Seahawks rookie Tariq Woolen flashes bright future in win over Broncos | FOX Sports

By Rob Rang FOX Sports NFL Draft Analyst

From the moment he was measured at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, it seemed destined that Tariq Woolen would become a Seattle Seahawk.  Sweater

Seahawks rookie Tariq Woolen flashes bright future in win over Broncos | FOX Sports

While there is no evidence to suggest that coach Pete Carroll met Woolen with his shirt off — as he famously did during a combine meeting with DK Metcalf a few years earlier — the long-armed, uber-athletic cornerback was seemingly built in a laboratory for Carroll's scheme. 

Nicknamed "Riq the Freak" at UT-San Antonio and now called "Avatar" by his new teammates in Seattle, Woolen is an athletic anomaly, boasting a combination of size and speed that no one — not even the 70-year-old Carroll — has ever come across. 

As Carroll noted back in April after his club made Woolen the 153rd overall selection in the 2022 draft, Woolen offers unique traits. 

"There's probably never been a guy that's as tall as this guy [and] as fast as this guy. … To be over 6-4 and to run 4.2-something is a crazy number," Carroll said.

Fans of the combine might remember Woolen. No one at his position and size has ever tested better. After measuring in a hair over 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Woolen recorded an electronically timed 4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash and followed that up with a 42-inch vertical jump. 

He certainly matched the prototype Carroll has prioritized during his time in Seattle, checking boxes with his elite athleticism, height and arm length. Among draftniks, the term "Seahawk-y" has actually become a familiar way of describing cornerbacks with arms over 32 inches and ball skills. 

While Woolen was not especially productive as an interceptor during his two years at cornerback at UT-San Antonio — hauling in just two picks during that time — the former wide receiver can catch the ball cleanly, as he demonstrated during pre-draft workouts as well as at the Senior Bowl. 

Woolen was characterized by Carroll as the "flashiest" player during Seattle's May minicamps. He kept up that play throughout training camp and the preseason, earning the start in Seattle's home opener Monday against the greatest quarterback in the franchise's history, Russell Wilson, who, of course, now plays for the Denver Broncos. 

It wouldn't be accurate to describe Woolen as dominant in the Seahawks' 17-16 win over the Broncos. After all, he was twice flagged for pass interference penalties, with both giving Denver the ball inside Seattle's 10-yard line. But none of Wilson's 29 completions (on 42 attempts) Monday night came against the rookie, despite Woolen lining up against all three of the Broncos' primary receivers: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and even slot receiver KJ Hamler and tight end Andrew Beck.

"You can't cover a guy any better than he did," Carroll said of Woolen during his exuberant postgame press conference. "He was calm, he was poised. He had a blast playing football." 

Perhaps not surprising, Wilson attempted to pick on the rookie on his very first pass, but a catchable ball was mishandled by Beck and fell incomplete. The Broncos opted not to throw in Woolen's direction for the rest of the 11-play drive, which ultimately resulted in a Brandon McManus 30-yard field goal. 

Rather than continue attacking the rookie, however, Wilson focused on his backs and tight ends. He did not complete a pass to a wide receiver in the first quarter. His only touchdown Monday came against Seattle's other rookie corner, reigning Thorpe Award winner Coby Bryant, who was drafted a round earlier by the Seahawks. 

Woolen lined up against Denver's star split end Sutton (6-foot-3, 218) for most of the snaps on Denver's initial possession, but he also saw flanker Jeudy (6-foot-1, 193). Interestingly enough, the Broncos' duo is similar in size and style to the pair Woolen practices against each day in Seattle in Metcalf (6-foot-3, 228) and Tyler Lockett (5-foot-10, 182), with Sutton a gliding downfield presence whose large frame makes him almost impossible for most cornerbacks to handle one-on-one. Jeudy, on the other hand, is a silky smooth athlete, who changes directions fluidly and accelerates in a blink — as he showed in the breakaway 67-yard score in the second quarter. 

It was the ability Woolen showed in practice defending Wilson's former receivers that gave Carroll confidence that the rookie could shine immediately. 

"We played him a lot [this month], so he got a lot of reps through the three games, and he's been out here going against Marquise [Goodwin], DK and Tyler. He's hung in with all of those guys," said Carroll, a longtime secondary guru. "Those guys are as fast, as good, and as really a diverse talent that you can go against. He's ready to go."

Wilson attempted a second pass in Woolen's direction with approximately 50 seconds remaining in the half. This one coming against Hamler, who caught the ball but was clearly out of bounds. 

While Wilson's throw was errant, Hamler had beaten Woolen on a double-move and was open. Perhaps sensing the time was right to attack the rookie, Wilson targeted him deep on the next route, trying to hit Sutton in the end zone. This, however, was an uncharacteristically poor decision by the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback as he telegraphed the throw, allowing Seattle free safety Quandre Diggs to close and nearly intercept the ball. 

Denver's strategy changed after halftime as the Broncos began targeting the rookie, first directing their rushing attack in his direction and then targeting him on a deep ball to Sutton. 

Woolen is often compared to former Carroll protégé Richard Sherman. The similarities are obvious: Both are long, lanky former wide receivers turned cornerbacks who were drafted in the fifth round. One of the areas in which the two are quite different — at least at this stage — is that Woolen is very much a work in progress in run support, an area in which Sherman excelled throughout his brilliant 11-year NFL career. 

Woolen has the long arms and competitiveness to eventually match Sherman's trademark ability to lasso ballcarriers in run support, but he does not yet possess the five-time All-Pro's awareness. On a 13-yard scamper by Melvin Gordon to the offense's left early in the third quarter, for example, Woolen didn't see Beck coming and got erased, opening up a gaping hole. 

The Broncos went right back at the rookie a play later, with Wilson lofting a deep ball down into the left corner of the end zone to Sutton. Woolen got caught with his head facing the receiver, failing to turn and locate the ball quickly enough. There certainly was contact, earning the rookie a 31-yard pass interference penalty that put the ball down at the 9-yard line. 

Denver could not take advantage of the field position, however, with veteran running back Gordon fumbling the ball at the one-yard line. 

After Metcalf fumbled the ball back to the Broncos, Wilson again targeted the rookie, lofting a ball down the seam to Hamler. Woolen was beaten by the 5-foot-9, 178-pound slot receiver and pulled at the back of his jersey in an attempt to slow him down and recover. 

While the ball drifted into the end zone, Woolen was hit with his second key pass interference. This 21-yard penalty put the ball at the Seattle 4-yard line. There, however, the Seahawks defense stiffened yet again, this time forcing a fumble from Javonte Williams.

Woolen may have taken some hard coaching from the Seahawks sideline after that drive, as he played with more attention to the run in the fourth quarter, ripping through an attempted block by a receiver and taking on the hard-running Williams at the line of scrimmage. 

The collision was a big one, with Woolen getting the worst of it. Though he took on Williams aggressively and the rest of the cavalry brought the back down for a minimal gain, Woolen suffered an injury to his right arm, slinking off the field in obvious pain. He spent much of the remainder of Denver's drive — which ultimately resulted in another McManus field goal — in the medical tent. 

He returned to the field for Denver's final drive, which ended with a McManus 64-yard field goal attempt that drifted just left, giving Seattle and its new star cornerback a surprising victory to wrap up a wild Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season.

Woolen was far from statistically dominant in this contest, finishing with just one assisted tackle and a pass breakup. Further, his two pass interference penalties could have (perhaps should have) been game-changers. 

But the rookie earned the confidence of arguably the best defensive back evaluator in the NFL almost immediately, and Denver seemed hesitant to target him for much of the game — at least not the way most veteran quarterbacks would attempt to pick on most rookie cornerbacks. 

And that's why I'm confident that the Seahawks have found themselves a burgeoning star in Tariq Woolen. 

Editor's note: Tariq Woolen has changed his jersey number to No. 27. At the time of this design, however, there was not a usable picture of him in the new jersey — hence why the design we used has his previous number.

Seahawks rookie Tariq Woolen flashes bright future in win over Broncos | FOX Sports

Cashmere Touch Screen Gloves Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated,, USA Today, Yahoo, and, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.