By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
While Super Sunday was anything but in terms of being an entertaining and competitive game, it might have answered an age old question. Which is better, a dominant defense or potent offense? If you take the Seahwaks victory as a barometer it seems the prior. That’s certainly what most of the media would have you believe in the immediate aftermath of the game, a time where overreaction trumps reality. That being said it’s clear that the Pete Carroll led defense in the Pacific Northwest utilized a particular blueprint to counteract the rise of the passing game. Like any successful scheme it relies on the personnel available, but what gets Carroll and GM John Schneider league wide respect is the process they followed to build a team around a philosophy.
It’s not just big, physical corners paired with small but quick defensive linemen. It’s undersized, yet instinctive middle linebacker Bobby Wagner making plays all over the field. Its also arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL. What makes Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas so great is that they complement each other so well. Thomas is the former corner who might be a little undersized but can cover his area of responsibility with ease and excels in coverage. He covers ground so quickly and is able to wreak havoc in the back end as he closes on receivers in a flash. In order for Thomas to have the freedom to roam it takes a run stuffing safety with the strength and tackling ability of Chancellor.
Many teams will try and copy what the Seahawks have done to construct the NFL’s premier defense. If they are to be successful it will require savvy moves in free agency but also in the draft. Brandon Browner was undrafted, while Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were both fifth rounders.
Here are some of the players that are most similar to the current Seattle secondary.
SS Kam Chancellor, Seahawks
Role: Over-sized, strong safety who intimidates opponents with his athleticism and hard hitting ability.
If you watched last Sunday’s Super Bowl you cam away an understanding of how Seattle’s dominant defense operates. Besides the physical corners, and speed defensive linemen there is a pair of safety whose skill sets complement each other’s perfectly. Kam Chancellor plays the role of enforcer. Coming out of Virginia Tech scouts liked his physicality but labeled him “too slow”. It turns out that because he rarely if ever is matched up on a wide receiver, that 4.4 speed he lacks is more a luxury than a necessity. From his strong safety role he is able to read the play and lay down the lumber like he did to poor Demaryius Thomas.
2014 Prospect Comparisons:
OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio St.
Shazier matches up very well in terms of size to Chancellor and plays with a similar sense of tenacity and toughness. A lot of the chatter concerning Shazier has been his lack of size to play linebacker, but put him in a role parallel to Chancellor’s and his size now becomes a strength. The Buckeye’s elite athleticism and instincts would suggest he’s capable of handling more intensive coverage responsibilities at the safety level. Like Chancellor he wouldn’t bring much though in terms of pure coverage ability as a safety. In reality his best role might be as a hybrid player taking on the traits of both outside linebacker and “in the box” safety where his athleticism and ferocity would be front and center.
SS Craig Loston, LSU
Loston is a bit smaller than Chancellor but even though the Seahawk is known for that oversized frame, Loston’s style of play is still very comparable. At 6’2 205 lb Loston is still a good sized safety prospect but well below the 234 pounds of Chancellor. The scouting reports of the two safeties, however, have some clear similarities. Both are big for their position (Loston slightly and Chancellor very) with the athleticism that is able to mask their deficiencies in coverage. They both play an aggressive brand of football and deliver some huge hits, yet are often times out of position because of their attacking nature. Chancellor has been able to perfect his craft to the point where the concerns scouts had about his ability to read plays and not overrun them looking for the big hit are no longer an issue. If Loston can develop his mental acumen and football intelligence then maybe we could see him flying around the field and blowing up unsuspecting receivers like Chancellor often does.
SS Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Like Loston its not so much his size as it is his brand of football that compares to the hard hitting Chancellor. Pryor is making a surge up draft boards due mostly to his range and bone jarring collisions. Like Chancellor Pryor looks to make an impression with his hitting and is able to make receivers think twice about running that crossing route at full speed.
FS Earl Thomas, Seahawks
Role: Smaller safety with elite burst and range to eat space quickly and excel in zone coverage.
The Legion of Boom has flashier players making bigger hits (Kam Chancellor) and more hyped players making bigger headlines (Richard Sherman) but the essence of that Cover 3 and overall defensive philosophy is Earl Thomas. His range is tremendous and he covers his area of the field effortlessly breaking on the ball to disrupt plays and cause turnovers. Coming out of college Thomas had played mostly corner but made the seamless transition to free safety showing the burst to close on the play and enough tackling ability to hold up at that position. His range, closing speed and read and react ability is the catalyst to Seattle’s dominant defense. Pound for pound there may not be a better player in the entire NFL.
2014 Prospect Comparison:
S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Thomas played for a perennial power at Texas, but one of the players that brings a similar skill set is the much less renown Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. A nice matchup size wise Ward also shares the fluidity and coverage skills that makes Earl Thomas elite. One of my favorite prospects Ward is still being underrated by most and could really surprise some people as a free safety. Like Thomas he is not a heavy hitter but he gets it down as a tackler and really excels in coverage. Ward looks like an ideal free safety despite still being listed as a strong safety by most draft sites. His fluidity and hip transition are stellar for a safety.
CB Bradley Roby, Ohio St.
Roby, like Thomas, will enter the NFL as a corner but as it stands it would be surprising to see him in a safety role. That’s not to say it wouldn’t make sense in the right scheme. Opposite a bigger and more physical presence on the strong side, Roby’s elite speed and coverage ability would make teams hard pressed to run tight ends up the seam with any success. One concern Roby carries is a lack of size, even for the corner position, but as the game has changed so has the dimensions scouts look for in a safety. Just look at Tyrann Mathieu who stands 5’9 190 and was one of the best rookie defenders in the league. Roby doesn’t have the same level of physicality that Mathieu plays with but can more than hold his own on the edge and is certainly comfortable and effective in run support.
CB Brandon Browner
Role: Incredible size for a corner who can press effectively but also cover downfield effectively.
Although Browner was controversially suspended for missed drug tests while he was playing in the CFL he has the prototypical size of a press corner in the Seahawks scheme. Undrafted out of Oregon St. Browner paid his dues to get to the NFL and was a Pro Bowl corner last year. His size and length allow him to re-route receivers off the snap and matchup against taller studs like Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. Part of the reason he went undrafted was because he was still very raw in terms technique and being physical enough to utilize his massive frame. After learning the ins and outs of coverage and developing that physical mentality he became one of the most feared corners in the league. His future with the Seahawks is uncertain but he fits their scheme to a tee.
2014 Prospect Comparison:
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Very much in vogue is the oversized corner and SJB fits the bill. A former wide receiver the Cornhusker is very athletic for his size and has the ball skills and body control to compete for the ball at its highest point. Like Browner Jean-Baptiste has not just the height but also the bulk at 220 lb to effectively press and jolt receivers off their line with a hand punch. SJB is definitely still refining his skills and needs to improve his tackling consistency but given his upside teams looking to copy Seattle’s press heavy scheme will love the opportunity to add him to their roster and groom him for success.
CB Richard Sherman
Role: Lock down corner with the size and smarts to function one on one against even the best NFL receivers.
When you talk as much as Sherman you better back it up on the field and there is no question he does just that. One of the toughest matchups in the league for opposing receivers due to his size, ball skills and football intelligence his lockdown ability allows the Hawks to play him on an island and open up the playbook for the rest of the defense. Sherman was Stanford’s best wide receiver for a few years before he made the switch to corner, and the rest is history. A fifth round pick by Seattle turned into a dominant corner after three years of development.
2014 Prospect Comparison:
CB Keith McGill, Utah
McGill is projected to go around the same spot Sherman did as a mid round pick and flashes the potential to be special. Another former wide out McGill has the long arms and height to deflect away even well thrown passes. McGill will be hard pressed to develop the same type of diagnostic skills that makes Sherman great, but athletically he might be even more impressive. McGill is bigger than Sherman by at least 5-10 pounds and has better straight line speed as well. With Browner’s future with Seattle still murky who knows maybe Pete Carroll and company target McGill or SJB to anchor the left side of the defensive backfield. If not, copy cat teams will no doubt take advantage.