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April 16, 2014 at 3:26 PM

Counting down the Top 25 Seahawks draft picks of all time — No. 22: Cornerback Byron Maxwell

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We’ll continue our countdown of the top draft picks in Seahawks history with one of the heroes of the run to the Super Bowl XLVIII title, cornerback Byron Maxwell, pictured above in a Bettina Hansen photo after the win over the Broncos.

CORNERBACK BYRON MAXWELL

WHEN DRAFTED: 2011, 6th round, 173rd overall

COLLEGE: Clemson

SEAHAWKS CAREER: 2011-present

WHY HE’S ON THE LIST: Someday Maxwell might be a lot higher on this list if he continues on the path he began last season, when he emerged from backup to starter of the last eight games, including all three in the playoffs.

His rapid progress was one reason the Seahawks felt comfortable in letting Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond leave in free agency, and also why Antoine Winfield “retired” before last season began.

Maxwell was part of a 2011 Draft that figures to go down as one of the best in Seattle history, also yielding Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, along with OLs James Carpenter and, well, John Moffitt, all of whom became starters at some point in their Seahawk careers — and all but Moffitt still with the team.

Maxwell played regularly throughout his Clemson career, but due in part to a deep secondary he started only eight games, one reason he was consigned to being a late-round pick. There were also questions about whether he might be a better fit as a safety than as a corner.

Having just drafted Sherman, though, the Seahawks thought Maxwell’s size and physicality were worth taking a flyer.

Here’s what GM John Schneider said about Maxwell on draft day:

“Byron Maxwell, another big, physical corner that’s a very good special teams player.  Real strong, last guy out of the weight room, last guy off the field, that sort of things.  The strength coach really liked this guy at Clemson, and we’re excited to have him.”

And here’s what coach Pete Carroll said about Sherman and Maxwell on draft day in 2011:

“It’s interesting that we were able to get two big corners, along with Richard, Byron [Maxwell] is a big stud corner that makes hits and tackles and plays very well at the line of scrimmage.  Both of these two guys are press corners.  We think that that’s really going to help us and add to the competitiveness of it.”

Maxwell, recall, actually jumped out ahead of Sherman on the Seattle depth chart in 2011 before a bout with pneumonia and other injuries relegated him to just nine games. When he returned in 2012, Sherman and Browner had won the starting jobs and Maxwell was again limited to nine games.

But finally healthy last year, he played in every game, and when Browner and Thurmond were hurt/suspended late in the year, Maxwell jumped in and grabbed a starting role, starring in the Super Bowl as the Seahawks routed the Broncos, forcing a fumble recovered by Smith that helped seal things late.

He’s among a big group of players who can be free agents following the 2014 season, and another big season figures to make him a highly-valued commodity. For now, he stands as one of the keys to the team’s efforts to repeat in 2014 and a player whose emergence stamps him as another of the late-round gems of the Carroll/Schneider era, and one of the best in Seattle history.

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