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How will Seahawks’ deep cornerback group shake out?

Jun 27, 2024, 12:43 PM | Updated: 1:04 pm

Seattle Seahawks Devon Witherspoon Riq Woolen Browns 2023...

Devon Witherspoon (21) and Riq Woolen (27) of the Seattle Seahawks celebrate a stop against the Browns in 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon offers new head coach Mike Macdonald’s defense a unique level of talent and versatility.

Where does Seahawks’ D-line rank among rest of NFL?

During his sensational rookie season last year, the former No. 5 overall pick showcased his wide-ranging skill set all over the field, providing lockdown coverage in the passing game while also making a slew of impact plays around the line of scrimmage. He did so while splitting time between positions, logging 421 snaps at nickel cornerback and 348 snaps at outside corner.

With the nickel spot becoming ever more valuable in today’s NFL, Witherspoon is expected to continue sliding inside for a heavy dose of snaps in Macdonald’s versatile and cutting-edge scheme. It’s part of an interesting debate in the football world: For a player of Witherspoon’s caliber, is he more valuable outside or at nickel?  During Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Wednesday, former NFL linebacker Dave Wyman was asked that question.

“I think if you said, ‘Hey, you need to have your best player at (outside) corner, they would probably move Spoon out there,” Wyman said. “But I think it would be a waste of resources, because that guy plays like a linebacker every once in a while.”

As a Pro Bowler last season, Witherspoon finished the year with an 84.1 Pro Football Focus defensive grade, which ranked sixth among all cornerbacks. He had 16 pass breakups, which tied for fifth in the NFL. He posted three sacks, which was tied for the most among all cornerbacks. He also had eight tackles for loss, which tied for second among cornerbacks.

In a Monday Night Football win over the New York Giants in Week 4, Witherspoon became just the 27th player in NFL history to record a pick-six and multiple sacks in the same game.

“I heard (former NFL quarterback) Brock Huard put it this way: He’s pound-for-pound their best hitter,” Wyman said. “He had a bunch of big hits. That’s what I loved about him – his range of the plays that he made, from knocking a pass away that he’s not even looking at to intercepting a ball and taking it 97 yards, and then quarterback sacks and big hits. … There’s something different about him.”

Who will fill the outside corner spots?

The good news for the Seahawks: Even when Witherspoon slides inside to nickel, they still have plenty of capable options to play at the two outside corner spots.

Third-year Riq Woolen is expected to occupy one of those spots. Woolen had an exceptional rookie season in 2022, when he tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions and added 16 pass breakups. He took a step back last year, particularly in his run defense. But he was still strong in coverage, ranking 26th among 127 qualified corners with a 75.0 PFF coverage grade.

In nickel formations, sixth-year Michael Jackson and fourth-year Tre Brown are the favorites to occupy the other outside corner spot. Jackson started just four games last season after starting all 17 games in 2022, but still ranked No. 20 among all cornerbacks in PFF’s overall defense grade and No. 22 in its coverage grade. Brown made seven starts last year, ranking No. 69 in overall defense and No. 66 in coverage.

The Seahawks also have a pair of intriguing rookies in Auburn cornerbacks Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James, who Seattle drafted in back-to-back rounds in April.

Out of all those options, Wyman believes that Woolen still holds an edge over Jackson and Brown.

“He’s probably the most athletic,” Wyman said. “That’s why I would say Riq Woolen. But you’ve (also) got Michael Jackson – I always think about him as not being super fast, but really a smart player. And then same thing with Tre Brown. Tre is a very smart player. So hopefully (Macdonald’s defense) will free these guys up and they will be able to go out and play to the best of their ability.”

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Wyman and Bob weekdays from 2 to 7 p.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

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• Brock: Why Seahawks could exceed national expectations this year
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• Will Metcalf and Lockett both still be on Seahawks’ roster in 2025?

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