You hear a good amount of comparisons to the 2012-2014 Seahawks defenses around these parts. When things are looking bad, people lament the good old days. When we get a new member of the secondary, people instinctively compare them to the Hall of Famers of that era. And, when the defense as a whole looks good, people like to say, “This is the best Seahawks defense since 2013!” In fact, people are saying that about the depth along the defensive line – particularly from a pass rush standpoint – right this very season!
You know what those 2012-2014 Seahawks had that we might also have again in 2021? Some elite-level linebackers that are criminally overlooked.
What did we talk about in 2013? We talked first about the L.O.B. Of course. Two of the best safeties in the game, probably the best cornerback alive at the time, and whoever else was on the other side keeping up his end of the bargain. Next, we talked about the NASCAR pass rush, led by the likes of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, but continuing on down to the last DL on the roster, as everyone contributed! But, who was overlooked? The dynamic duo of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, in their second and third seasons, respectively.
Well, Bobby Wagner is still here, and he’s no young pup anymore, but he’s still playing at a high level. Maybe not the same level he was in his prime, but the dropoff hasn’t been too severe. Unfortunately, there’s no room at the inn for K.J. Wright, as he just signed with the Raiders. In his place, we have first round draft pick Jordyn Brooks, who looked good as a rookie, got a lot of playing time towards the end of the season, and appears to have taken the next step in – this – his second season.
Jordyn Brooks is exciting! He’s fast and instinctive and looks like the real deal. He might be the best linebacker in his draft class (who isn’t exclusively a pass rusher). I’m thrilled the Seahawks gave him the starting job – even though it sucks to see K.J. Wright go, because he was still playing at a high level and it’s criminal he was unemployed for as long as he was – and I can’t wait to see what he does.
Then, there’s Darrell Taylor, getting a shot to be this team’s SAM linebacker. I don’t know if he’s the best man for the job right now (again, when K.J. Wright was still just sitting there for the entire offseason, having exceeded expectations at SAM last year), but he very well could develop into a force for this defense. At the very least, it’s easy to see from the pre-season games alone why the Seahawks have been so high on him. His build and athleticism appear to be off the charts; when he gets his first sack in a Seahawks uniform, the Pacific Northwest might explode.
There’s no doubt about it, though, the linebacker depth took a hit. Losing BBK costs us not only a valuable special teams ace, but also a cheap veteran who’s been in the system since his rookie year and could’ve very capably filled in for injuries, should they have come up (which they always do).
Cody Barton, however, has ascended into a fringe-level starter who we have the luxury of being our backup at every linebacker spot. He, as with BBK, has been in the system since his rookie season, and he’s always been a step or two ahead of BBK the entire way. This pre-season, he looked like he was playing a different game than the rest of the backups around him, making plays all over the field. This bodes well if we have ONE injury in our starting linebacker corps. But, if we have TWO or more injuries, I don’t know if I trust anyone behind him at this point.
Nick Bellore is our hybrid fullback/linebacker, and he looked okay. But, I don’t think you want him starting an extended number of games for you. If he has to go in for a few plays here and there, he’d probably be fine. But, I think his lack of athleticism would get exposed the more teams can game-plan against him. If BBK were still here, I wouldn’t mind Bellore as a sixth guy. But, as the fifth guy? That’s a little scary.
I’ve also heard reports of Alton Robinson getting some snaps at SAM linebacker. Both he and Taylor seem better suited to strictly being the defensive end, but you can only have so many DE’s on the field at one time, and SAM is a way to fudge that a little bit. Sometimes SAM linebackers rush the passer, but usually more often they have to go out in patterns and cover running backs or maybe even tight ends. Nothing I’ve seen leads me to believe Robinson or Taylor are going to be as good as Bruce Irvin was in the role. But, we’ll see! Both are young and athletic enough, maybe they can grow into the position!
If healthy, I think the linebackers are an A-, with the potential to elevate to an A grade if Taylor really explodes onto the scene. This group probably falls to a B- or so if there are any injuries to Wagner or Brooks. Further injuries, obviously, plummet the grade even deeper. Mostly, my feeling on the linebackers is that I don’t have to worry about them too much. Packaged with the defensive line (which I’ll write about next week), I think this front seven will be among the greatest in the NFL. That’s all I can really ask for.