Projecting Where The New Seahawks Fit

I think it’s always helpful to remind ourselves that the Seahawks are a good football team.  They’ve won at least 10 games every year for the last five seasons, and have won at least one playoff game each year to boot.  Only the New England Patriots have been more successful in this stretch by those parameters.  When they grab the #1 seed, they go to the Super bowl; when they don’t, they lose in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.  But, I think panic is starting to set in as this team’s championship window starts to close.  No Super Bowl in the last two seasons?  BLOW IT UP!

While there have been flaws in this team that have done the Seahawks in the last two years, they can also be corrected.  The offensive line has always been a matter of concern for this team, even as far back as 2012 and 2013; the only difference is those teams had so-so O-Lines, while the last two years, the O-Line has been one of the very worst in the league.  Also, I think it’s safe to say while opposing teams haven’t “figured out” the Seahawks’ defense, they’ve definitely made some inroads into not being thoroughly dominated on a regular basis.  Injuries – and a lack of proper depth – torpedoed our season last year, particularly following the loss of Earl Thomas.  But, when this team is healthy, this defense is still near the top in all of football, simply based on talent alone.

What those great Seahawks teams had, that these recent Just Okay Seahawks teams have lacked is what I pointed out in that previous paragraph:  league average O-Line play, and proper depth in the defense.  With the moves the Seahawks made this offseason, the hope is that they’ve done enough to right those wrongs, without creating holes elsewhere.

So, let’s start with the offensive line, because that’s ONCE AGAIN going to be the topic du jour not only from the national pundits when referencing the Seahawks, but very much from the local guys as well.  Last year, the primary configuration of the line looked like this:

  • Fant – Glowinski – Britt – Ifedi – Gilliam

Right off the bat, we know Gilliam is gone, having signed with the 49ers.  On the way in, we’ve got Luke Joeckel, Oday Aboushi, Ethan Pocic, and Justin Senior (along with various holdovers from last year, and undrafted free agents).  We know Britt is safe, for at least this year, if not for many years to come.  But, the other four spots are very much up for grabs at this point, ostensibly with the best man winning the job.

It’s impossible to project the exact battles until we get into OTAs and Training Camp and our trusty beat writers give us the scoop.  For now, we know Fant will battle for left tackle.  I’m pretty sure Glowinski will battle exclusively for the left guard spot, though I suppose it’s possible he could flip over to right guard (but, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to keep him on the left side).  Fighting with them will be Luke Joeckel, who has $7 million guaranteed on a 1-year $8 million deal; he will be considered for both the LT and LG spots.  Also being considered at LT and LG is Rees Odhiambo, 3rd round pick in 2016.  Four guys for two spots; I’ll put the early favorites as Joeckel and Glowinski, but absolutely nothing will shock me with the way this team operates.

On the right side, 2nd rounder Ethan Pocic will get a hard look, along with 2016 first rounder Germain Ifedi.  Ifedi was the RG last year, but was a RT in college, and word around the team is that they’re going to put him back outside.  That would seem to jibe with the selection of Pocic, who has extensive experience at center, and projects more as an interior lineman.  Aboushi is a guard who will also be in the mix on the right side, as well as 6th rounder Justin Senior, though he feels more like a project the team would want to redshirt.

So, how does that strike you?  The best two left-side guys, Britt, Pocic and Ifedi?  Will that formation ultimately be better than what we got in 2016?  I would assume yes, but that’s not saying much.  ANYONE will be a better left tackle than 2016 Fant, up to and including 2017 Fant.  I didn’t see Gilliam as the line’s biggest issue last year, but obviously he can be improved upon as well.  Will moving Ifedi back to his natural spot at right tackle help things click for him?  I’ve yet to see Pocic play, but I have to believe he’ll be better than any of the guards we had going for us last year.  And, I know the team really likes Odhiambo, so I hope he’s been working his ass off to win that job on the left side.

It’s going to be critically important for the line to at least be functional, because once again this team failed to address backup quarterback.  I don’t blame them, as I mentioned earlier, this team has a lot of holes and a lot of depth to replenish, and the worst thing you can do is reach for a quarterback you don’t necessarily want, but that just means the onus is on this team to protect its most important asset:  Russell Wilson.  I’m through trying to parse out blame on sacks, by the way.  Sure, Wilson might run himself into some pressure, but as long as the O-Line keeps letting guys get uninterrupted runs at our quarterback, I’m placing the blame squarely on them to fix that issue.

As for Wilson’s weapons, the only real major addition is Eddie Lacy at running back.  Between him, Rawls, and Prosise, the hope is that at least one of them will be healthy each and every game.  I like what they all bring to the table, aside from the fact that they seem to be on the trainer’s table more than the field (table).  Table.  I’m also not buying the seventh rounder we drafted, unless it comes to a point where there are a barrage of injuries at the position, at which point he’ll probably still be blocked by 2-3 guys.

At tight end, the Seahawks were conspicuously absent in the draft.  Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are both on the final years of their deals, with Nick Vannett on the second year of his rookie deal.  I can’t imagine the team is ready for Vannett to jump to the #1 tight end spot in 2018, which would lead me to believe that they’re looking to extend one of Graham or Willson.  It might not be the worst idea to let the season play out before making your decision on this, as I can’t imagine the market for either will be out of our range heading into 2018.  If one of them has a serious injury this year, then your decision has effectively been made and you can extend the other guy.  Considering there really isn’t much left on the free agent market (and the Seahawks were able to save some pennies by trading out of the first round), it doesn’t make a ton of sense to extend Graham now just to lower his cap hit.  The time to do that would’ve been BEFORE free agency started, when there was still an opportunity to get a great player with the money saved.

At receiver, Baldwin and Kearse are back, Tyler Lockett is coming back from an injury, Paul Richardson is going into the final year of his deal, and the Seahawks drafted Amara Darboh in the third round.  On top of that, we’ve got Kenny Lawler (7th round draft pick in 2016), Tanner McEvoy (our 5th receiver for most of last year), and Kasen Williams (among others) fighting to make the final roster.  Last year, the team mostly just kept 5 receivers, opting to go with an extra tight end, but I think this year the Seahawks will look to keep 6 receivers.  They’ll obviously want to keep Darboh around (who can justify his roster spot by owning a special teams role), leaving Lawler, McEvoy, and Williams fighting it out for the final spot.  Lawler should still be able to pass onto the Practice Squad for another season, but I think it’s do or die for Williams at this point.  Considering this is Kearse’s last year, I’ll be really interested in what the team decides to do come training camp.  Also, let’s not forget, Paul Richardson really came on in the playoffs last season; he could be in for a HUGE breakout year (which, not for nothing, has been long overdue).

My hunch is, the Seahawks let Kearse go AFTER this season, they reward Richardson with a Kearse-like 3-year deal (because, while he could be in for a “HUGE breakout year”, that’s all relative to the fact that these are the run-first Seahawks, and Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are still going to command the lion’s share of the targets), and in 2018 the Seahawks go in with a receiving corps of Baldwin, Lockett, Richardson, Darboh, and a couple of TBDs, but that’s over a year away and neither here nor there.

With the bulk of the offensive weapons returning from last year, all that matters is getting even marginal improvement out of the O-Line, and I think you can expect better things over last year.

Which brings us to the defense.

My #1 priority coming into this offseason was seeing the Seahawks bring in top notch talent in their secondary.  While they didn’t necessarily overlook the position, they obviously had their priorities set elsewhere.

For starters, they signed a grip of backup linebackers in free agency, to bolster the strong-side linebacker spot, as well as our depth and special teams.  They also took a flier on Dion Jordan to see if he has anything left in the tank after busting out in Miami.  More than anything, though, they made D-Line their #1 priority in the draft, which will be a big key heading into the season.

Malik McDowell is an interior lineman adept at causing pressure up the middle.  Aside from Michael Bennett – who more often than not finds himself in the defensive end spot – we really haven’t had anyone to bring the pressure up the middle since Clinton McDonald, and even then we’re talking about a part-time player.  McDowell’s ceiling is MUCH higher than McDonald’s, and if everyone manages to stay relatively healthy, he could be the key to making the lives of opposing quarterbacks miserable.

Just picture a line that looks like this:

  • Avril, McDowell, Bennett, Clark

Or, you know, some variation of that order.  Those are some rabid dogs!  That’s a 4-man defensive line that can get home, allowing the other 7 guys on defense to help out in coverage.  That’s a line that will not only generate a bunch of sacks and hits, but also a TON of hurries, that will hopefully lead to some bad decisions from those QBs.

The Seahawks have always been pretty solid in their sack numbers since bringing in Avril and Bennett, but the defense as a whole hasn’t been able to generate a lot of turnovers since 2013, when they were getting the most pressure with their 4-man front.  If McDowell hits, we could be talking about the best 4-man line we’ve seen since our championship season.

Which will hopefully make the lives of our secondary a lot easier and more fulfilling.  Shaquill Griffin looks like he can start right away, which is good, because odds are we’ll need him to.  Between him, Lane, and Sherman, I like our cornerbacks.  I’ll like them a lot more whenever Shead gets off the PUP list.  And, I’ll like them even more still if some of these other guys manage to surprise us!

Neiko Thorpe is a name to watch.  He has a year in our system and just re-signed.  He’s obviously here for his special teams prowess, but he’ll definitely be given a shot to compete for a spot on the defense from Day 1.  Then, we have the other three draft picks, who were all safeties coming out of college, but who all will get a look at corner as well.  I mean, let’s face it, no one in this draft was ever going to take the place of Kam and Earl.

In watching some of the highlights of these guys – Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson, and Mike Tyson – they all look the part.  If I had to guess, I’d say Thompson projects as the best of the three in coverage.  Hill very much looks the part of a downhill strong safety a la Kam Chancellor.  Tyson also looks pretty solid in coverage, but is probably behind Thompson and Griffin.  They all look like great tacklers and they all look like HUGE upgrades over our secondary depth in 2016.

This is what I was banking on.  I was hoping we’d go to the secondary early and often in the draft (as opposed to the third round and later), but when you’re right, you’re right:  everyone was saying how this draft was super deep in the secondary, and that very much looks like the case.  I think Hill will ultimately be a better long-term option behind Kam than Kelcie McCray ever was, and I think dropoff from Earl to Thompson is a lot smaller than the dropoff from Earl to Steven Terrell.  Bottom line:  assuming these rookies don’t get injured or hit a wall, I think our secondary depth is leaps and bounds improved over last year.  Particularly with the promise that our pass rush will be able to generate extra QB pressure.

So, will the 2017 Seahawks be better than the 2016 Seahawks?  We’ll have to see these guys prove it in Training Camp, while ultimately staying a lot healthier than they did last year.  In the early going, I’m leaning towards yes, the Seahawks will be better.  At which point, we have to ask:  are the 2017 Seahawks good enough to get back to contending for the #1 seed?  I mean, I don’t see why not.  They can’t be any unluckier than they were last year, with respect to injuries.  It looks like the rest of the NFC West (aside from maybe Arizona) will be rebuilding.  But, it’s really now or never with this group.  Our core guys are all getting into their late 20’s.  Which means they’re as good as they’re ever going to get, in all likelihood.  The odds of these guys getting injured only increases.  And, with some, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a drop-off in production due to the natural aging process.

We very well may look back at the 2017 season as the last year where we had everyone in the primes of their careers.  It might all be downhill after this year, for all we know.  So, the team needs to see this and use it to increase their sense of urgency.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider have done their part:  they’ve kept the core intact (not panicking, not blowing it up, not trading Richard Sherman for pennies on the dollar and creating extra holes where you didn’t need to have them before), while filling in admirably along the edges of the roster, hopefully bolstering its depth.  At this point, it’s on the players to do their jobs, and the coaches to get everyone ready to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

I can’t wait for the off-season to start ramping up.  It’s going to be fun hearing about how the new players are fitting in.

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