This is the final of a 32-team series.
The Departed: Michael Bennett (Traded to Eagles), Jimmy Graham (Packers), Richard Sherman (49ers), Cliff Avril (Unsigned), Sheldon Richardson (Vikings), Paul Richardson (Redskins), Thomas Rawls (Jets), Luke Willson (Lions), DeShawn Shead (Lions), Matt Tobin (Patriots)
1. (27) San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny
3. (79) USC DE Rasheem Green
4. (120) Washington TE Will Dissly
5. (141) Central Florida LB Shaquem Griffin
5. (146) Oklahoma State DB Tre Flowers
5. (149) Texas P Michael Dickson
5. (168) Ohio State T/G Jamarco Jones
6. (186) Temple DE Jacob Martin
7. (220) Florida International QB Alex McGough
Other New Faces/Retained: Tom Johnson, Dion Jordan, DJ Fluker, Marcus Smith, Dontae Johnson, Byron Maxwell, Ed Dickson, Shamar Stephen, Barkevious Mingo, Jaron Brown, Sebastian Janikowski, Marcus Johnson
Seattle again finished with a winning record, but it was beginning to show that this franchise wasn’t quite at the level we have been accustomed to seeing of late. Too much was asked of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Pete Carroll made a change at both coordinator spots as well as moving on from Tom Cable as Seattle’s offensive line coach. That almost pales in comparison to the bevy of roster moves this team has made with many players responsible for the recent success of this franchise heading out of town. Times are a changin’ in Seattle.
No quarterback faced more pressures than Wilson last year and Seattle has now given up at 40 or more sacks five years in a row. Wilson brings some of this pressure upon himself with an amazing ability to keep plays alive, but he also has put up very impressive numbers while dealing with a heavy pass-rush. There really isn’t another quarterback in the league like Wilson right now and too much has been asked of him over the past few seasons. At this point, he will probably never be a refined structured player, but few have made it work unconventionally as well as this guy. A strong argument can be made that Wilson was Seattle’s entire offense last year.
Whether you like Rashaad Penny as a first round talent or not, the premise of creating some sort of running game here is sound. Not only was Wilson the Seahawks’ leading rusher last season, but no running back racked up more than 223 yards last year. That is rather amazing and of course led to the drafting of Penny in the first round. He was highly productive against a low level of college competition and is highly competent in as a receiver, especially for a bigger back. Penny is a very poor pass blocker though and ran through some cavernous holes at San Diego State. Penny was also just a one-year starter at that program playing behind Donnel Pumphrey, the Eagles fourth round pick last year.
Over the recent years many backs have been given carries and touches in this offense. Of course Seattle hopes they have their long-term answer in Penny, but CJ Prosise, Chris Carson, Mike Davis and JD McKissic remain as well. Each has flashed here and there, but it is Prosise that is the best overall player of the bunch. He just absolutely cannot stay on the field. Carson showed promise before a Week 4 ankle injury, Davis runs hard but isn’t real flashy, while McKissic has intriguing receiving skills. Thomas Rawls played just over 20% of Seattle’s offensive snaps last year, but that was the most of any running back on the team and he is now in New York. For the most part, this is a zone blocking running game, which does fit Penny well.
Many make jokes about the awfulness of the Seattle’s offensive line, but the reality is that it is a below average group, not a dreadful one. Russell Wilson’s style of play and poor running back play hasn’t helped this group overall and Seattle wisely has changed offensive line coaches. Adding Duane Brown last year paid off very well and although he is up in age, he remains a steadying force on Wilson’s blind side. The opposite tackle, German Ifedi, has clearly been very disappointing though and his technique is very poor. This is especially true in protection and with his taking of penalties. Ifedi played every offensive snap last year, which tells you the state of affairs with this unit in a nutshell. Maybe a move to guard would suit the former first round pick better. At center, Justin Britt wasn’t quite the player in 2017 that he was the year before. A year of experience should help Ethan Pocic and his position flexibility could prove to be very valuable. DJ Fluker was added this offseason and could start at guard. He would give Seattle more girth and physicality, but his heavy feet are a problem in protection.
As for receiving options for Wilson, outside of Doug Baldwin, this team is rather lean. Baldwin is a very reliable do-it-all receiver that often operates out of the slot but is effective all over the field. He runs good routes, plays with toughness and has big play ability. Baldwin creates separation snap after snap and at all levels of the field.
Tyler Lockett also has plenty of big play ability, but like Prosise, needs to prove that he can stay on the field. He can play the slot or outside, but shows more dynamic abilities on the perimeter. Amari Darboh is one to watch here and Seattle desperately needs Lockett and/or Darboh to assert himself as a steady option for Wilson. Lockett is far more proven. Darboh only caught eight passes as a rookie and looks to have a long way to go, but Seattle needs a receiver with his size and as of this writing the team was meeting with Brandon Marshall. Jaron Brown struggled to earn playing time in Arizona, but might be a factor at his new home by default.
The tight end position also is in pretty bad shape. Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson and fourth round pick Will Dissly will be competing for snaps. Vannett finally will get an opportunity and goes from third string to quite possibly first on the depth chart, but there is little reason to think he will be a difference maker. Dickson is what he is at this point of his career for the most part but can stretch the field at times while Dissly is mostly a blocker. This is one of the worst tight end groups in the NFL.
Only seven teams had a better turnover differential than Seattle last year. Will that keep up with all the changes on both sides of the ball? This is especially concerning because Seattle faces one of the league’s most difficult schedules in 2018.
Seattle’s defense began to slip last season from their incredibly lofty standards that we have become accustomed to. Still, it was still a slightly above average unit overall and about equally as potent defending the run and pass. But many of the Seahawks that have become staples of this organization are now elsewhere and overall, there is a changing of the guard on this side of the ball in Seattle. The Seahawks just released Cliff Avril and Earl Thomas still has a chance to be traded. When you look at this defense, it is rather startling what is not here anymore.
Ken Norton takes over as defensive coordinator and it is widely assumed that Seattle will go back to their traditional Cover 3 scheme. Kris Richard drifted away from that system more than most probably realize with more blitzing and man coverage implemented last year.
Seattle’s pass-rush has diminished in each of the past three seasons and could be in for a decline once again without Bennett or Avril. Frank Clark is an excellent player that is on the verge of stardom. He is a great pass-rusher. The Seahawks also resurrected Dion Jordan’s career. They hope to do the same with Barkevious Mingo and Marcus Smith, two other failed first round edge players. The Seahawks also used a third round pick on Rasheem Green. So there is some talent here, although most of it is massively undeveloped. To Jordan’s credit though, he really did become a force against the run and rushing the passer finally in 2017. Hopefully that keeps up and rubs off on Mingo, Smith and Green.
On the interior, Seattle’s top choice from a year ago, Malik McDowell, is likely to be released soon and may never play football again after a severe ATV accident. Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones and Tom Johnson will rotate most likely. Johnson is best on passing downs, while Reed and Jones are much better vs. the run. Shamar Stephen was also signed for depth. He and Johnson both played pretty well for the Vikings last year. This isn’t nearly as threatening of a group of defensive big men as what we’ve become accustomed to seeing in Seattle and is in the bottom tier of defensive tackle rotations in the league right now.
Clearly the Seahawks are not what they once were up front. The second level is now the obvious strength of the defense and the “Legion of Boom” is crumbling with only Thomas and Kam Chancellor remaining. Not to mention that Chancellor is scheduled a neck scan between in the coming months to determine if he is capable of still playing. Last year’s third round pick, Delano Hill, and Seattle’s fifth rounder from this year, Tre Flowers, are trying to push Bradley McDougald to be the first safety off the bench. But McDougald proved to be a very capable coverage player last year with some versatility to his game.
At cornerback, Shaquil Griffin’s rookie season was highly encouraging. He fits the mold of a Seahawks’ cornerback very well and looks like a foundation player for Seattle to build around for years. But now Griffin will be Seattle’s number one corner, a tougher role even though they rarely swap sides. Right now, the Seahawks will have Byron Maxwell as the starter opposite Griffin and Justin Coleman in the slot. Both played quite well last year, but Maxwell is 30-years-old and has had a very up and down career. He is physical and strong, but not overly fast, which he can get away with if the Seahawks go back to more traditional zone coverage. Seattle traded for Coleman before the season and he might be a real find. The combination of Neiko Thorpe, Mike Tyson and Alex Carter will be fighting for snaps as depth players. It is rather shocking that Seattle didn’t address this position in the draft, but new signee Dontae Johnson did play over 1,000 snaps last year for the 49ers. However, Johnson struggled mightily in doing so.
As mentioned, the linebackers are still exceptional with Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright holding down the fort as usual. If it were not for Luke Kuechly, Wagner might be considered the top second level defender of this generation and he is playing better than ever. Wagner excels in all areas of linebacker play and is one of the NFL’s best vs. the run and pass as well as leading and quarterbacking this defense. Being inducted some day in the Hall of Fame isn’t out of the question for Wagner. As for Wright, he has been the overlooked big time contributor on this defense for years, but there aren’t many strong side linebackers that do it close to as well as Wagner has over the last few decades. He excels up on the line of scrimmage and often does battle with players bigger than himself. Like Wagner, he is both great against the run and pass.
The rest of the second level defenders haven’t played a huge role over the years, but Seattle did draft Shaquem Griffin in the fifth round. Of course Griffin is a tremendous story, but it will be interesting to see how Seattle employs him. He was best screaming off the edge rushing the passer with speed, but will that translate to the NFL at his size? Griffin certainly does have potential to develop into an every down space player in time, but unfortunately, will likely never be a superb tackler. Griffin should challenge DJ Alexander for snaps right out of the gate. Alexander saw the field for just 20 defensive snaps in 2017.
While this is Wilson’s team now and Seattle apparently is trying to build a running game around him to lighten Wilson’s load, the rest of this team is in upheaval. All good things must end. Seattle is no longer a contending team. In fact, expect them to draft very early next year.