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It's not surprising that the Seahawks drafted a cornerback 5th overall
Devon Witherspoon isn't the first defensive back that Seattle has made a huge investment in: Seaside Joe 1529
At a certain point, every Seahawk writer’s powers of deduction for predicting who Seattle will draft or sign to add to the roster or keep on the team ends up following the same logic. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are on their 14th offseason together, so understandably that kind of rare continuity with an NFL team’s front office leads people to believe that they can foretell their next move.
But the only thing that’s typical about Pete and John’s decisions for the Seahawks is their desire to make the team better and to compete next season, not two or three years down the line. That is the only true throughline that runs alongside every draft pick, trade, and free agency decision made by Seattle in the last 14 years.
However, it’s the obsession over “position”—despite how many analysts swear by the premise that it is “always a mistake to draft for positional needs”—that usually leads experts in the wrong direction.
It was position obsession that caused so many Seahawks writers to waste time over this “rare opportuniy to draft a quarterback that John Schneider DEFINITELY won’t pass on!” and position confusion that resulted in 99-percent of draft experts to ignore the possibility that Seattle would pick a cornerback fifth overall. About five years ago I made the most important decision in my football analysis career when I started forcing myself to spend time proving my own theories wrong before I would make bold proclamations of what I could guarantee to be right.
“The Seahawks have never drafted a cornerback higher than 90th under Pete and John” is a sentence I’ve shared countless times since picking Shaquill Griffin in 2017. And sure, that matters, but only to the degree that it matters.
On March 21st, I wrote about five potential surprise picks at 5th overall because I wanted to force Seaside Joe readers and myself to stop focusing so intently on the same four or five names that everybody else was obsessed with, like Anthony Richardson, Jalen Carter, and Will Anderson. That was the first time that I started considering the possibility that the Seahawks could pick a cornerback, I just predicted the wrong cornerback.
Then as the draft got closer, I watched a video by Ronde Barber describing Devon Witherspoon’s play style and detailing why Witherspoon was his favorite cornerback in the 2023 class. “Damn, this guy sounds like exactly what Seattle needs and what Pete Carroll desperately wants more of,” so on April 11th, I wrote about Witherspoon as an option for the first time.
When I started writing, I expected that I would talk myself out of Witherspoon; a corner who lacks length going fifth overall to a head coach who seems like favor long cornerbacks and who hasn’t picked any player at the position higher than the third round? But that’s a bullshit reason to think that the Seahawks would take someone off of their board.
Only a year earlier, Seattle showed significant interest in Sauce Gardner and they may well have picked him ninth overall, if not moved up for him had he not gone fourth overall.
By the time I finished the article, I had talked myself into Witherspoon and though I could see why some people expected that “Now Seaside Joe’s just going to overhype every prospect he analyzes?” But nobody else was going to get that kind of treatment and I wrote that now that I had known about Witherspoon, every other prospect had to convince me—if I’m Pete and John—to give him the guaranteed contract instead of the player who clearly wanted it the most.
Witherspoon checked every box, so long as you could ignore Seattle’s history with cornerbacks: Premium position, elite production/coverage skills in college, plays tenacious run defense, plays with 100% effort, loves to study and is obsessed with getting better, ultra-competitive, A+ teammate, plays with controlled violence and leads my example.
If you could put all those attributes into pass rusher who was available at five in the 2023 NFL Draft, then maybe yeah the Seahawks would have done something different. But this class offered nothing close to that and I think that when Bryce Young came off the board, it came down only to Witherspoon and Will Anderson, which is all but confirmed by now. It would not be surprising to me if Witherspoon was ahead of Anderson.
So the argument that “The Seahawks won’t be considering the ideal player at #5 because he plays cornerback and it would only be appealing if they were say, getting him at #10 instead” just doesn’t hold water.
On the day of the draft, I went against every other person predicting Seattle’s first decision and projected that Pete Carroll would overrule all other possibilities and select Devon Witherspoon at fifth overall. Then and now, it’s really not all that surprising that the Seahawks picked a cornerback that early in the draft.
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As I said, the Seahawks showed interest in a top-5 cornerback only one year ago. Though Seattle ended up picking Tariq Woolen in round five and are still developing Coby Bryant, that didn’t change the fact that the defense could support an immediate Week 1 upgrade at the cornerback position. Sure, if a team picks a QB early in one draft, they’re probably going to shy away from that position the next (similar to the Jaguars picking Trevor Lawrence in 2021, then Travon Walker in 2022, although last year’s class had no premier QB prospects), but cornerback?
No way. Teams need at least three and given the number of good receivers in the NFL relative to the lack of good cornerbacks, the Seahawks now have a significant advantage on their defense.
The Seahawks traded two first round picks for a safety! Not only a safety, but a defensive back who often plays in the same area of the defense as a player like Witherspoon.
The team picked Richard Sherman in the fifth round, but it’s not like they traded him when he became eligible for a new contract. They paid him like the best corner in the NFL! Sherman was the fourth-highest paid at his position in 2015, second in 2016, and fifth in 2017.
Investing a lot of money or investing a high draft pick, how different are those two concepts really?
Similarly, the Seahawks have made Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Quandre Diggs, and Adams the highest paid safeties in the NFL at different times over the last 10 years. But it’s not like Seattle also spends high draft picks on safeties either; since picking Thomas in the first round in 2010, the Seahawks have only picked one other safety in the top-90 picks, that being Marquise Blair (47th) in 2019. Lano Hill at 95th overall is the next-highest.
Should we surmise then that the Seahawks would never draft a safety in the first round? No! And people project second round safeties to Seattle all the time even though Pete and John have only made two safety picks in the first two rounds over 14 years.
This opportunity doesn’t come around often
“The Seahawks have never drafted a cornerback in the first two rounds.”
Okay. They also haven’t made that many first and second round picks period relative to other teams. Because of trades, these opportunities have been super limited and it’s not surprising when franchises use those chances to take offensive and defensive linemen. The Seahawks picked 13 trench players with first or second round picks from 2010-2022. That only leaves a sample size of 11 other players in that period of time.
They picked two safeties, two linebackers, three running backs, four receivers.
A lot of NFC teams have avoided drafting cornerbacks in the first three rounds lately, I can’t exactly explain why, but this is nothing unusual. The Seahawks have never picked a quarterback or tight end in the first two rounds, but this doesn’t stop people from constantly mocking those positions to Seattle; or linebacker, which has only happened twice; or center, which has only happened once.
Devon Witherspoon is a “corner” but he’s also just a defensive football player! Julian Love is coming from a defense where they say he had no position. The Seahawks are going to put the best players on the field and Witherspoon’s versatility to play inside or outside, to play man or zone, to play the pass or the run, will diversify his number of “positions” well beyond the typical expectations of a cornerback.
I wrote a little something about “Why Seaside Joe?” and what we do differently here than what every other writer is doing today. And why it’s going to help make us the most successful Seahawks website on the planet. Check it out if that sort of thing interests you!