When a Hall of Fame caliber player resides on an NFL team for multiple years, expectations for the level of play at that position are likely to be significantly heightened. After witnessing the legend of Richard Sherman grow and establish itself for seven excellent seasons, Seahawks cornerbacks haven’t been able — and frankly they never will be able — to live up to the bar Sherman set in his tenure with the franchise.
When Seattle drafted Shaquill Griffin in the third round of the 2017 draft, expectations were immediately insurmountable. A freak athlete drafted higher than any PC/JS defensive back not named Earl Thomas? The foundation for inevitable disappointment had been laid before Quill even stepped foot inside the VMAC. This isn’t to say that Griffin has been a disappointment, as he has been an above average player throughout his first two seasons, showcasing brilliance at moments. But being thrown into the fray as a rookie and being forced to switch positions — yes, left cornerback is very different than right cornerback — due to Sherman’s departure has cast a middling shadow over the second-year man out of UCF.
Tre Flowers, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State, was put in the same position as Griffin, but with none of the expectations. Starting at RCB from day one, the rookie has taken his licks on the field. Fortunately (?) for him, nobody put much stock into the possibility of him being a reliable starter in year one.
We sure were dumb, weren’t we?
Flowers has been a revelation at corner and, while he’s not flashing like Sherman did as a rookie, nobody will and it’s entirely unfair to think that way. I wrote a film piece on Flowers’ impressive play earlier this year, so I figured I should check back in after a couple of months.
A common refrain when players accrue playing time states that the game begins to “slow down.” Film study and repetition begin to pay off as formations and route concepts that didn’t stand out previously become all the more apparent. Quicker recognition leads to increased decisiveness and twitchier reaction.
It looks to me like the game is slowing down for Flowers. His performance against the 49ers on Sunday illustrated his game’s progression excellently. Let’s start with a play cluing us into his improved confidence within Seattle’s scheme:
As Flowers’ man runs deep, Nick Mullens finds Trent Taylor on a mid-range crosser. Flowers turning his head around clues us into Seattle’s combo coverage in which they run Cover 2 on the weak side and quarters on the opposite (referred to as “quarter-quarter-half” — thank you Griffin), meaning he likely has safety help over the top. Delano Hill comes downhill as soon as the ball is released, but watch Flowers at the top of the screen. Young corners are often so focused on holding on for dear life in coverage that they might not leave their man to attack the nearby targeted receiver. While Hill is already there when Flowers arrives, the process itself is excellent. It speaks volumes that Tre feels comfortable enough in the scheme and his discernment ability to proceed as he does.
Richard Sherman’s aptitude for covering the fade route is the stuff of legend. While Flowers isn’t in Sherm’s league at this point, it’s refreshing to see the young corner, on back-to-back plays, nestle right into his receiver’s hip pocket and work the boundary.
Even though Flowers isn’t targeted on either play, he covers his man’s route perfectly on both.
Corners often find missteps at the line of scrimmage to be an issue when learning Seattle’s classic kick-step technique, and Flowers has struggled with that at times this season. He has found a way, though, to recover successfully more and more as the year progresses.
Flowers jams Dante Pettis, but it doesn’t impact the receiver’s slant much at all. Initially, Tre’s feet are facing entirely the wrong direction. He quickly flips his hips and manages to stay in phase.
A similar situation rears its head on the goal line, resulting in this beaut of a play on the ball:
Passes defensed are obviously valuable and often impressive, especially when they look as sexy as this. Here’s another angle because OOHWEE LOOK AT THAT BOY HE IS HYPED:
This may not manifest itself in the form of any statistical benefit, but I absolutely love how Flowers moves; his fluidity is resemblant of Sherman while many of the other corners we have been forced to watch approximate to me playing QWOP. Even when he fails, he looks good doing it.
The one area in which Tre has consistently struggled seems to be his inability to get off blocks. In the open field, he is a terror and sure-tackler. These attributes were on display early in the game:
Unfortunately, when somebody gets their hands on him, he doesn’t handle himself as well as you’d hope a 6’3″ 203 lb corner would.
I have all the faith in the world that Tre can refine this facet of his game to maximize his exceptional tackling abilities, both physical and psychic alike:
There is a zero percent chance of you ever convincing me that Flowers doesn’t trip the running back with his mind. Be it with intimidation factor paired with a turf soggy enough to give FedEx Field a run for its money or telekinetic prowess advanced well beyond his years, Tre mindfucks Matt Breida’s ankles without a second thought.
All in all, San Francisco didn’t test Flowers in coverage much at all on Sunday which is, in itself, a testament to his progression. By my count, Tre gave up two heavily-cushioned crossers to Dante Pettis for a grand total of 21 yards. The only time they directly tested him resulted in the pass defensed detailed above.
All of this and I haven’t even mentioned his recovered fumble! The ability to force turnovers is paramount in a defensive back and, while snagging loose balls requires more luck than skill, you take what you can get. He hasn’t hauled in an interception yet, but teams haven’t been trying him recently, which is just about the next best thing.
We never expected Flowers to succeed much in year one, let alone become Seattle’s most dependable starting defensive back save for Bradley McDougald. But that’s what he has done! Tre is a reliable contributor who learns from his mistakes and presents a higher ceiling than anybody in the secondary.
Where a dearth of expectation once was, responsibility arises. Flowers and Griffin are the future at corner for Seattle and, yaknow, I’m pretty fucking confident in the pair of them.
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