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Tre Brown pick shows Seahawks corners no longer have to look like Richard Sherman

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Tre Brown's NFL draft profile (0:52)

Check out the best highlights from Oklahoma CB Tre Brown's college career. (0:52)

SEATTLE -- When the Seattle Seahawks open the 2021 season, there's a strong chance that cornerback D.J. Reed will be back in one of the two starting spots on the outside.

That is unless rookie Tre Brown or someone else beats him out.

What makes those possibilities such a departure from Seattle's norm? Reed is 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds; Brown 5-10, 188.

Times are changing in a secondary once known for its oversized cornerbacks.

It's not that they no longer prefer big bodies such as Richard Sherman and the similarly built players who started opposite him during the Legion of Boom days. But they've loosened what used to be fairly rigid size specifications for that position.

It started to become apparent when they played Reed on the outside in the second half of last season. It became clear when they drafted Brown in the fourth round out of Oklahoma with the second of their league-low three draft picks.

"The landscape is what it is," general manager John Schneider said. "I'm sure Tre Brown would love to be 6-foot-2, and if he was 6-foot-2 he would be picked in the Top 10, right? You can see him every weekend running all over the place in the Big 12 with all these receivers and all the speed that's out there and competing his tail off.

"Yes, we'd love to have big corners and all that. And we did, remember, when we got here. But you've got to adjust to the times, too, and there's only a certain amount of players that you can pick from."

Perhaps the Seahawks would have stuck to their M.O. if they had more than three picks and/or if the board had fallen a different way. Big cornerbacks like Minnesota's Benjamin St-Juste and Stanford's Paulson Adebo -- both drafted in the third round -- were long gone by the time the Seahawks were back on the clock for their second selection, No. 129 overall in Round 4.

They traded back eight spots, then saw Central Arkansas' Robert Rochell and Florida's Marco Wilson come off the board before they took Brown at No. 137, though multiple team sources said they had Brown rated above those two.

Cornerback was widely considered one of the Seahawks' top needs heading into the draft following the free-agent departures of Shaquill Griffin and (to a lesser extent) Quinton Dunbar. So it was almost expected that they would address that position with one of their first two picks. The surprise to some was that they took one who doesn't have the height (6-0 or taller) or arm length (at least 32 inches) they've always sought in cornerbacks who play on the perimeter.

Brown -- whose arms measure 30 3/8 inches -- falls well short of both standards.

Then again, Reed doesn't meet them either.

Maybe the Brown pick should have been easier to see coming given how well Reed played last year once he got healthy around midseason and worked his way into a starting role on the outside. He was a revelation even to Carroll, who didn't think he would play on the outside when the Seahawks claimed him off waivers in August.

"We don't close the book on guys," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're looking for the ways that they offer their style of play and try to figure out if it fits. If it works, it works. But I would say that the fact that D.J. did such a nice job, it gave us a little bit more of a mold of guys. If a guy is a smaller guy, what is his style of play like? And what does it take to be a smaller guy that can be successful?

"One of the criteria that really we talked about extensively in the offseason was they've got to have this mentality about them that they go for it and they're aggressive ... and to make sure we have an open appreciation for that kind of player."

The Seahawks view Brown's instincts and competitiveness as skills that can compensate for his lack of preferred size. He has plenty of speed -- reportedly running the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4 range -- and something else Seattle covets in draft prospects: the resolve it takes to work through a personal hardship. Brown's mother, Beverly Brewer, died of congestive heart failure during his sophomore season at OU.

"This guy's a true competitor," Schneider said. "He's on the upswing, he's overcome a lot. Tulsa guy that, he's got a confidence about him and a competitiveness that we love and we treasure."

Brown and Reed do not signal a wholesale shift in what the Seahawks are looking for in outside cornerbacks. They signed 6-2 Ahkello Witherspoon to a one-year, $4 million deal after identifying the former San Francisco 49ers starter as the free agent they wanted most if they couldn't re-sign Griffin. They still have 6-3 Tre Flowers, who's started 37 games over three seasons in Seattle, though his $2.2 million salary could leave him vulnerable if he doesn't win a starting job.

Pierre Desir (6-2), Damarious Randall (5-11), Jordan Miller (6-2), Gavin Heslop (6-0), Saivion Smith (6-1) and undrafted free-agent Bryan Mills (6-1) are the other cornerbacks on the roster. That doesn't count Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi, who are listed as safeties but are expected to share time at nickelback.

One comment from Carroll suggested that the Seahawks would be wary of starting two undersized cornerbacks, so Brown might be competing with Reed for one spot while Witherspoon, Flowers and Desir vie for the other.

Even with all those options, cornerback still looks like the biggest question mark of any position on Seattle's roster. That has fueled speculation about a possible reunion with Sherman. Carroll confirmed that he's spoken with Sherman but did not give the impression that the Seahawks are likely to bring him back.

They could conceivably add a younger and less expensive veteran after June 1. But as of now, they seem inclined to roll with their current options, big and small.

"We're trying to find the guys that bring something special, that can play the game," Carroll said. "They don't have to be all the same."