams trade, I’m sure that aspect of it will still get played up.
What are your thoughts on Coby Bryant’s development? Let us know in the comments below!