Can Coby Bryant start right away? Assessing how Seahawks' 2022 draft picks can make an impact

RENTON, Wash. -- Coby Bryant brings a lot more than a recognizable name to the Seattle Seahawks' secondary.

The fourth-round cornerback from Cincinnati also brings a decorated college resume and, if you ask him, the best ball skills of any defender in this year's draft. In his fourth season as a starter, Bryant won the 2021 Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. He finished his college career with 10 interceptions and 45 passes defensed in a whopping 53 games.

The guy has played -- and learned -- a ton of football.

"He just seems like he's comfortable," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after the first practice of rookie minicamp. "He understands it. He gets it."

The learning was aided by regular study sessions Bryant and his defensive teammates held during the offseason. In between workouts and classes, they'd get together for what they called Football 500, where they'd dig into the Bearcats' defensive scheme and figure out how offenses could attack them.

Cincinnati's defense finished tied for the fourth-fewest points allowed in 2021 and the Bearcats lost in the CFP semifinals. Bryant, a team captain who sometimes led those meetings, thinks they were a factor.

"Just taking the football IQ to the next level," he said.

Being a student of the game will serve Bryant well as he tries to learn a new defense in time to earn a starting job as a rookie. Fourth-round picks don't often start right away, if ever, but it's realistic for Bryant. The Seahawks' top two cornerback spots are open. And whereas former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. developed a reputation inside team headquarters for a reluctance to play inexperienced players, that roadblock shouldn't exist for Bryant and other young defenders under Clint Hurtt.

Here's a look at how Bryant and the rest of Seattle's draft class might fit into the team's 2022 plans.

LT Charles Cross, first round (No. 9 overall)

The Seahawks didn't make Cross their highest draft pick since 2010 to have him spend time on the bench. He's a virtual lock to take over Duane Brown's starting spot from Week 1. But Cross still faces a learning curve coming from Mike Leach's Air-Raid offense, which ran the ball infrequently and didn't ask its offensive linemen to play from a three-point stance. The Seahawks had Cross as their second-rated left tackle in this year's draft, ahead of Evan Neal, so they clearly think that transition will be manageable.

OLB Boye Mafe, second round (No. 40)

One NFL source says the Seahawks tried to trade up into the late first round for another outside linebacker, Arnold Ebiketie. The Falcons then moved up in the second round to snag Ebiketie two spots before Seattle was set to pick. But the uber-explosive Mafe looks like much more than a consolation prize. He generated first-round buzz after a seven-sack 2021 season and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. He's got some rawness to work through, according to scouts, but has experience with much of what the Seahawks will ask him to do in their new-look defense. Expect Mafe to factor heavily into Seattle's edge-rushing rotation along with Darrell Taylor and Uchenna Nwosu.

RB Ken Walker III, second round (No. 41)

Walker was Seattle's most -- and perhaps only -- debatable pick this year. But while some felt this was too high for a team that's likely a few years away from contention to take a running back, the Seahawks plan to lean heavily on the run and will probably need Walker to do a lot of the running as a rookie. There's a big question as to whether Chris Carson will be cleared following neck surgery, and Rashaad Penny has a long injury history of his own.

RT Abraham Lucas, third round (No. 72)

Lucas faces a similar transition as Cross, having strictly played from a two-point stance in two pass-heavy college offenses. "Shoot, you would never have even known," Carroll said after the first rookie practice. "I already had a chance to look at half of the film of some of the team work that we did. They've been working hard at it. They look very comfortable, and they'll get better." Lucas figures to start as a rookie, even if not right away. He's got to beat out 2021 UDFA Jake Curhan, who played well while stepping in for Brandon Shell.

CB Coby Bryant, fourth round (No. 109)

Cornerback might be the Seahawks' most wide-open position group outside of quarterback. They have Tre Brown coming off a promising but injury-shortened rookie season, brought back Sidney Jones IV on a modest deal and added Artie Burns for even less money. None of them are locked into starting roles.

CB Tariq Woolen, fifth round (No. 153)

Woolen didn't do much during rookie camp while resting a hamstring injury. But the sight of his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame brought to mind another towering cornerback from Seattle's recent past. Woolen bears a strong resemblance to Tre Flowers, though he's a little bigger and faster (4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash) with a 42-inch vertical. Woolen converted from receiver in 2019, so he's relatively new to the position. But Flowers played safety his entire college career and won a starting job at corner as a rookie despite Norton's predilection for veterans. So you can't rule out Woolen playing right away.

OLB Tyreke Smith, fifth round (No. 158)

Smith might be competing for a roster spot with Alton Robinson, who was not as productive last season as he was as a rookie in 2020.

WRs Bo Melton and Dareke Young, seventh round (Nos. 229 and 233)

Seventh-round picks face an uphill battle just to make the team, let alone make an impact. Melton, Young and others will vie for what might only be one or two spots behind DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain and Dee Eskridge. As always, special teams will go a long way in determining the back end of the receiver corps. Melton's experience there will give him a shot.