It’s been 11 years since the Seahawks drafted Richard Sherman in the first round of the NFL Draft. Now, they may have found another diamond in the rough in 2022 rookie Tariq Woolen.
Although Ahmad Gardner has rightfully had the lion’s share of the headlines this season, Woolen has quietly been putting together a remarkable rookie year of his own. After being drafted 153rd out of University of Texas San Antonio, Woolen has brought back some of the mystique of the Seahawks secondary, harkening back to the Legion of Boom days.
Woolen is tied for first in the NFL with six interceptions, his latest coming in Week 13 against the Rams. His six picks are a rookie record for the Seahawks, and he’s doing all of this while widely flying under the radar for Seattle.
Woolen’s play has been drawing comparisons to Sherman since October, and not just for his draft position. Sherman himself tweeted praise at the budding young star after his fourth interception of the season.
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 16, 2022
Woolen’s pace slowing down isn’t a product of him struggling. Rather, teams have thrown away from him in recent months. He has the boom potential of Trevon Diggs last season, but he gives up big plays with less frequency.
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While this early success doesn’t guarantee long-term prosperity for Woolen, his predecessor certainly has the Seahawks optimistic. Here’s how Woolen stacks up against Sherman so far in his very young career.
Tariq Woolen parallels to Richard Sherman
Both were initially wide receivers
Sherman and Woolen both entered college as wide receivers, though their swaps to defensive back came at different times.
Sherman led the Cardinal in receiving yards as a freshman and a sophomore, and it wasn’t until had a season-ending knee injury that led to him being redshirted in 2008 that he requested, and was granted, a positional change to defensive back.
Woolen, meanwhile, also started at UTSA as a receiver, but the team moved him to cornerback after three games in his redshirt sophomore year.
It was there Woolen, much like Sherman, ultimately made his bones.
Both impressed at their respective Senior Bowls
The Draft Combine may get all the headlines, but the Senior Bowl is where real progress starts to get made in scouting.
At the 2011 Senior Bowl, Sherman’s skill was evident. He had a pair of pass break ups and an interception for the North, and ultimately it helped to put him on a lot of teams’ radars.
Similarly, in 2022, Woolen started to turn some heads. His size and speed impressed, and on a few routes he was able to stifle receivers to the point quarterbacks didn’t even throw against him.
Both are tall as far as defensive backs go
Sherman is measured at 6-feet-3-inches whereas Woolen comes in at 6-feet-4-inches. That’s a whole lot of defensive back for quarterbacks to try to throw around.
With both Sherman and Woolen being former wide receivers, it makes sense they’d be a bit larger than the average defensive back. That in conjunction with both of their impressive speed makes them difficult to shake for wide receivers.
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Both were drafted in the fifth round — one pick apart
Needless to say, this is the most obvious comparison. Sherman was drafted in the fifth round 154th overall. Woolen, 11 years later, was drafted in the fifth round at 153rd. The craziest thing is the proximity of those overall picks. Perhaps the Seahawks should always take a defensive back in the 150s.
Pete Carroll himself has drawn a line between the two. He talked about why the Seahawks didn’t pick Woolen sooner, and alluded to why the same was true of Sherman.
“We didn’t have to,” Carroll told reporters in November. “That’s exactly the same thing [Richard Sherman] used to say. He was always pissed at us for taking him in the fifth round. Well, nobody else took you. Because of the work and assessment and the personnel guys, John [Schneider] had that figured out, and we were fortunately in a position that got him, and he’s been an awesome pick for us.”
Both had outstanding starts to their careers
Sherman wasn’t a day one NFL starter, but he made waves as a rookie. It just took him a bit longer to get there.
In his first 13 games, Sherman had 12 passes defended and a pair of interceptions to go along with a forced fumble. It became quickly apparent that he was entirely comfortable on the field, and teams started to move away from him as the season wore on.
Similarly, Woolen has 13 pass breakups this year and six interceptions, and he has become a constantly looming threat on the field for quarterbacks. Woolen has been targeted 52 times this season, and he has a passer rating allowed of 66.7. In Sherman’s rookie year, he was targeted 84 times and allowed a passer rating of 57.3.
Sherman has had a lot of praise for Woolen to this point, and he seems excited to watch the budding star grow. While that could be because he sees a bit of himself in Woolen, Sherman also appears to have left his heart in Seattle to a degree, and he seems happy to see him thrive.
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Woolen is bringing some attitude back to the Seahawks secondary, and although he’s less in-your-face about it than Sherman was, he carries himself with a lot of confidence. It’s easy to see why. Everything Woolen is doing, he’s doing with a team with a subpar pass rush. It will be fascinating to see how he evolves as he starts to come into his own and the Seahawks build a more complete defense than the one they’re currently fielding.