The Seattle Seahawks added another piece to the defense on Saturday, selecting former Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown with the 137th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. At 5-foot-10-inches, Brown is smaller than past names like Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell. However, head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have no concerns about the rookie’s size.
The duo met with media members during the late stages of the NFL Draft to look back at a fairly quiet weekend. During this conversation, they confirmed that Brown will have a role on both defense and special teams. They also explained that the corner had the talent to go in the first round if he was slightly larger.
“The landscape is what it is,” Schneider told media members. “I’m sure Trey Brown would love to be 6-foot-2. If he was 6-foot-2, he’d be picked in the top 10. You can see him running all over in the Big 12 with all of the receivers and all of the speed that’s out there and competing his tail off.
“Yes, we would love to have big corners and all that, and we did right when we got here. But you’ve got to adjust to the times too, and there’s only a certain amount of players we can pick from. [It is] more about the person. We talked about it last night. This guy is a true competitor, he’s on the upswing, he’s overcome a lot, a Tulsa guy. He’s got a confidence about him that we love and treasure.”
Brown will have the opportunity to line up against outside receivers
When the Seahawks selected Brown, there were several questions about his role on the defense. Would he line up on the outside against bigger receivers, would he move inside to the nickel? Carroll provided some insight about the upcoming competition, listing multiple ways in which Brown will contribute as a rookie and into his career.
“He’s going to play outside. Start there, and we’re going to see what he brings to the competition,” Carroll explained. “He’s played outside through his years, hasn’t played as a featured nickel guy, but we know that he would have the ability to do that. The one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl were really indicative of his ability to stick to people. He went against really good receivers, really good one-on-one opportunities, and he can — whether he is playing inside or outside — he will do fine.”
Carroll explained that the cornerbacks on the roster have played both inside and outside while finding success. He listed DJ Reed as a prime example after a season in which the former San Francisco 49ers defender registered the first two interceptions of his career and a career-high 62 total tackles. Carroll also used Reed as a comparison when discussing Brown’s aggressiveness and how he will fit in the scheme.
Brown can look to the past for an example of a standout ‘undersized’ corner
While the Seahawks have relied on taller cornerbacks during Carroll’s tenure, other teams have taken different approaches with varying levels of success. The Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings both reaped the benefits of trusting an undersized player, Antoine Winfield, to cover top receivers.
A former Ohio State University defender, the 5-foot-9-inch Winfield landed with the Bills as a first-round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. He became an immediate contributor for the New York team, appearing in 16 games as a rookie and intercepting two passes. He continued to helm the secondary for five seasons, starting 58 games and registering 357 total tackles.
Winfield signed with the Minnesota Vikings ahead of the 2004 season, kicking off the best seasons of his career. He started all but four of the games in which he appeared and faced several tough receivers, including Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers and Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals. During his time in the Twin Cities, Winfield intercepted 21 passes, returning two for touchdowns. He also showcased his power on a weekly basis, delivering crushing tackles to opposing wide receivers and running backs.
The Vikings used Winfield in several ways that the Seahawks could recreate with Brown. For example, the speedy cornerback often blitzed quarterbacks from his corner position, leading to 7.5 sacks. Winfield did so several times during a 2010 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, sacking Michael Vick twice and forcing a fumble that he returned 45 yards for a touchdown.
Brown already has experience blitzing quarterbacks from the secondary. His safety against the University of Texas is a fitting example. He rushed in from Sam Ehlinger’s right side during the 2018 Big 12 Championship, knocking the Texas quarterback onto his backside and delivering two points for Oklahoma. Will he continue this trend against Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, and Jimmy Garoppolo?
Winfield retired from the NFL in 2013 after briefly joining the Seattle Seahawks on a one-year, $3 million deal. However, he did not make the final roster, losing his job during final training camp cuts. Winfield hung up cleats and walked away from the NFL as only one of four players to record more than 600-plus tackles, 65-plus passes defensed, 15-plus interceptions, and 10-plus forced fumbles. The other players on the list are Ronde Barber, Ray Lewis, and Keith Bulluck. Winfield also proved that an undersized cornerback could find success in the NFL.