Secret Superstars 2014: Seahawks

Pete Damilatis highlights a Seahawks defender who was a key part of Seattle's stingy secondary down the stretch.

| 3 years ago

Secret Superstars 2014: Seahawks

2014-SS-maxwellBy the time the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl, star cornerback Richard Sherman had become a household name, as much for his huge plays and bravado as his consistent lockdown coverage. But Sherman himself would admit that he’s only one piece of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary.

When quarterbacks avoided his zone they still didn’t find much success on the opposite side of the field, thanks to the equally impressive play of Byron Maxwell. A third-year cornerback who had to wait for his turn to crack the starting lineup, his clutch performance down the stretch made him both a Super Bowl Champion and a Secret Superstar.

Back Of The Line

Maxwell fell in the 2011 NFL Draft because many scouts didn’t project him to be a cornerback to begin with. His supposedly stiff hips made many question if he could run with pro receivers in man coverage. Coming out of Clemson, he may have seemed better suited to play safety. But Maxwell was an extremely physical player, sometimes opening himself up to penalties but tough in press coverage and eager to help in run support. What may have scared off some teams made him a perfect fit for the Seahawks, and Seattle snatched him up in the sixth round.

Maxwell joined a secondary that was already chock-full of key players who General Manager John Schneider found on Day 3 of the draft. Such a meritocracy helped him secure a roster spot, but he also was far back in the depth chart behind Sherman, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, and Jeremy Lane. Maxwell was relegated to special teams duty in 2011 and didn’t take a single defensive snap in 2012 until Browner was slapped with a suspension in Week 14.

Those final four weeks, however, were a sign of good things to come. Maxwell played 57.7% of the Seahawks snaps in that stretched, earned a +2.5 grade with no negative games, and surrendered just five receptions and no touchdowns on 14 targets. But once Browner returned for the playoffs, Maxwell was sent back to the bench.

In the 2013 preseason, Maxwell again showed nothing but promise. He allowed just two receptions in 61 coverage snaps, and also snagged an interception. He also leapfrogged Lane on the depth chart, and came in as the nickel cornerback when Browner missed the first three games of the regular season with a hamstring injury.  Maxwell played 40% of the defensive snaps in those games and earned a +0.5 coverage grade, but was again back to the bench when Browner returned.

Window of Opportunity

This ping-ponging between the field and sideline finally came to an end in Week 10, when Browner suffered a groin injury and Thurmond was suspended two weeks later. Another Browner suspension followed, and the starting cornerback job opposite Sherman was Maxwell’s to lose. It was an opportunity he would not waste.

From Week 13 on, Maxwell ensured that the Seahawks had not just one shutdown cornerback, but two:

Week 13 To Super Bowl Targets Against Completion % Allowed Yds Allowed TD Allowed INT Opponent QB Rating
Richard Sherman 23 34.80% 80 0 4 6
Byron Maxwell 35 40.00% 195 2 4 38.1

Maxwell’s +7.8 coverage grade in that span was second-best of any NFL cornerback, even better than Sherman. Outside of a poor performance against the Saints in the Divisional Round, he earned a positive coverage grade in every single game. Of the two touchdowns he allowed, one was a ridiculous catch by Michael Floyd in Week 15 on a ball that Maxwell actually deflected, and another was a Demaryius Thomas score in the Super Bowl when the game was already in hand. While quarterbacks avoided Sherman on one side, they found no success targeting Maxwell on the other.

Debunking The Draft 

The more Maxwell was left in man coverage in Seattle’s Cover-1/Cover-3 scheme, the more he debunked the initial draft reports that dropped him to the sixth round. Often lining up in press, he consistently showed he could run with receivers downfield. He allowed just two receptions on 11 Deep Targets in 2013, with the only score being the aforementioned Floyd touchdown.

In Week 14 against the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick lofted a deep pass to the end zone for Michael Crabtree (sound familiar?) and Maxwell was right at the receiver’s hip to turn and grab the red zone interception. A week later, at the 15:00 mark of the fourth quarter against the Giants, he showcased incredible ball skills when he plucked away an interception from Hakeem Nicks using one hand.

While Maxwell was proving he could succeed as an NFL cornerback, he also kept the physicality that made many scouts peg him as a safety. He missed just one tackle in 27 attempts last season, the fourth-best rate among NFL cornerbacks. He allowed just 52 yards after catch on 29 receptions, and his 1.8 YAC per reception was the second-best rate of any cornerback with 100 snaps (Browner was first). And before allowing the touchdown in the Super Bowl, he ended any hopes of a Denver comeback earlier when he punched the ball out of Thomas’ hands for a fumble.

Including the playoffs, Maxwell’s +8.0 coverage grade last season was the 10th-best of any cornerback, and his 57.8 QB rating allowed was fourth-best among those with 300 snaps. Every Super Bowl winner has some drainage of talent in the offseason, and the Seahawks were no different once Browner and Thurmond left in free agency. But given how lights-out Maxwell was down the stretch, the Seahawks secondary shouldn’t skip a beat in 2014.


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  • Darnell

    Good call on Maxwell.

    Doubt the Hawks can keep him beyond this upcoming season though; and I have a feeling that that 4th member of the starting secondary is gonna be a new dude every 3 seasons or so (just can’t envisions them paying a 4th guy the money that Maxwell will get as a UFA next offseason).

    Funny, that you mention his stiffness as a prospect; his career really didn’t take off until he started doing yoga (and I am not a yoga guy by any stretch).

    • Ryan Kelly

      I completely agree that Maxwell will be too expensive to keep after this year, as long as he even comes close to replicating his success late last season (and he might be even better). We should get a nice compensatory pick (3rd or 4th round) due to his departure, though. I have a feeling that the starting right CB position will rotate even more frequently than every 3 seasons, considering it takes some time for these guys to be coached up to a high level of play and the Hawks have consistently invested at least one late-round pick on a corner since the 2010 draft. So, as one 4th year corner gets ready to leave in free agency, a 2nd or 3rd year player has been groomed to compete for the starting job opposite Sherman.
      Also, that’s interesting that Maxwell does yoga. I had not heard that before, but it makes sense that it would help a CB.

      • Few

        Correct so I think the next player you should expect to jump up will be Throld Simon, a 6-2 corner they drafted in the 5th round in 2013. He’s exactly what they want in a corner so I think we’ll be seeing some of him this season.

    • Shifty

      Like every good band, sometimes you have to replace the drummer.

  • Chris from the Cape

    I don’t know how secret a core member of a world famous secondary is, but he is a super player. Carroll has done a fantastic job giving opportunity and guidance to players like Maxwell still feel bad how the coach got mistreated by the goofy GM system NE had in place in the pre BB years.
    It seems the only downside of these late round gems is they take some time to get acclimated to the league and with only 3 year rookie deals to begin with require a constant influx of talent to supply to replace.

    • El Duderino

      Rookie deals are 4 years for players drafted after the first round. Maxwell was drafted in 2011 and this is his contract year. I don’t understand the claim that late round players take longer to “acclimate.” Richard Sherman was an all-pro in his second season. Kam Chancellor was a good starter in his second season. KJ Wright was a good starter in his rookie season. Maxwell played very well in 2012 when he got his first opportunity, which happened to be his second season. This isn’t about acclimating, it’s about when they get their first opportunity to play, and Maxwell’s came a little later than the others. Also, I think it’s safe to say that all teams need a constant influx of talent to remain competitive, this is not unique to the Seahawks.

      • D_Hawk

        It is partlytime to acclimate,but the bigger issue is getting an opopportunity in that secondary. Sherman needed two players to get hurt to get his shot.

      • Chris from the Cape

        1 Good call: I knew the first rounders contract were longer, but its only by the club option for the fifth.
        2 There are exceptions to every rule, and the Seahawks recent developments (as you mentioned) are impressively unusual. Though the Carol regime has so far bucked the trend, generally for every late rounder who tears it up in year one there are three who are on the practice squad by their third season. As Patriots found a HOF QB in the 6th round, it could happen again, but no one would suggest they should try to use such a means to find TB’s successor.
        3 Every team requires good players, but some rely upon the impact of young draftees more than others. While this past Super Bowl wasn’t much of a matchup, it highlighted two very different means of building a team.

        • El Duderino

          Indeed, you make fine points here.

  • CreatorCare

    Couldn’t agree more. Way under-rated. Looking for a Maxwell repeat.

  • [email protected]

    The obvious choice. Who else could you pick? KJ Wright maybe? Jermaine Kearse? The ‘secret’ part eliminates most of the team.

  • xtase

    Even Maxwell’s supposed bad game against the saints wasn’t actually bad. He deflected a deep pass that went straight into the hands of Devery Henderson for a long score. Remove that play and he has another solid game.

    • PFF_Pete

      Eh, it still wasn’t great. Our grading took that into account and he still did poorly vs NO. Nevertheless, a small blip on an otherwise fantastic finish.