Thursday, March 23 2023

After the Seattle Seahawks‘ comeback win over the Los Angeles Rams last week, Tariq Woolen held back tears during his postgame interview with reporters when asked about his meteoric rise from little-known, late-round pick to one of the most productive cornerbacks in the NFL.

“I don’t want to get too emotional,” Woolen said. “But I just remember sitting in front of my family [on draft day], just getting calls from different people. I was just embarrassed because I was thinking it was a team calling, because I was hearing different stuff.

“I was just seeing corners go, corners go, and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m just going to be here [waiting].’ Day 3 came, and I had met with the Seahawks at the combine. … I just remember walking in, and Coach Pete [Carroll] started smiling.”

Of course, Carroll’s Seahawks selected the UTSA product in the fifth round, with the 153rd overall pick. Twenty cornerbacks were taken before Woolen — including four in the first round and his Seattle teammate Coby Bryant in the fourth round.

Of all of those corners, Woolen has been the most productive. He’s tied for the league lead and tops all rookies with six interceptions, a franchise record for cornerbacks in their rookie season. 

It was a cool moment during a postgame interview session, revealing another side of Woolen, who’s in the conversation for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Like Richard Sherman before him, Woolen, at 6-foot-4 and with 34-inch arms, creates an illusion of receivers being open. Because of his length and closing speed — he ran a 4.26 40 at the combine — Woolen erases separation on deep balls quickly, as he did on his sixth interception, when Rams QB John Wolford tried to get the ball to running back Kyren Williams on a wheel route.

“I kind of baited him a little bit,” Woolen said. “The quarterback threw it, and I went ahead and just picked the ball off. Those type of balls, especially the deep ones, I like the most because when they come, I feel like they’re mine. So, that was another opportunity. That was a gift, and I just took it.” 

Woolen has filled up the stat sheet. He has 45 combined tackles, 12 pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal return for a score in 12 games played.

According to Next Gen Stats, Woolen ranks No. 3 in passer rating allowed (52.8) among qualifying cornerback with at least 150 defensive snaps. 

He also has improved as run defender and wants to be known as a complete corner. But his superpower remains his unique ability to close on a defender. 

“I feel like my teammates seen it more at the beginning than I saw it,” Woolen said about his closing speed. “I always knew I was fast, but at the same time, there’s times on the field where you don’t even need to be fast. There were times throughout minicamp, rookie minicamp and OTAs where I showed flashes on film where I could break on a ball so fast and transition with my speed.”

Woolen’s playmaking ability headlines this week’s NFC West Stock Watch.


Seahawks CB Tariq Woolen: Woolen tops all NFC corners on the latest ballot of fan voting for the Pro Bowl. One more example of his unique ability to close is this pass breakup on a deep ball to speeding Los Angeles receiver Tutu Atwell. Woolen appears to be beat for a big gain but makes up a 5-yard cushion quickly. 

San Francisco 49ersRobbie Gould: The veteran kicker finished 4-of-4 on field goals with a long of 48 yards, made all three extra points and went 2-for-2 on touchbacks in San Francisco’s 33-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins last week. Gould also passed Sebastian Janikowski for No. 10 in league history in points scored (1,919). 

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan called it Gould’s best performance this season. Gould, who turned 40 on Tuesday, is 20-of-23 on field goals this year, with a long of 51 yards, although he has had two field goals blocked. With the 49ers starting rookie Brock Purdy at quarterback due to Jimmy Garoppolo‘s injury, players like Gould will have to pick up the slack, making sure the 49ers come away with points in close games.

Rams DE Michael Hoecht: With the defending champs mired in a six-game losing streak, Rams coach Sean McVay continues to experiment with players in new positions. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris moved defensive tackle Michael Hoecht to outside linebacker against the Seahawks. And he was productive in his new role, recording five pressures and two sacks in 56 defensive snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Hoecht had an 89.5 grade, the highest single-game grade of his career by more than 15 points.

Hoecht was forced into the starting role due to injuries up front. McVay said the Rams noticed Hoecht’s versatility a few weeks ago.

“Otherwise, we would have done this s— a lot sooner,” joked McVay. 


Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo: The 49ers got some good news on Garoppolo’s broken left foot, with the injury not requiring surgery, according to reports. And with a seven-to-eight week estimated recovery time, there’s still a chance Garoppolo could return in January if San Francisco makes a deep postseason run.

Still, Garoppolo’s latest health setback highlights why Shanahan wanted to move on from the injury-prone quarterback in the offseason. Availability is a player’s No. 1 ability in the NFL. 

Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray: The 25-year-old quarterback clapped back at former Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, who basically said the Oklahoma product was a me-guy in a podcast interview with former Cardinals defensive back Bryant McFadden.

Murray has taken a lot of criticism nationally because of the homework clause in his contract and his sideline antics this season. He’ll eventually learn that sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all and let his play do the talking. But for Murray, that time has not come yet. 

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey: The Florida State product remains one of the best corners in the NFL. However, no one is immune from the free fall that the Rams are currently experiencing.

Last Sunday, Ramsey was in coverage on DK Metcalf‘s 8-yard touchdown for the winning score, although it appears that he did not receive much help from his teammates. Ramsey has just one interception on the year. According to Next Gen Stats, he has allowed a career-high plus-17.2 EPA (expected points added) as the nearest defender this season and a league-most seven touchdowns as the nearest defender.

Ramsey and the L.A. secondary will have their hands full again on Thursday when Davante Adams and the Las Vegas Raiders come to town.

Top stories from FOX Sports:
·      Aaron Judge tested the Yankees’ commitment and won
·      At MLB Winter Meetings, up to 10 suitors emerge for Correa, Bogaerts, Swanson
·      Tom Brady grew up a 49ers fan. Ahead of San Francisco homecoming, a look at his past
·      NFL power rankings: Cowboys, Bengals rise into contender tier
·      Anthony Davis using play to silence critics: ‘I know what I’m capable of’
·      College football transfer portal tracker: QB JT Daniels on the move again
·      Kylian Mbappe is already one of the World Cup’s all-time greats
·      USMNT optimistic about future: ‘We can be giants eventually’
·      The end of Cristiano Ronaldo as we know him
·      Harry Kane gets support from David Beckham ahead of England-France
·      NFL odds: How Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury impacts Super Bowl odds

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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