I’m on record as having the world’s biggest hard-on for the draft haul the Seahawks just brought in. There are – what appears to be – fantastic players and inspiring stories up and down that list of players. Rashaad Penny looks like he could potentially come in and start right away at running back – a position of tremendous need for this team. Will Dissly looks like he can come in and contribute right away as a blocking tight end – another position of tremendous need for this team. Michael Dickson looks like he can come in and not only be our starting punter, but be a remarkable improvement at that spot. Tre Flowers looks like a guy who could develop into a viable starting cornerback opposite Shaquill Griffin as early as maybe midseason in his rookie year. Shaquem Griffin looks like he can make an immediate impact on special teams, with an outside chance of contributing in various sub packages on defense as a linebacker/safety/pass rushing hybrid. Guys like Rasheem Green and Jamarco Jones look like they have tremendous upside and while they’ll likely need a year to develop, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that they do develop into eventual starters as a defensive lineman and a left tackle respectively. And that’s not even getting into the countless undrafted guys I don’t know about; you figure one or two of them have a chance of turning into something really useful.
It’s really a lot of fun to think about. Obviously, not all of them are going to pan out, but that’s not the point. Right now, the sky is the limit for each and every one of them! And, what’s more, we’ll get to enjoy a year where more young guys are going to get an opportunity on this team than they have since 2011 and 2012! We might not be a championship-calibre team today, or at all this year, but if things go right, it’s not crazy to say that we’re close to being right back to the team we were from 2012-2014.
So, why am I so down on 2018? Why am I sitting here talking about 8-8 this and 8-8 that? Well, let’s break it down. Am I wildly off base? Have they done enough to fill the holes they needed to fill? The holes that rendered this team a 9-7 embarrassment in 2017?
I’d start by saying on offense, they’re about the same as they were last year. Let’s start with the skill positions.
Quarterback – Obviously, Russell Wilson is here. He’s a Top 5-calibre quarterback in this league, and as a result your team is never really out of any game. As long as he’s healthy, this team will never truly bottom out. 8-8 or 7-9 feels like the floor, like many of those middling New Orleans Saints teams back when their defense was a disaster, their running game was so-so, and it all fell on Drew Brees’ shoulders.
Wide Receiver – Your top two guys are back: Doug Baldwin & Tyler Lockett. Doug is Doug, he’s amazing. Tyler is not coming off of an injury (which is good) and he’s playing for a new contract after the season’s over (which is even better). If there was ever a chance to see Lockett at his best, this is the time. Paul Richardson is gone, replaced by Jaron Brown. You figure the speed is there, but this still feels like a downgrade to me. Can Brown win those 1-on-1 battles that Wilson so often puts his receivers in? Those jump balls that P-Rich or Golden Tate used to come up with, as if out of a science fiction movie? Wilson has never been the type of quarterback to launch balls deep down field and take advantage of his receivers’ over-the-top speed, and I don’t see why that should change now. Beyond the top 3 guys, it’s a real smorgasbord of question marks. Amara Darboh? David Moore? Tanner McEvoy? Marcus Johnson (who we got in the Philly deal for Michael Bennett)? One of the litany of undrafted guys and holdovers we’ll have in camp? I’m not super impressed, but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Tight End – In the WR group, I think you have to include Jimmy Graham, because for all intents and purposes, he WAS a wide receiver. You take a BIG hit, particularly in the red zone, with the loss of Jimmy Graham. Say what you will about the other areas of his game (and believe me, I have and I will continue to do so), but he was a beast in a 1-on-1 situation near the goalline when Russell could just chuck it over there and more often than not come up with a TD (yes, there were more than his fair share of drops, but 10 TDs in 2017 is 10 TDs; I don’t care how long it took for this offense to finally figure out how to use him). Who’s going to make up that deficit? As for our other tight ends, we have Nick Vannett (who has shown you nothing in 2 years), Ed Dickson (pretty much Just A Guy, brought in via free agency; he’s essentially a Luke Willson replacement, as far as offensive production is concerned), Tyrone Swoops (who might not even make the team; still feels like a project to me), and newly drafted Will Dissly (who I believe will eventually turn into a useful offensive weapon, but not as a rookie, and nowhere near the league of a Jimmy Graham, from a pass-catching threat). I expect these guys to be vastly improved blockers over someone like Graham, though, which brings me to my next point.
Running Back – To make up for the loss of Jimmy Graham, it’s going to have to come from the running game. For what it’s worth, I do think this will be improved over 2017, because how much lower can you go than rock bottom? The question, as always, will be who stays healthy. Penny looks like a potential stud. Chris Carson is there to push him every step of the way, but he’s coming off of a pretty devastating injury, and who’s to say he won’t get injured again this year? C.J. Prosise is even more injury prone, and in my opinion far from a lock to make this team. Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic are just guys. Reliable, dependable guys, but just guys. Nothing special. Nothing really explosive about them (McKissic is obviously a faster guy, better in open space – more of a receiving back than a real, physical running back). We need Penny or Carson to pan out here, right away, otherwise we’re in a MUCH worse position offensively than we were in 2017.
Offensive Line – And, last but not least. Or maybe it is least. Tough to say. The obvious outcry from most fans and pundits alike, is how this team has neglected the offensive line this year, the bane of 2015-2017’s existence. I’m on record as not seeing this as huge of a deal as in years past. Maybe it’s fatigue over obsessing about them every year. But, I like Duane Brown. I think starting from Day 1 with him in the fold is nothing but an improvement, over trying to learn the system on the fly in mid-season 2017. I hear Ethan Pocic is bigger and stronger than last year. As a rookie, he got valuable experience. Now that it’s not all new and insane for him, he should be able to settle in and anchor this line at the left guard spot for the foreseeable future. My hopes are high for this kid! Justin Britt is a fine center. I’m sure he’ll continue to be the rock and the leader this line needs. D.J. Fluker looks like a formidable run blocker at right guard, as well as someone with a lot to prove, with a high pedigree. Obviously, Luke Joeckel had a lot to prove, with a high pedigree as well, but I dunno. He’s cheaper, for one. For another, he’s not coming off of an ACL. Hopefully, he won’t miss a huge chunk of games in the middle of the season for a bogus cleanup surgery. I don’t know if this team will ever have an elite pass-protecting O-Line, but if Fluker can open up some running lanes, then fuck it. Germain Ifedi is an obvious source of frustration for most fans, but I’ll say this: a second year at the same position – that continuity – should do wonders for him. And, if not, well this team has plenty of guys to push him for that starting job. I like the depth along the O-Line an awful lot; there has to be SOMEONE on this team who will be an improvement over our right tackle performance of 2017. Maybe that someone is 2018 Ifedi; I’ve heard of crazier things before.
Bottom line on offense is: if the O-Line can’t get the running game going, we’re fucked any way you slice it. If it can’t do that, it sure as shit won’t protect well for Russell Wilson, and if that’s the case, it’s pretty easy to write off this year as an 8-8 of a disaster. However, if Pocic & Ifedi take leaps forward in their development, if the veterans can stay healthy, and if we can get this running game going again, there’s reason for optimism that the offense could be vastly superior to what it’s been in recent post-Marshawn Lynch seasons. A lot of “ifs” there, but that’s what we have to work with.
That all having been said, I’d say the bulk of my concern rests on the defensive side of the ball. Richard Sherman, gone. Michael Bennett, gone. Cliff Avril, gone. Kam Chancellor, likely gone. Sheldon Richardson, gone. Malik McDowell, idiot. Earl Thomas, disgruntled (but playing for a new contract, so you never know). I’ll say this: the defense wasn’t a total and complete disaster last year, but the more we lost our star players, the worse it was. This year, we’re looking at a lot of new blood, and we have to find out if these guys are going to mesh, or if there’s going to be a lot of growing pains.
Defensive Line – Frank Clark and Dion Jordan are your starting ends, for all intents and purposes. You can play them anywhere, but those are essentially your replacements for Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. I like Clark, but I liked him a lot more as a #3 option behind those two proven studs. Will he have another level to his game when he’s the #1 dude? I sure hope so. I also liked what little I saw from Dion Jordan last year, but will he be able to carry that over? Not only what he did then, but a lot more considering the presumed increase in snaps? Beyond those guys, Green is a rookie (and he’s green) who probably won’t play more than on a rotational basis, in obvious passing situations. The other rookie is a late-round project. Marcus Smith was a nice player last year, but is he really a #3 guy? That feels like a STEEP drop-off from Frank Clark last year.
As for the tackles, it looks like the bulk of our talent resides there. I love Jarran Reed and Naz Jones; I particularly think the sky is the limit for Jones. We brought in those two vets from the Vikings who should be fine pros. There’s an undrafted rookie whose name I forget – out of Texas – who looks like a run-stuffing prodigy. Then, there’s Quinton Jefferson, who is playing for a job and might be axed out based on the level of talent here. I think the D-Line will be great when it comes to stuffing the run (which is important, in case anyone forgets the 3rd & 11 against Jacksonville last year, as well as all the yards Todd Gurley got against us). But, I have a lot of doubts about their ability to rush the passer. Hopefully a tighter rotation – fewer snaps all around – will keep guys fresher and more prone for late-game success, but I dunno.
Linebacker – The obvious best position group of the bunch. Bobby Wagner is an All Pro, K.J. Wright is a Pro Bowler. They won’t leave the field – barring injuries – and they’ll be the glue that holds this defense together. The big question is: can they help out in pass rushing? Both of those guys are quality blitzers, but they predominantly play out in the receiving routes. Can Barkevious Mingo or Shaquem Griffin – on the strong side – contribute to moving the quarterback off his spot, hitting him, and otherwise leading to more turnovers? That’ll be huge, but again, I have my doubts for 2018.
Safety – Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald figure to be your starters. Earl is amazing, Bradley is fine. Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill are the rookies from last year, so hopefully we’ll see a big jump from them, as you figure we’re going to need them. There are others on the roster, but I don’t know much about them, and therefore don’t expect much from them. Shaquem Griffin is a wild card here too, as it would be interesting to see him in a run-stuffing/Kam Chancellor type role.
Cornerback – Shaquill Griffin and Byron Maxwell figure to be your starters on the outside, with Justin Coleman as your primary nickel corner. We all liked what Shaquill did for us last year, but I’d still like to see some improvement in his Sophomore campaign. I’d like to see more in the way of turnovers, and more in the way of just eliminating his side as an option for opposing quarterbacks. They’re going to continue to test him this year, so he needs to prove to them that it’s a bad fucking idea. Maxwell, on the other hand, is another year older, and while he knows the system, he’s nobody’s idea of a long-term solution. He’s not a lockdown corner, he never really was. In this system, opposite Richard Sherman in his prime, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in their primes, Byron Maxwell was a decent option as a 4th member of the LOB. But, in this mishmash we’ve got now, I don’t know if a disgruntled Earl Thomas and a Bradley McDougald have what it takes to compensate for Maxwell’s weaknesses. If he’s not punching the ball out of receivers’ hands for fumbles, what good is he? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he loses his job at some point, or even gets cut at the end of the pre-season. I’d like to see some of the younger guys win that job right now, than deal with a guy in Maxwell who isn’t going to get any better.
Bottom line on defense is: there’s very little certainty. Fortunately, Pete Carroll is a defensive-minded head coach, and one of the best going in the game today. So, if anyone can whip these players into stars, it’s him. But, make no mistake, this team can’t win without a really good defense. I’ve been waiting for the offense to take the next step and start carrying this team, but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. And, quite frankly, with Pete Carroll at the helm, he’d never stand for that in the first place. He’s going to live and die by his defense, his running game, and his desire to dominate time of possession. Period. You can say all you want about Russell Wilson being elite and all the rest, but Pete Carroll is never going to allow this team to be a 1-man show. Ergo, if this team – in 2018 – is going to make the playoffs or win the division, we’re going to need to see a lot of production from a lot of defensive players we’re not very familiar with just yet. Yeah, Clark and Jordan and Wagner and Wright and Griffin and Earl are going to have to play to the utmost of their abilities, but all those other guys I talked about – and a lot of other guys I didn’t mention – are going to have to step up and make big impacts seemingly out of nowhere. How much faith do I have in that happening? I dunno. Seems to me, if it does happen, it’ll happen gradually. I think best (realistic) case scenario is that this team is MUCH better in the second half than it is in the first half. I think there’ll be a lot of early-season kinks to work out, and I don’t know if this team is talented enough – from top to bottom – to overcome a big early-season deficit in wins & losses.
Special Teams – One area I think this team has drastically improved is on the special teams. I think there’s nowhere to go but up in the field goal kicking game, and if Janikowski can prove himself, he’ll be a welcome edition. Otherwise, I have no problem with the younger Jason Myers; I’m adopting an Anyone But Blair Walsh mentality, and stocks are SOARING! In the punting game, we have the opportunity to not only get younger, cheaper, and better, but possibly REMARKABLY better. If this guy is the best punting prospect to come out of college in years, we could be talking about a Top 5 punter in this league. Which, yeah, not enough to get my panties into a total wad, but little by little a guy like that can make a dramatic difference over the course of a season. And, in our coverage units, while I don’t think they were terrible last year, I see the influx of speedy, athletic guys as only a plus in this area. Someone like Neiko Thorpe – who has been a necessity in recent years – might be a luxury here, who could either help put this team’s coverage unit over the top, or be a cap casualty because we have so many other guys just as good as him! I hope he gets better as a cornerback on defense, because he might need it to keep a job.
To all those people who said we were just a couple shitty kicks away from being 11-5 last year, I’d like to point to all those defensive breakdowns and the complete and utter lack of a running game as to the REAL reasons why that team underachieved. If we’re going to get back to being that 11-5 type of team, it’s going to require vast improvements in those areas to succeed. That having been said, it couldn’t hurt to have a kicker who can actually make the kicks he’s supposed to make, could it?