Like all teams, the Seahawks spend months and millions crisscrossing America to scout prospects.
Yet they need little more than bus fare to find three players who could meet their pressing concerns in this week’s NFL draft.
The three are all in Seattle.
Cornerbacks Kevin King and Sidney Jones, plus safety Budda Baker, just finished playing for the Washington Huskies. All three could be available when the neighboring Seahawks, from down Lake Washington, pick 26th overall in Thursday’s first round, and again at the end of Friday’s round two.
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King has rocketed to prominence since he wowed the league scouting combine in March. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, leaped an impressive 39 1/2 inches vertically, and ran the combine’s fastest three-cone drill (6.56 seconds). The last test showed that he can change directions with elite speed.
King has the size the Seahawks covet in their corners: 6 foot 3, 200 pounds, with extraordinary, 32-inch arms. He’s equipped to match up inside at nickel back against some of the NFL’s biggest receivers.
King partnered with Jones and Baker in a shutdown secondary that helped propel the Huskies to the Pac-12 championship and college football’s national-championship playoff in December. UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake had them playing the same style that Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard and DBs coach Andre Curtis have the Seahawks play: mauling receivers along the line of scrimmage and attacking nearly every pass, as superstar cornerback Richard Sherman has done so well for the Seahawks over six years.
King doesn’t exactly lack confidence with that style.
“When the ball’s in the air, that 50-50 ball isn’t really 50-50,” he said.
If available, and if the Seahawks don’t take the top offensive tackle they may need even more, King could be Seattle’s answer as to who will be the starting right cornerback — at least until 2016 starter DeShawn Shead returns from a major knee injury. Shead may not be back until October, if then. Plus, King could be Seattle’s answer after Shead’s one-year contract, worth $1.05 million, ends after the coming season.
But King is so impressive he may not be around when the Seahawks pick at the end of round one. New Orleans at 11th overall, Tennessee at No. 18 and Oakland, picking two spots ahead of Seattle, all need cornerbacks.
Jones likely will be there at 26. And maybe at 58 in round two. He was likely to be a first-round pick until March, when he tore his Achilles tendon during UW’s Pro Day workouts.
He expects to be running again by June and back on the field by September.
The poise with which Jones, 6-0 and 186 pounds, played while an All-Pac-12 cornerback at Washington has him handling his untimely injury right now.
“Never panicked, never shook — that’s just my personality,” Jones said last month at the combine, just before he got hurt. “I feel like it flows onto the football field, being just a calm person and just staying relaxed in all situations.”
Jones told USA Today last week: “I’m the best corner in the draft, plain and simple. Don’t look at the possibility of me not playing this first year. Me being injured for this short amount of time, it’s not going to compare to the rest of the contract, because any player can get hurt throughout their contract.
“This just happened to happen right now, and I can play basically right when the season starts. I will be playing this season.
“If you take me, I’m a good investment for your team. A great investment.”
NFL general managers may not be swayed. Jones is likely to get pushed past Thursday’s first day of the draft because of questions over whether he’ll be healthy enough to play effectively this season.
That could work out nicely for the Seahawks.
Their open talk over the last two months about the possibility of trading Sherman — even with general manager John Schneider characterizing it as remote — is at a minimum a recognition from the team and from its three-time All-Pro cornerback that the end of his time in Seattle is in sight.
Sherman is set to earn $11.4 million guaranteed this year, and $11 million not guaranteed in 2018. Seattle’s “dead money” against its salary cap for releasing him — if no other team meets its steep trade demand — goes from $15.8 million this year to $2.2 million in 2018. That makes Sherman far more liable to be cut next year when he turns 30.
“Sidney Jones?” King said, when asked about his Huskies teammate.
King knows the intricacies of how Sherman plays. King studied the Seahawks superstar early in King’s time at UW, when Huskies coaches had him transitioning back to cornerback after briefly having him at safety.
“I watched Sherman and some other bigger guys who have similar (as in, big) body types to me,” King said. “Playing man, and playing the types of schemes that we play.”
Baker was UW’s thumping, ball-seeking safety, playing inside of King and Jones. Any receivers they didn’t cover, any ball carriers that got past the line, Baker usually blasted.
He plays with speed and intuition that some have likened to Earl Thomas. But Baker may last at least until the second round because folks get hemmed up that he is 5-10.
“I can’t really get mad,” Baker said. “God made me this height.
“All I can say is, watch the film.”
Many people had the same doubts seven years ago about Thomas, who is … yes, 5-10. Nevertheless, Seattle drafted Thomas at 14th overall in 2010. All he’s done is get voted an All-Pro three times, earn five Pro Bowl selections and become the game’s pre-eminent free safety. But Thomas is two weeks from turning 28 and 4 1/2 months past breaking his leg in a game against Carolina.
Another Seahawks’ first in its secondary: Thomas seeming mortal.
Baker knows all about Thomas. After he and the Huskies lost to Alabama in the national semifinals on New Year’s Eve, Baker has trained in California in sessions set up by the representatives at Athletes First and Baker’s new agent, David Mulugheta.
Mulugheta is Thomas’ agent, too.
“I’ve gotten to know (Thomas) a little bit,” Baker said. “He watched me do my DB drills, and he helped me out with some little things and all that type of stuff.”
Baker has piqued interest from NFL teams by being able to play strong safety — the position occupied on the Seahawks by Kam Chancellor, 29, recently injured and entering the final year of his contract. Baker is rugged enough to play inside against slot receivers or even like a linebacker in run support, too.
No wonder Baker met at the combine with the Seahawks — and just about every other team that issues helmets.
“They just said they like my film, whether it’s free safety, nickel,” Baker said. “They feel like I can rush off the edge, play man, make open-field tackles.
“I feel like I’m equally proficient in all those types of things. I feel like I can be in a post player-type defense, or I can play the box.”
If Baker hasn’t gone to somebody by the 58th overall pick on Friday, he may go to the Seahawks.
Schneider, coach Pete Carroll and their personnel men visited with Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu. He’s big (a Chancellor-esque 6-4, 244 pounds, with 32½-inch arms) and freakishly athletic (a 4.40 40, a 44-inch vertical leap that was the combine’s best in 11 years). Thus, Melifonwu may not be around past the first round.
Seattle has met with Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. He plays Sherman’s pressing style, and is 6-3, yes, the same size as Sherman.
Thing is, the best fill — or fills — for the Seahawks when it comes to their aging, banged-up secondary may be in their backyard.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
TNT’s TOP DEFENSIVE BACKS IN 2017 NFL DRAFT
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Kevin King, CB, Washington
Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan