In what has become an NFL scouting combine tradition, any time a tall cornerback steps up to run his 40-yard-dash or participate in position drills, all attention turns to the Seahawks.
The camera zooms in on head coach Pete Carroll furiously scribbling notes and trading facial expressions with general manager John Schneider while Daniel Jeremiah and the rest of the NFL Network crew talks about arm length and other “Seahawky” attributes.
In a copycat league, Carroll’s affinity for tall, rangy cornerbacks started a trend that has now infiltrated the ranks of the NCAA. While it used to be rare to see cornerbacks measuring over 6-feet tall, it’s now more common than ever. In all, 12 cornerbacks in this year’s combine class met Carroll’s preferred combination of being over 6-feet and possessing 32-inch or longer arms.
Their type of player the team covets at the position is clear: Under Schneider, the Seahawks have never drafted a corner with sub-32-inch arms.
The need is just as clear.
Seattle may appear set with the young duo of Tre Flowers and Shaquille Griffen, but Carroll often says you can “never have too many cornerbacks.” Flowers showed great promise as a rookie starter last year, and while Griffen struggled at times, Carroll reiterated his support for him in Indianapolis this week.
But the depth behind them is tenuous. Veteran Neiko Thorpe is primarily a special teams player and set for unrestricted free agency. Akeem King showed flashes when called upon in 2018, but he's a restricted free agent himself. With the Seahawks other NFC West rivals employing pass-heavy offenses, finding multiple defensive backs who can cover and tackle is more crucial than ever.
If Seattle wants to add another young outside cornerback to this group, here are four players who stood out at the combine today, fit the size prototype the organization looks for, and should be available in the middle rounds:
Isaiah Johnson, CB Houston
6-foot-2, 208 lbs, 33” arms
Johnson has been linked to Seattle the entire draft process, and not just because of the converted-receiver’s size. Johnson has already learned Seattle's unique kick-step technique and said he’s most comfortable using it. Commonly projected as a fourth rounder leading up to the combine, Jeremiah says the second round is his sweet spot, meaning the Seahawks would need to use their first pick to get him. That may be too rich considering other, more pressing roster needs.
Lonnie Johnson, CB Kentucky
6-foot-2, 213 lbs, 32.5-inch arms
Johnson garnered attention in Indy this week after divulging that a Seahawks staffer challenged him to a staring contest during his interview with the team (he says it went on for 15-18 seconds and that he won.) Last year, it was Texas punter Michael Dickson who got the staring-contest treatment. Seattle selected him in the fifth round and he was an All-Pro in his rookie season. Could Johnson be the next? He looked good for his size in backpedal drills and clocked an impressive 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Justin Layne, CB Michigan State
6-foot-2, 102 lbs, 33-inch arms
Layne, who produced 72 tackles and 15 passes defensed for the Spartans in 2018, also ran his 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and looked smooth and fluid in drills. Jeremiah lauded the patience and confidence he played with.
Michael Jackson, CB Miami
6-foot-1, 210 lbs, 32.5-inch arms
Jackson is a physical player who recorded 97 tackles, four interceptions, and 3.5 sacks in his Hurricane career. His backpedal needs work, but he showed good change-of-direction skills and ran his 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, tied for eighth-fastest among defensive backs in Indianapolis. His 40.5" vertical jump was among the best marks posted today.
While the taller corners will always be linked to Seattle, could this be the year they look for something different?
Slot cornerback Justin Coleman is about to hit free agency and may very well command a salary the Seahawks are unwilling to match, making an inside corner one of their biggest priorities this offseason.
With that being the case, will Carroll and Schneider be more flexible in their player specs? The slot position presents different challenges and requires a player who can be quick in his reactions and physical at the point of attack. Arm length may not be as big a priority. Coleman himself checks in at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds with 31.5-inch arms.
If this ends up being the case, it opens the door to a number of other intriguing cornerback prospects who figure to be available in the middle rounds. Notre Dame’s Julian Love and Michigan’s David Long may fit that mold. Love is called a “physical inside nickel” by Jeremiah, while Long stood out with a strong showing in positional drills. Other nickel candidates could come from the safety group, where players such as Oregon’s Ugo Amadi may come into play.
Even with limited draft capital as they approach April’s draft, it would be a shock if the Seahawks didn’t draft at least one cornerback. Though it's not receiving the same attention as the defensive line, this defensive back class is deep and the need for Seattle ever so obvious.