Fully focused on the present for his young team, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. isn’t a fan of living in the past or jumping towards the future.
Keeping that in mind, when it comes to naming Seattle’s replacement for departed starter Justin Coleman at nickel cornerback in the regular season opener, nothing will be set in stone until after a fierce competition plays out over the course of this summer.
But when pressed by Dave Mahler and Dick Fain in an interview on Sports Radio KJR, Norton did offer up a name for a front-runner to win the job heading towards offseason activities.
“Once you look at the roster,” Norton Jr. said. “Akeem [King] is going in on paper as the guy and then [there is] a competition.”
It shouldn’t be surprising King will be given the first crack to replace Coleman, as the 26-year old defender played well in a variety of roles for the Seahawks last season and earned the trust of coach Pete Carroll and his staff.
After initially being waived during final roster cuts and starting the regular season on Seattle’s practice squad, King quickly earned a promotion back to the active roster on September 8. He wound up appearing in all 16 games, finishing with 21 tackles and a quarterback hit.
Among his many duties, King started in place of starter Tre Flowers at right cornerback in Week 2 and played 134 snaps on special teams. During the team’s run to a playoff berth in December, he also provided valuable contributions as a third safety in defensive sub-packages, helping contain Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in a Week 15 victory.
Rewarding him for his efforts, Seattle re-signed the 6-foot-1, 215-pound King to a one-year deal worth up to $2.05 million, including a $400,000 signing bonus.
Norton emphasized that earning the starting gig won’t be easy for King, referencing Seattle’s ability to develop and field a quality secondary in 2018 despite losing members of the “Legion of Boom” such as Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.
“You really have to understand - this is like the best athletes in the world. Just for you to get on this team and make this roster, you have to be pretty good.”
Just as the Seahawks always push for, King will have no shortage of legitimate challengers vying for Coleman’s former job, including Kalan Reed, Jeremy Boykins, and recently signed veteran Jamar Taylor.
Though he’s bigger than past starters for Seattle at the position, King posted respectable numbers in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard short shuttle at San Jose State’s pro day back in 2015, suggesting he should be athletic enough to make the transition and win the job.
Two particular competitors, Reed and Taylor, stand as the greatest obstacles who could prevent King from finally becoming an NFL starter.
Signing with Seattle in October, Reed didn’t play in a single game last year despite being on the 53-man roster for the final two months of the season, an indication the team had future plans for him. At 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, he’s basically a clone of Coleman and possesses similar athletic traits that should translate well to the slot position.
Taylor, the latest addition to Seattle’s secondary, offers more experience than anyone else competing to supplant Coleman, as he started 14 games at slot cornerback for the Browns in 2016. Built similarly to Reed, he’s also an explosive athlete, as he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and led all corners in the 20-yard shuttle run at the 2013 combine.
Both Reed and Taylor on the surface would seem to be better fits in the slot based on size and athleticism. But if there’s a team willing to buck trends and throw a big-bodied former safety into the lineup, it’s the Seahawks, who have made developing young nickel backs into quality NFL starters seem routine under the guidance of Carroll.
By handing him a new contract, the Seahawks showed plenty of confidence in King’s ability to make that jump. Hoping to continue flashing his impressive versatility, the young defender will now try to make good on the investment.