What Is This Seahawks Defensive Line Going To Look Like With Byron Murphy?

There’s really two questions built into the one overarching question posed in the title. First of all: what is Byron Murphy’s ceiling, both in year one, and overall? And secondly, what is the ceiling of the 2024 incarnation of the Seahawks’ defensive line?

What we’re hoping for is that Byron Murphy is one of those highly impactful interior defensive linemen that can wreck a game, and otherwise needs ample resources devoted to stopping him. There are a couple of different ways to look at that. Is he Aaron Donald (or, at least, an Aaron Donald Type, who is great from the moment he steps onto the field) or is he Geno Atkins (who didn’t do much his rookie year, before developing into a steady Pro Bowler – and occasional All Pro – when he was healthy, in year two and beyond)? That’s going to make a big difference on the outlook of this season.

I don’t think anyone would complain if Murphy turned into an Atkins type of player in year two, but obviously it would be disappointing to not get much from him as a rookie. Because, if he can fulfill his potential earlier rather than later, there’s a lot of talent around him to really get this thing going.

We’ve got Leonard Williams, who is not at his peak, but is still playing at prime levels (though, obviously, every year going forward has a chance to be worse than the one before it; he is going into his age 30 season, after all). We’ve got Jarran Reed, who really had a fantastic year last year and harkened back to his very best days as a Seahawk. We’ve got Dre’Mont Jones, who is on a big money contract, and is looking to bounce back from a pedestrian showing in 2023; I have no doubt he’s still got the goods, but he just needs to be utilized correctly (which was never going to happen under Clint Hurtt & Co.). We’ve got very good outside pass rushers in Uchenna Nwosu and Boye Mafe (Nwosu had 9.5 sacks in 2022 before being injured last year; Mafe had 9.0 sacks in his second season as a pro, and is looking to take the next step in his development into potential stardom). We’ve got Darrell Taylor heading into a contract season (who has 21.5 sacks across three years, and is certainly capable of being a menace on the outside). And, we’ve got a lot of potentially-promising young talent in Derick Hall, Cam Young, and Mike Morris, who might never amount to anything, but could always surprise us.

Even discounting the unproven guys on this roster, there’s still a TON of talent here, potentially capable of rushing the passer like nothing we’ve ever seen before. And, with the new scheme, and the influx of Murphy, they should be better able to stop the run than they’ve been the last few years.

The thing is, this defensive line could be an All Time Great Unit if Murphy turns out to be elite from the get-go. It should still be really good even if he isn’t there yet, but obviously, it would be a lot cooler if he ends up being worth the pick of being the top DT in this draft class.

Of course, I say that, but how true is it really? If Murphy is Just A Guy, how is this D-Line any different than it was a year ago? Well, I’m putting A LOT of the heavy lifting on Mike Macdonald and this coaching staff and scheme. I think having Leonard Williams all the way through, with a full year of Nwosu, and positioning Dre’Mont Jones more on the outside where he can have a bigger impact in setting the edge, while still being able to rush the passer, will all translate to better production as a whole.

Like I said, though, if it takes Murphy a year to get going, it’s not the end of the world. Does anyone expect these 2024 Seahawks to win the division or make the Super Bowl? If you do, you probably need to adjust your thinking. The 49ers are still the class of the division. The Cowboys and Eagles are still very good. The Lions and Bears and even the Packers are probably in better spots than we are right now. And, for as dysfunctional as the Falcons are as an organization, regardless of who they have at quarterback, they still have a lot of talent on that roster.

But, what I’m excited about more than anything is having Murphy learn from guys like Williams and Reed and Jones. From just a mentor standpoint, I don’t know if it gets a lot better than those guys. He doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be The Man from day one. There are not just veterans, but established and talented veterans ahead of him, who can guide him on how to be a pro, and to be a pro the right way. So, when he eventually does have to slide into being The Man, he’ll be ready that much faster to take over.

Suffice it to say, I’m pretty excited to see what this defense is going to look like. The inside linebackers are a huge question mark, and there isn’t a ton going on at safety. But, with a solid defensive line, and with our talent at cornerback, combined with a proper scheme that should put these guys in better positions to succeed, I don’t think there’s any question the defense can be middle-of-the-pack or better.

The Seahawks Had An Unexciting Draft This Year

It’s interesting to go through the years – dating back to 2010, because I’m less into the idea of going back to the wild west days and trying to decipher a through-line – and see where things went right and where they went wrong. Obviously, the 2010-2012 drafts were epic and life-changing. But, there’s a real argument to be made that every single draft since then has been a failure.

Just scroll through this. Let’s leave 2022-2024 out of it, because there’s just not enough information to make a sound judgment in such a short period of time. But, 2013-2021? I think Seahawks fans with rose-colored glasses will say there have been peaks and valleys in our draft classes in this span. 2013 was pretty miserable and I don’t think anyone can really defend it at this point. But, if you want to think positively, you can say they’ve consistently found role players, contributors, and even starters.

In 2014, they got an offensive line starter in Justin Britt; in 2015, there was Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett. In 2016, there’s Germain Ifedi and Jarran Reed; in 2017, there’s Ethan Pocic and Shaquill Griffin. In 2018, you’re looking at Michael Dickson and Will Dissly; in 2019 there’s D.K. Metcalf. You could say 2020 was the start of a rebound by this organization, with guys like Jordyn Brooks, Darrell Taylor, and Damien Lewis rounding things out; but, also, almost this entire class is on other teams, and the three picks in 2021 produced absolutely no one.

Not a lot of second contracts in Seattle among this bunch. Lockett, Metcalf, and Dickson are the three greatest Seahawks draft picks since 2013. Everyone else were just role players, or able bodies who ate up an offensive line spot. But, no one has really flashed. No one has stood out. It’s all been pretty middling talent, which has led to middling results for this team.

I’m willing to believe in the 2022 and 2023 classes, because I think there’s a lot of meat on the bone. Charles Cross can still be great. Boye Mafe really took a big step in year two. Kenneth Walker is a fuckin’ stud. Abe Lucas, when healthy, can be a beast. Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen can be ball hawks in the right scheme. Devon Witherspoon clearly has All Pro type talent. Jaxon Smith-Njigba could be amazing if he’s unleashed in the right offense. Derick Hall has the body type to do great things, Zach Charbonnet flashed true elite greatness as a rookie, Anthony Bradford could be a mauler at guard, Cam Young and Mike Morris could be big bodies in a solid D-Line rotation, and Olu Oluwatimi figures to be in a battle for this year’s starting center job as a fifth round pick in his second season. That’s a lot of potential greatness just waiting to be unleashed by the right coaching staff.

But, then again, we’ve already seen the writing on the wall that many of these guys could be busts. Should it really take a left tackle in Charles Cross 3+ years to develop into a star? Shouldn’t that guy enter the league ready to take it by storm? You’ve got two second-round running backs in there, a devalued position that’s frequently getting itself injured. Speaking of injuries, Lucas appears to have a chronic knee issue, and it can only be a matter of time before Witherspoon – with the way he attacks players with reckless abandon – plays himself out of the league a la Jamal Adams. If Kam Chancellor had to retire early due to medicals, what makes you think some tiny dude like Witherspoon is going to last very long into a second contract? JSN sure looked pedestrian for his rookie season as the #1 receiver drafted; Mafe and Hall could both be one-trick ponies unable to set an edge or play at all against the run. There’s whispers about Woolen’s toughness and ability to stay healthy; I could go on and on picking these draft classes apart.

The thing is, I really want to believe in John Schneider. I want to believe it was Pete Carroll putting his foot down and leading to the worst personnel decisions of the last decade. But, I dunno. The last three draft classes – including this one that took place over the weekend – have had decidedly different feels compared to the ones that came before. It’s really felt like a Best Player Available festival, which is a strategy I hold near and dear to my heart. But, if we proceed to spend the next 3-5 years finishing at or around .500, without any real charge towards Super Bowl contention, then I think it will be pretty obvious that this front office doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing any more than any other front office, and 2010-2012 will be seen as flukes more than anything else.

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That’s a lot of preamble – and a negative one at that – to get to what I actually thought was a pretty smart draft by the Seahawks. If there’s ever going to be a draft that seriously turns things around for this franchise, it’s going to be one that features a lot of bulk along the line of scrimmage, and absolutely nothing with any of the skill positions.

What have we been complaining about for years? Even during the Super Bowl years, what were we after? Elite defensive tackles who can rush the passer and be a force in the middle against the run. From 2013-2019, we drafted 12 guys who were either DT’s or plus-sized DE’s who we wanted to slide inside on passing downs; those were all some of our greatest busts. Malik McDowell, L.J. Collier, Rasheem Green, Naz Jones, Jesse Williams, Demarcus Christmas; the list goes on and on. Jarran Reed was the only guy worth a damn in that bunch, and even he wasn’t worth it – in the minds of this front office – to spend on that second contract he received. Defensive tackle has been a fucking wasteland for this franchise, and if it wasn’t for Michael Bennett sliding inside during the glory years, we’d be talking about spanning multiple decades of futility.

So, yeah, I’m pretty excited about Byron Murphy. I’m also justifiably reserved in my excitement, because while it’s great to say we got the best all-around defensive lineman in this class, you also can’t deny that we got him with the 16th pick. The NFL deemed 15 other guys better than him. I know a lot of those teams had more pressing needs – mostly on the offensive side of the ball, what with the first 14 picks going that way – but if there was a true juggernaut, no-doubter of a defensive behemoth ready to plug-and-play as a future All Pro and maybe even Hall of Famer, there’s no way that player would’ve fallen to 16. You think Will Anderson – had he left for the NFL this year – would’ve been there for us? Or Aidan Hutchinson, or Chase Young, or Nick Bosa, or Quinnen Williams? I don’t think so.

I think the odds are a lot better that Byron Murphy was the best of a very weak defensive line class, than he’s a future game-wrecker in the mold of Aaron Donald or Geno Atkins. He’ll probably be good, but I’m not holding my breath waiting around for him to be great. As long as he’s not a fucking turd like just about every other defensive tackle we’ve drafted in the last decade, I’ll be happy.

One of the big problems with this draft is how it laid out for the Seahawks. This was a top-heavy draft, with an extremely thin bunch of players in Day 3. If ever there was a draft to select your next punter, kicker, or even long-snapper, this was the one. And, unfortunately for us – when all was said and done – only two of our eight picks were in the first three rounds, where the odds were best we’d actually find useful players. Even though we traded down once – at the top of the fourth round, to get an extra sixth, I think – we didn’t have any sort of capital to make the kinds of moves necessary to give us back the second rounder we lost in the Leonard Williams deal. Had we traded out of 16, we likely would’ve missed out on the last remaining true impact players. Would that have been worth a pick in the mid-20’s and mid-50’s? Probably not.

So, instead, we stuck at 16, took the best player available, and had a LOOOOOONG wait until pick 81 in the third round.

Where we took Christian Haynes, a quality guard who figures to start right away, and might even convert to center, to give us more beef at that spot than we’ve had since Max Unger. I don’t know how good a lineman is from UConn, but draftniks seem to like him, so that’s good enough for me.

I hear the inside linebacker we got from UTEP in the fourth round, Tyrice Knight, is more of a project than a guy we can plug and play. I’m assuming we missed out on the linebacker we actually wanted, and settled for this guy because that was a particular need (one of the few instances where we probably went away from our BPA strategy). I don’t expect Knight to be much of anything.

I also don’t expect much out of our other fourth rounder, A.J. Barner, tight end out of Michigan, but for very different reasons. I actually like the pick, because it sounds like he’s one of the better blocking tight ends in this class, and that was certainly a position of need. If we can get tougher at that position, I’m all for it, because it’s almost like drafting another lineman. He’s probably NOT the stone-hands catcher we’re all imagining, but he’s also not going to drastically improve this offense with his receiving. But, if he opens up holes in the running game, and gives our quarterback a little extra time to make a throw, he’s exactly the kind of tight end I want on my roster.

With our last four picks, we took two cornerbacks from Auburn, and two more offensive line projects. It certainly seems strange to invest so heavily in cornerback depth, when there’s no realistic way we can keep all these guys on our roster (Witherspoon, Woolen, Brown, Jackson, the two rookies, Artie Burns, Coby Bryant (unless we’re still turning him into a safety)), but maybe we’re looking to wheel and deal during training camp. Or, maybe some hard cuts are a-comin’. Either way, until further notice, guys like Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James are just camp fodder, and probably practice squad-bound, unless they really stand out as special teamers.

As for the O-Line projects, we got a widebody from Utah named Sataoa Laumea, and some no-name guy from Findlay who goes by Michael Jerrell. Laumea, by all accounts, is the more interesting of the two, as he could conceivably have a shot at contending for a starting spot. Jerrell might as well already be on the practice squad, but I’m not going to hold that against him.

We took three offensive linemen in this draft, that’s not lost on me. I think that’s a huge development for this team. Not that they’ve neglected the O-Line, necessarily. They’re always taking bites at the apple. But, they’ve also failed so miserably for so long, while getting by with middling production from guys on rookie deals. It’s nice to see they haven’t given up. There’s a way to build this unit up from the draft; other teams do it all the time. You need your foundational guys like Charles Cross to pan out, but you also need your mid-rounders like Lucas and Haynes and Bradford and Laumea to develop in a hurry and take the world by storm. I want to be the team that’s the envy of fans across the league. I want them to look at the Seahawks and think, “How do they keep finding these diamonds in the rough later in the draft?!” It’s nice to do it at cornerback and wide receiver, but when you can do it on the O-Line, you’ve really got something.

Half of this draft went to the line of scrimmage; when you throw in a primarily blocking tight end, and an inside linebacker who’s going to have to attack that LOS on the regular, that’s 3/4 of your draft going to the most important non-quarterback spots on the team. If we’re ever going to turn this thing around, it’s either going to be by finding another transcendent quarterback, or by killing it everywhere else. Since we’re bound and determined to ignore QB in the draft every fucking year, then we’ve gotta start putting in work on Plan B. Devoting the bulk of your draft to the LOS, while signing Leonard Williams to a long-term extension, and bringing back George Fant to be offensive tackle depth, is a great start to that process.

Now, let’s check back in three years and see if this class – and any of the others that came before it – are worth a damn.

Seahawks Position Breakdown 2021: Defensive Line

Well, I waited as long as I could possibly wait before getting to the defensive line. I even rearranged my whole posting schedule for the last month to give the team time to make any more moves they were going to make to the D-Line before the regular season started (this post was supposed to happen almost two weeks ago!). I guess we’re keeping Geno Atkins on ice until we get past the first game?

I mean, it makes sense. The defensive line has largely been set since earlier this offseason, when we waived Jarran Reed and re-signed Carlos Dunlap. It’s actually one of the great strengths of this team, at least on paper! Meanwhile, the Seahawks continue to tinker with the cornerback spot until – who is Bless Austin, you ask? I have no idea – we’re all left wondering what the hell is going on. Oh well, better luck for my posting schedule next year!

I’m a big fan of what the Seahawks have going at defensive line. I was really happy with the group in the second half of last year, and that starts with Carlos Dunlap. Oh sure, he’s going into his 12th season, but he’s just a solid, steady dude who gets regular pressure on the quarterback and is able to convert enough of that pressure into sacks.

Dunlap leads a pretty impressive DE group that gets production all the way down to the last man. Benson Mayowa returns; he has 13 sacks over the last two years. As a part-time pass-rush specialist, he’s nails.

Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor are sort of hybrid DEs and SAM linebackers who we’re all excited about. I’m loathe to expect too much of a jump from year one to year two (especially with someone like Taylor, who didn’t even play last year), but we saw Robinson’s baseline last year and 4.0 sacks as a rookie is nothing to sneeze at. If he runs it back, fine. If he does slightly better, great!

The newcomer is Kerry Hyder, who has racked up two seasons of 8+ sacks in his 5-year career. I don’t know his full story, but by all accounts he’s a hard worker and is someone who will fit into our scheme really well.

Then, there are the low men on the totem pole, Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier. Granted, both have been varying degrees of disappointing, but even they bring SOMETHING to the table. I know we all expected more out of Green, who left college early; we kept hearing about how he needed to grow into his body or whatever. Well, it’s been three years and he has a total of 7.0 sacks to show for it. Heading into the last year of his rookie deal, it’s really a make-or-break season for him. He did play pretty exceptionally during the pre-season; I honestly don’t remember him ever showing out like that before. So, maybe things are starting to click; or maybe he’s finally grown into that body. I guess we’ll see.

It was interesting to hear how many people on Twitter were speculating about the Seahawks possibly trading away or cutting L.J. Collier during and after the final roster cut-downs. I mean, I can see why they said those things; he didn’t have a particularly great pre-season. You never hear stories about him in practice or training camp. His rookie year was largely a bust and his 2020 season was improved, but no one’s writing home to mom about 3.0 sacks. I don’t have a lot of positive things to say, other than he’s another guy to throw onto the pile. He did show flashes of making an impact at times last year, and ideally I think that’s all you need. Collier isn’t a starter for this team. He’s in the rotation. He can slide inside to play defensive tackle (as well as Green and Hyder, for that matter), and ultimately I think the team likes him. I also think his value is so low that you’d essentially be throwing him away for nothing. He was a first round pick and he’s probably currently worth a 6th round pick in return. For an able body you can plug and play, that’s not a trade I’m looking to make, especially when there’s at least SOME upside, if you squint your eyes and focus real hard.

My favorite guys on the team are always the defensive tackles, and I think the Seahawks have some good ones!

Poona Ford is our anchor here, with Jarran Reed being waived and signing with the Chiefs. That’s a scary proposition for some Seahawks fans, considering Reed has a semi-proven track record of making an impact in the pass-rush game from the interior; Poona has 2.5 career sacks across three season. But, the Seahawks gave him a raise this offseason for a reason: I think they see great things ahead for this erstwhile undrafted free agent. I do too! He’s got remarkable quickness that I think will translate to running into some more sacks and tackles for loss now that he’s the main guy in the middle.

Al Woods is just a huge plug in the middle of that line. He’s another aging veteran, going into his 11th season, but it doesn’t look like he’s lost anything. As long as he’s healthy, he should provide the run-stuffing we need, at a great value, I might add.

Finally, Bryan Mone rounds out the trio. He’s another undrafted free agent who is providing a lot of value and depth in the middle. He’s heading into his third year and is just an all-around pro already.

So, I can see why Geno Atkins is a target for this team, I just don’t know who you cut to pick him up. All of these guys will contribute, and at Geno’s age it’s fair to wonder what he has left in the tank.

As I’ve noted before, there’s a lot of excitement from the fanbase surrounding the pass rush on this team. This does appear to be as deep as we were in 2013. But, I think you have to take that with the caveat that there isn’t quite the top-tier talent in this group that there was in our Super Bowl-winning year. No one is holding a candle to Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril in their heydays.

I guess I’m happy with this unit, but I’m also a little anxious too. There’s a lot riding on these guys, especially with how poor the cornerback group looks. When you look at the defense as a whole, we’re counting on a lot of production from a lot of unproven guys. So, at least in the early going, it would be nice to see a big impact from the likes of Dunlap, Mayowa, Hyder, and the other studs on this defense.

I’m giving the defensive line a solid B+, with an opportunity to get into the A range if they manage to generate sacks into the 40’s this year. I’m less worried about the run defense, but obviously that needs to be a point of focus, because if teams are in a lot of 3rd & Shorts, they’re definitely going to convert a high percentage of them thanks to this weak secondary.

Trouble Brewing In Cincinnati This Weekend

I’ve got some serious doubts about the Seahawks’ chances against the Bengals on Sunday.  I’m less concerned with it being a “short week”, or a 10am start, and more concerned with this game being on the road, and against a really good team.

The Seahawks’ road schedule this year is NOT doing us any favors.  Outside of the division, we go to Green Bay, Cincy, Dallas, Minnesota, and Baltimore.  And, the only reason why the Dallas game looks easy now is because Romo won’t be playing; otherwise, that’d be yet another shitbird to throw on the pile!  Still, if we’re not careful, knowing that we already lost to the Rams and Packers, I could easily see us going 3-5 on the road this year; MAYBE 2-6 if we blow one of those in-between games against the Cowboys or Vikings.  So, while I know the Bengals are in the AFC, and AFC losses don’t count like the other losses, I’d still say this one is pretty important for getting us to our goal of a first round playoff bye.

So, what do we have to look forward to?  Well, Andy Dalton is playing the best football of his life through these first four weeks.  123.0 passer rating, 9 touchdowns against 1 interception (plus a rushing touchdown for good measure), only 2 sacks all damn year!  I’d say he’s living a charmed life, which is pretty fortunate for him, considering many were predicting this would be the year he’d be supplanted as the Bengals’ starter.  On top of that, all of his receivers are healthy, and all of his non-running back receivers are averaging at least 13 yards per reception.  And, speaking of running backs, they’ve got two really good ones.  When you factor in how good their offensive line is, they might have (quarterback aside) the greatest collection of offensive talent in the entire NFL.

Which is fine, when you consider the Seahawks might have the greatest collection of defensive talent in the entire NFL (or, at least the NFC), but our guys won’t be able to shut down their guys on every single drive like we’ve done for the past two weeks.  Which means, our offense is going to have to try to do something against their defense.

The Bengals aren’t super impressive on defense – they’re 19th in yards per game – but they’re 9th in points per game, giving up only 19.3.  Converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns as opposed to field goals will be the most important factor in determining this game’s outcome.  And, of course, a big part of whether the Seahawks will be successful or not depends on how much time Russell Wilson will have to throw.  Considering the Bengals are 6th in the league in sacks with 11 over four games, I’d say we’re in a wee bit o’ trouble.  Carlos Dunlap, a defensive end, leads the team with 3.5 sacks.  Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive tackles in the league, isn’t far behind with 3.0 sacks.  These are the two guys who are going to cause the bulk of the damage, and as such, will probably make our lives a living hell (remember how Aaron Donald and the other Rams D-linemen destroyed us in week 1).

I’m not giving the Seahawks much hope in this one.  We’re going to need the O-line to take a mammoth step forward, and I just don’t think they have it in them right now.  This game just smacks of being like a lot of our recent AFC road games.  We’ll keep it close, sure.  But, in the end, we won’t have the horses and we’ll fall to 2-3.