Back in 2011, only a handful of moments passed between the Seattle Seahawks selecting cornerback Richard Sherman 154th overall and cornerback Byron Maxwell 173rd overall. The paths that those two have taken since are separated by more than just a handful of moments, but perhaps they're finally as close today as they were in 2011.
Here is what we knew about Maxwell when he was selected in the sixth round out of Clemson:
- Tore ACL during senior year of high school
- Scout.com's number two corner in the nation
- Redshirted freshman year while in recovery
- Had no starts in 2007
- Had no starts in 2008
- Had no starts in 2009
- Made eight starts in 2010, recording two interceptions.
- Four career interceptions in college
- 6', 200 lbs, physical, perhaps one of the best-hitting corners in the nation, raw but could perhaps be molded into a good corner or safety, possibly slot
And here is what we know about Maxwell in 2014:
- He's made as many starts in the NFL as he did in college
- He has as many interceptions in the NFL as he did in college
- All of which have come since last December
- Big, physical, not someone you want to be hit by
- We still don't know what to expect moving forward and whether or not he can adequately and consistently hold down his side of the field, or if he was just a fluke.
However, we do know that when Maxwell took over for Brandon Browner in the latter part of last season, he was more dominating than Browner had been, and came close to matching the production of Sherman. ProFootballFocus graded Maxwell as the 16th-best corner in the NFL after tracking his plays and noting that when quarterbacks threw in his direction, they had a passer rating of 47.8. (Him and Sherman were 1-2 in that category, with QBs posting a 36.2 when making the mistake of throwing at Sherman.)
His highlight reel from last season is like the Russell Wilson of YouTube: Short, but impressive.
This is a cornerback whose ball-skills may justify his placement as one of the 15 best corners in the league, and probably the best number two corner in the NFL, as well. Big, if true, since Sherman is the best number one corner in the NFL, Earl Thomas is the best free safety in the NFL, and Kam... yeah, you know.
Somehow it seems that Pete Carroll may have pulled off an entire All-Pro-worthy secondary, with Maxwell being the last puzzle piece to work his way in. If only he didn't seem so close to possibly being on his way out.
If Maxwell is as good as he was last year but over a full 16-game season and playoffs, then he'd rightfully command a contract no less than what someone like Alterraun Verner got from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year after exiting Tennessee. Verner, who I believe was one of the five best corners in the league last season, signed a four-year, $26.5 million contract with the Bucs, with $14 million guaranteed.
It seems fair that the Seahawks could work something like that into their cap, but we can't ignore the fact that Wilson is due an extension, Cliff Avril is going to become a free agent, as is Malcolm Smith, and Bobby Wagner may also warrant a new deal. Yes, this team is really, really damn loaded. Which is why the team with the league's best secondary, perhaps the best secondary in league history, still drafts guys like Tharold Simon and Eric Pinkins.
Somebody needs to be ready to step up in case the last guy leaves, just as Maxwell has done after Browner and Walter Thurmond left via free agency. It's no coincidence that Simon and Pinkins share many similar characteristics to Maxwell.
Sherman, Chancellor, and Thomas are all locked down for a few years now, but that fourth spot could rest as a place for a good player who can step up and compete for playing time while getting the advantage of playing on the NFL's best defense and not having to do it on his own. At the end of last year, Maxwell was doing more than just that.
Including playoffs, PFF graded Maxwell as the fourth-best tackling corner in the league, and tackling isn't an area that gives a shit whether or not you're being helped on defense. It's you versus a man, and Maxwell is as good as any corner in the league at tackling. (There isn't any stat that I know of that measures hitting either, but Maxwell could be a top five corner in that respect too.) He also played well in coverage and though he did make some mistakes, how many mistakes are made up for when you force a fumble, make an incredible interception, or knock down a would-be touchdown?
Maxwell did all of those things, more than once, in a very short amount of time. And the answer is: They make up for a lot of mistakes. But is Maxwell ready to step up and be an elite cornerback, can he remain with the team past 2014 if he does, and in the wake of Browner and Thurmond leaving, is the depth good enough to make up for his absence if Maxwell is the next man out? Whether he means to or not, Maxwell will be setting an example for Simon and Pinkins and A.J. Jefferson and every other defensive back fighting for a spot on this roster. If not now, then perhaps three years down the line when they're finally getting their turn.
Maxwell could end up being another example of the rewards justifying the means.
The motto of many players on this team might as well be "Goonies never say die." The moral of The Goonies wasn't that a group of kids could foil a group of bad guys. The moral was that a group of outcasts, misfits, nerds, and underdogs -- the least likely heroes of all -- could be the ones to save their parents from financial discourse. That successful people aren't the ones that have the most talent or the most experience or the most likely; successful people are the ones that were the last to give up.
Through two and a half years as a backup, Maxwell has never seemed to lose the faith. While Mikey in The Goonies accomplished his goals by keeping his family in town, success for Maxwell might mean that he's bought a ticket out.
Not that he's not wanted here, but he could prove to be more than a "number two."