On Twitter, I heard Pro Football Focus ranked the Seahawks as having the 13th-best roster in the NFL, which on the one hand is absurd, because seriously? Worse than Philly, Oakland, and Dallas? And on the other hand, is a missed opportunity, because that’s the perfect opportunity to take an extra dig at this fanbase by ranking the Seahawks 12th (or, at least tied for 12th).
I don’t subscribe to PFF, nor am I an ESPN Insider, because I have enough shit to read on the free Internet, I don’t need to go spending money to read more shit for which I just don’t have the time. So, I can’t tell you the context or the rationale behind it, but knowing the Seahawks, I think you can look squarely at the offensive line, the loss of Marshawn Lynch, and the questionable pass rush. If you factor in a couple of key injuries here and there, then who knows? Maybe the 2016 Seahawks take a large tumble.
So, just how dire is it?
I’ve gone on at length about the O-Line, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so as we get into the pre-season, so I’ll just say this: it’ll look bad early, it’ll get better as the season goes along, but it’ll always be a source of dismay for the fans. The question we need answered is: how bad is it RIGHT NOW (i.e. what is the floor for this unit?), and how much better can it get as it gels over the weeks (i.e. what is the ceiling?)? Last year, the floor was pretty low. But, I’m hard-pressed to cite it as the overwhelming reason why we started off the season so poorly (if anything, I’d blame the O-Line for why the season ended the way it did, with a late home loss to the Rams, followed by a first-half dismantling in Carolina in the playoffs). If the ceiling isn’t going to be any better than it was last year, then we’re either screwed, or we’re going to need to get lucky in our matchups down the stretch and in the post-season.
As for the pass rush, it’s too early to make any definitive statements, which is both exciting and scary. Assuming Avril and Bennett are back and healthy (and not holding out), that’s a terrific pass rushing base. The loss of Bruce Irvin certainly hurts, but that opens up a role for Frank Clark, so it’s not all bad. Can Clark be a percentage of what Irvin gave us? Will his ceiling be higher? Let’s not forget, Bruce Irvin wasn’t some Tasmanian Devil; if he was some elite, All Pro pass rusher, the Seahawks would’ve done more to hang onto him. So, you know, it’s entirely possible that Clark can be exactly what Irvin was, at least from a pass rush standpoint. And, regardless, we’ve also got Chris Clemons back in the fold, as a veteran LEO end we can use in spots, who should have enough in the tank to give us a little extra something we didn’t have last year.
Barring injury, I’m okay with what our pass rush looks like going into the season. If we can get what we got last year – which wasn’t Top 5 by any stretch, but was probably closer to league average – I’m entirely fine with that.
Because I think our secondary is going to take a HUGE step forward. Having Jeremy Lane to start the season is an immediate upgrade over the likes of Cary Williams. Having some combo of Tharold Simon, Brandon Browner, Tye Smith, and DeShawn Shead, will make us MUCH deeper than we were last year. And, the inclusion of Browner in more of a safety role – to target the bigger tight ends we were getting beaten by so often last year – should help reduce some of those late-game let-downs we gave up last year.
An outstanding pass rush can – and often will – make up for a lacking secondary. On the flipside, an outstanding secondary can – and often will – give the pass rush a little extra time to get home.
You can argue that some guys on defense last year didn’t appear to be their usual, dominant selves. For instance, I didn’t see a lot popping off the screen when I watched Bobby Wagner or Kam Chancellor. But, I would argue that K.J. Wright took a huge step forward, Richard Sherman was as good as he’s ever been, and you’re going to struggle to convince me Earl Thomas has lost a step. Just because the guys weren’t making good on a lot of turnover opportunities, doesn’t mean this unit has all of a sudden fallen off the cliff. If anything, turnovers are random, and could just as easily be this team’s defining characteristic in 2016.
Yes, injuries would kill our depth, but you can say that with any team. But, I would argue the Seahawks made great strides in free agency to at least shore up some of that depth. Clemons, as I mentioned above. Siliga is a great option at tackle behind our draft pick, as well as re-signing Rubin for the 3-Tech. Mike Morgan is back to compete at SAM in the base defense. Lane and Browner, as I mentioned above, are upgrades over guys we were starting early last year. I have high hopes for this defense – as is – to be better than it was in 2015, and to have enough depth to get us through the tough times, should guys go down with nagging complaints that keep them out a few weeks.
Which brings us to the offense.
You don’t go anywhere until you talk about Russell Wilson’s great leap forward over the last half of last season. That’s hard, real-world evidence of a guy hitting the next level. That’s important. It’s also something that needs to be furthered if this offense doesn’t want to take a step back in 2016.
Like it or lump it, the running game is in jeopardy. The O-Line is, obviously, built to run the ball, so that’s fine. But, who carries the rock? Will Rawls be ready? If he’s ready, will he be the same guy he was in 2015? If he’s not, or if he’s supplanted, will his replacement have what it takes to carry the load, and at least approach what Beastmode gave us in his healthy years?
Just as there will certainly be some growing pains in our pass protection to start the season, there could very well be similar growing pains in our run game, only the O-Line likely won’t be at fault. Nevertheless, we’re going to need Wilson to be an elite, Top 5 QB just to MAINTAIN what we were able to do. Then, once the running game gets going, the sky is the limit for this offense. But, how long will that take? And, how many games will it cost us in the early going?
In the passing game, there’s a lot of carry-over, which is nice. The wide receiver group is pretty much the same, especially at the top-end of the group with Baldwin, Kearse, and Lockett. While it’s reasonable to question whether Graham will be ready or not, he’ll be back eventually, and in the meantime there’s a lot to like about the guys behind him, with Willson and draft pick Vannett.
I suppose, you could argue that outside of Russell Wilson, and a healthy Graham, there isn’t a lot of dynamic game-changers on offense (like there is on defense). So, if you’re ranking teams from top to bottom at this arbitrary point in the offseason, you can look at the Seahawks and shrug your shoulders at the running backs, and the overall depth in the receiving game. While Baldwin was legitimately great in 2016, he’s still seen as a possession receiver. While Kearse has made some of the biggest, most important catches in franchise history, he’s still seen as Just Another Guy. Lockett has yet to really prove himself on offense. And, beyond those guys, you’ve got a bunch of receivers no one has ever heard of before (outside of Seattle, anyway). And, until someone plays himself into a starting role, the running back group is essentially anonymous, with guys like Prosise and Rawls having the upside you like, while at the same time having the question marks you hate to need to count on.
If I step back and look at this team honestly, you know what I see? In many ways, it could be a transition year just like 2015. That’s hard to swallow, as a fan, when you’ve seen this unit – by and large – go to back-to-back Super Bowls. You’d like to think, for a team this stacked, you wouldn’t need more than a year off before going back to another title game. But, there were a number of missteps on many fronts that led to this. Not taking Kam’s holdout seriously and working to build depth at the safety position was something that cost us a couple games last year. Trying to get by with smoke & mirrors on the O-Line for another year, when you knew you were likely going to lose Okung and Sweezy at season’s end and have to start all over. And, quite honestly, the severity of the injuries to Rawls and Graham have us in a bind. It dictated how we drafted – taking an absurd three running backs, hoping that at least two of them will stick – and it’s ultimately going to dictate how high our upside is as we enter the regular season. Regardless, 2015 was a transition year no one really saw coming, which could very well carry over into a 2-year hangover of sorts from the disasterous end of Super Bowl XLIX.
I go back to floors and ceilings when I think of the 2016 Seahawks. We’re going to get a clear view of this team’s floor come September, when guys are still getting used to playing (and playing together) on both sides of the ball. Any injuries on top of that will only delay our potential rise to prominence. If we can get off to a quality start to the season, while playing at our relative floor, it’ll make all the difference. Because, in spite of what I see as a team in transition in 2016, I still see a team poised to make a big jump over the second half of the season. The O-Line should improve with more games played together; the running game should sort itself out as guys get healthy (and rookies get used to the speed of the NFL). The defense as a whole should be improved over what it was in 2015, so as long as we can keep it patched up and running smoothly (particularly early in the season), there’s a good chance that this “transition year” could morph into another championship year. Either by overcoming a slow start – and improving our play on the road, particularly through the playoffs – or by overcoming our early-season shortcomings, WINNING in the first half more than our primary NFC rivals, and gelling in time for a quality finish to the season and another high seed in the playoffs.
So, while the roster might indeed be something the rest of the league (and the analyzing public at large) sleeps on, none of that really matters. All that matters is how the schedule shapes up. Can a so-so Seahawks squad get through the early weeks before they turn into a butterfly and lay to waste the rest of the league in the later weeks?
The Dolphins, Rams, 49ers, and Jets await us in the first four weeks. Can we go 3-1 or stay perfect in that stretch? It’ll be important, because then we get the BYE before hosting the Falcons. That leads us into our first really important game, in Arizona, before games against the Saints and Bills take us to the midway point in the season. One would hope, after 8 weeks (if not sooner), the Seahawks can get through their growing pains and start to gel, as I mentioned above. If the Seahawks can figure out a way to go 6-2 or better in the first half, we’ve got a good chance to be really special, even if the second half is full of teams that are – on paper – super good (Pats, Packers, Panthers, Cards again, not to mention the Bucs and Rams again).
But, if we struggle early, end up 4-4 at the midway point, with all those tough teams yet to play, then yeah, I could see this being another year where we flame out as a Wild Card team, or even miss the playoffs altogether.
The point in all this is while the roster might not be championship level now, or to start the season, it has potential to get there by season’s end, or going into 2017 after a year’s worth of experience for some of these young guys.