Going into the 2013 season, I was as high on the Seahawks as I’ve ever been. Indeed, there have been a number of years where I’ve predicted a Seahawks championship, but I’ve never been as certain as I was before that fateful season.
This year, on the other hand, I dunno. You’ve got a lot of the same players, which should inspire confidence that – at the very least – this Seahawks team will give us another playoff appearance and probably another division title. But, there are also question marks up and down the roster, where there weren’t any going into 2013. Even the positions of strength are causes for concern, as we’ve discovered in the last few years that injuries can hit anywhere, at anytime, for any reason.
Let’s just start at the Safety position, for instance. The Seahawks feature two of the very best in the game of football today in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. No sweat, right? On a scale from 1-10, you write in a 10 for Most Confident and you call it a day! Except, Earl is coming off of a horrendous injury and might not have his usual impact (particularly early in the season). Is it appropriate to expect Earl to be as dominant as he’s always been? Or will the injury – and subsequent rehab eating into his regular workout routine – mean we get just 75% of Earl or less? And, quite frankly, there’s an honest concern that both of these guys will get re-injured at some point. Both are another year older, and Kam has proven to be pretty injury prone over the last few seasons. When they’re healthy, they’re the best in the game; but all I’m going to be doing whenever they’re on the field is worrying about their next injury.
And, honestly, this is the same issue we can run out there for a lot of position groups. Cornerback? Check. Wide receiver? Check. Running backs? Bigtime check. So, as it was last year, the issue is going to come down to depth. Because while the Seahawks have one of the most talented rosters in the league, they’ve also been the most snakebitten of late.
On paper, it’s really a tremendous group. If you could sit here and promise me 100% health out of all of our starters, I’d tell you that I have the utmost confidence in this team making a deep run in the playoffs, up to and including a Super Bowl victory. Very briefly, let’s scan the starters:
Russell Wilson, in spite of last season’s quasi-regression, is still a Top 10 quarterback in this league, and probably closer to Top 5 than a lot of people are willing to admit. When he’s healthy, he’s as dangerous as they come. At running back, we may not have Beastmode, but a healthy Thomas Rawls has proven to be wildly effective. Eddie Lacy is a nice, big back who will get the tough yards and wear down defenses late. And C.J. Prosise is as unique a talent at the running back position as there is in the league. At wide receiver, Doug Baldwin is as good as they get. Lockett is a speedster with great hands. P-Rich really came on strong in the playoffs last season and has a lot of talent at making the difficult catches. And Kearse is a fine #3 or #4 possession receiver with good blocking abilities. Tight end might be our strongest position on offense, with the combo of Graham and Willson making life difficult for opposing defenses. I won’t go crazy about the O-Line, but there are a lot of returning pieces who should improve by virtue of ending the 2016 season healthy, bulking up, and having that experience in their back pockets. You have to like a lot about the D-Line, that killed it in run blocking, and has a lot of great pass rushers. Avril & Bennett obviously anchor that line and are great in all facets of the game. Rubin and Reed are solid run stuffers. Frank Clark is coming on like gangbusters. Malik McDowell has all the talent in the world at pass rushing from the tackle spot. You can mix and match those guys in all sorts of different formations and should come off in a good spot. At linebacker, we return Bobby Wagner – the team’s MVP of a season ago – and K.J. Wright, two of the league’s best. When we’re not in nickel, you’re looking at any number of talented free agent signees to play that SAM spot and play it well. At corner, we return Sherm and Lane; Sherm is still his wonderful self, and Lane is still good enough. Shead will hopefully be back at some point to add to this team’s depth, and in the meantime a number of rookies will vie for that nickel corner spot (or the opposite outside spot, thus pushing Lane inside), including 3rd rounder Shaquill Griffin. Tack on the aforementioned safeties, and I’m telling you, that’s a starting roster that can hang with the best of ’em, including the vaunted New England Patriots.
I don’t think anyone is questioning that, necessarily, but from a national perspective it’s a lot like that famous Eminem chorus: motherfuckers act like they forgot about Dre.
The NFL is very much a What Have You Done For Me Lately league, particularly with the fickle media. If you scan around at some of the Power Rankings, NFL.com has the Seahawks ranked 10th (behind the likes of the Bucs, Chiefs, and Giants). I mean, what do those teams have that the Seahawks don’t? Last I checked, Tampa has a very young QB who has yet to prove he’s a winner at this level, the Chiefs are staring down the barrel of a quarterback controversy after trading up to pick one in the first round, and the Giants still employ Eli Manning. ESPN.com has the Seahawks up at 6th, which feels a little more reasonable, but still behind the likes of the Steelers and Falcons. The Steelers have a lot of fantasy football talent on the offensive side of the ball, but they’ve yet to really prove they’re ready to make the leap and challenge for the AFC Championship; and I think the Falcons are in for a rude awakening when they kick off this season with the COLLOSAL downgrade at offensive coordinator (Sark, stepping in for Kyle Shanahan). Peter King, in all his infinite wisdom, has the Seahawks at 9th, behind the Chiefs again, as well as the Titans (in his Top 5!).
If you want my opinion, I think the Top 5 should look something like this:
- New England
- Green Bay
New England was the best team last season, and it looks like they’ve only gotten better with their offseason moves. Green Bay is as good as they get as long as they have Aaron Rodgers (similarly to the Seahawks, they just need to stay healthy to reach their potential). I’m in love with everything that Oakland has done this offseason (aside from abandoning their city and moving to Vegas); they remind me a lot of the 2013 Seahawks with how young and talented they are (though, maybe tilt it in the offense’s favor as opposed to the Seahawks’ defense in 2013). And, you could go either way with Dallas/Seattle in the 4th/5th spot, with Seattle having the edge by virtue of Dallas crumbling in big game after big game. Let them prove they belong to a higher ranking rather than just handing it to them with their so-so defense and injury-prone receiving corps.
But, as always, it comes down to depth. Will the Seahawks need it and do they have enough of it? And, can their remaining healthy starters do enough to compensate for where they’re lacking?
Let’s take quarterback out of the equation because without Russell Wilson, this team doesn’t work. Trevone Boykin is cool and everything – and I fully expect him to win the backup job again – but he’s not even close.
Can the three-headed hydra of Lacy, Rawls, and Prosise make it through 16 regular season games plus the playoffs? As much as I want to gnash my teeth about this position group, I think the Seahawks are okay here. Yeah, Rawls will probably have some nagging injuries that cause him to miss a few games. Yeah, Prosise will be banged up. Heck, Lacy might even roll an ankle or something. But, what are the odds that all three of them go down at once? Even still, I thought Alex Collins looked okay in spurts in his regular season duty and should be able to fill in okay as an emergency backup. Beyond that, I mean, I’m not going to sit here and predict another running back apocalypse like last year, so let’s move on.
The wide receiver group looks a lot different if Lockett has trouble and isn’t able to make it back. I think that pushes Kearse back into the #2 role, which is less than ideal. Also, while P-Rich was great in the playoffs, he’s yet to do that over the long haul. Granted, he hasn’t really been given the opportunity, so here’s to hoping he makes the most of it this year. Beyond those guys, Darboh is a rookie and I fully expect him to be a last resort type. That leaves Tanner McEvoy and/or Kenny Lawler; both have their strengths, but gametime experience really isn’t one of them. Continuing with tight end, the starters may be the most talented of any group on offense, but the reserves are the biggest question marks. Nick Vannett was a draft pick in 2016, but never really played. Beyond that, we have guys I’ve never heard of before, one of whom will surely win a job in the pre-season.
The one place the Seahawks tried their damnedest to improve depth – in their own Seahawky way, i.e. on the cheap – was along the O-Line. Fant, Glowinski, Britt, and Ifedi all return, though with some projected shuffling of spots. Britt is the leader and best of the bunch; Ifedi returns to his more natural right tackle spot (until he proves he can’t handle it and is moved back to guard); Fant is the key to the whole thing, as he needs to prove he’s capable of holding his own at left tackle, so we can slot our main competition into the guard positions (Joeckel vs. Odhiambo on the left; Aboushi vs. Glowinski vs. Pocic on the right). Let the best men for the job go to town and hope for the best, I suppose. What I would say is that the Seahawks are probably in a better position for success with this unit than they were at this time a year ago. We know Britt is a bona fide starter in this league at center. Fant, Glow, and Ifedi all have a year of starting experience. Odhiambo has a little bit of experience, but he’s also being put into a better position to succeed by getting his shot on the left side of the line (as opposed to the right, where he struggled in limited action last year). And Joeckel and Aboushi are a couple of serviceable veterans who by no means allow us to say, “Problem Solved!”, but they provide better depth than we had a year ago. And, Pocic appears to be a talented, highly rated rookie, who could step in in a pinch, but will probably be better served in sitting and watching for a year to bulk up and learn the system. If he’s as good as people say he can be, he could be filling in for any number of guys who win a job out of Training Camp.
The Seahawks are strongest along the D-Line, but you still wonder about their ability to get pressure up the middle. With the emergence of Frank Clark, I think we’ll still see a lot of Michael Bennett sliding inside, but we had that for the most part last season and still didn’t wreak enough havoc to make much of a dent. As such, it’s really do or die with Malik McDowell, as if he doesn’t make an impression as a rookie, you’re hoping for Quinton Jefferson to do something in his second season in the league, or one of the bigger guys – Reed, or Nazair Jones perhaps – to step up and do something they’ve yet to prove they’re capable of doing. Also, not for nothing, but with the loss of Tony McDaniel, did the Seahawks sacrifice their run defense for the sake of interior pass rush? That might not be the worst thing in the world if we only fall from Best In The NFL to something like 7th-best in the NFL. But, if we take a deep hit, because of injuries or ineffectiveness, other teams’ abilities to run the ball at will could hinder our ability to put in the ol’ NASCAR package and really do damage to opposing quarterbacks.
I absolutely don’t want to think about what life would be like without the likes of Wagner or Wright, but it won’t be pretty. As things stand, it’s a huge unknown what these new additions will bring to the table. I hear good things about Wilhoite and Brown, but that’s just chatter; it means nothing until I can see them in games and see how they mesh with the scheme.
I also absolutely don’t want to think about what life would be like without our studs in the L.O.B. Bradley McDougald, Neiko Thorpe, and a whole bunch of rookies and young guys. Without Shead in the mix, it’s hard to say we’re all that improved depthwise, so here’s to hoping they can just hold their own until he’s good and ready (and here’s to hoping the pass rush is as advertised, as they could REALLY help ease this transition period in the L.O.B.).
I really want to like these guys. I really want to be confident about this season. I want to believe that we’re better than we were in 2015 and 2016, that we won’t have those fatal flaws that prevented us from getting past the Divisional Round in the playoffs. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to getting the job done in the regular season, getting that playoff BYE week, and playing clutch football when it matters most. To get to that spot, it’s going to come down to a lot of injury luck and certain guys stepping up in a big way over the production (or lack thereof) that we got last year.