The Seahawks have needs all over their aging secondary.
They have youthful, potential answers in their own backyard.
Recent Washington Huskies Kevin King, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker all could be available when the neighboring Seahawks 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 his wowing league scouting combine in March. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, leaped an impressive 39½ inches vertically and ran the combine’s fastest three-cone drill (6.56 seconds). The last showed he can change directions with elite speed.
King also has the size the Seahawks covet in their corners: 6 feet 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 Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard and DBs coach Andre Curtis have the Seahawks play: a pressing style of 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 at last month’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
If available, if the Seahawks don’t take the top offensive tackle they may need even more, King could be Seattle’s answer 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 after the injury: "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 whether he’ll be healthy enough to play effectively this year.
That could work out nicely for the Seahawks. You may have read or heard their oddly open talk the last two months about the possibility – even with general manager John Schneider characterizing it as remote – of trading Sherman is at a minimum a recognition from the team and from its three-time All-Pro cornerback that for the first time his end 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 just $2.2 million in 2018. That makes him far more able to be cut next year when Sherman turns 30 and the Seahawks may possibly be in even more need to replace him.
"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 briefly had 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 inside 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 some have likened to Earl Thomas. But Baker may last at least until the second round because folks get hemmed up he is only 5-10.
"I can’t really get mad," Baker said. "God made me this height.
"All I can say is, watch the film."
Many had the same doubts seven years ago about Thomas, who is … yes, 5-10. Seattle nevertheless drafted Thomas 14th overall in 2010. All he’s done is get voted All-Pro three times, earn five Pro Bowl selections and become the game’s preeminent free safety. But now Thomas is two weeks from turning 28, and 4½ months past breaking his shin in a game against Carolina.
Another Seahawks first in its secondary: Thomas seeming mortal.
Baker knows all about Thomas. Since just after he and the Huskies lost to Alabama in the national semifinals on New Year’s Eve, Baker has been training 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 also has piqued NFL teams’ interests in being able to play strong safety – the spot where Seahawks’ strong safety Kam Chancellor is now 29, recently injured and entering the final year of his contract while on what he calls a “day-to-day” existence with the team. 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 I the box.”
If Baker hasn’t gone to somebody by the 58th overall pick on Friday, he may go to the Seahawks.
GM John 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 also met with Colorado cornerback Akhello Witherspoon. He also 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 in their aging, banged-up secondary may simply be in their backyard.
MY TOP DEFENSIVE BACKS IN 2017 NFL DRAFT
1. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
2. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
3. Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
4. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
5. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
6. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
7. Kevin King, CB, Washington
8. Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
9. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
10. Jabril Peppers, S, Michigan