The Seahawks struck gold in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft, now over a decade ago, selecting Russell Wilson, who made an impact right away as a rookie and would go on to become a franchise quarterback for the Seahawks, winning the Super Bowl in his second season in the league in 2013 and keeping the Seahawks consistently in contention in almost every season. It’s hard enough finding a franchise quarterback in the draft, but finding one outside of the first two rounds is even tougher, as the last 20 NFL draft classes have produced just five quarterbacks who were not first or second round picks who went on to make multiple Pro Bowls (Wilson, Tony Romo, Kirk Cousins, Matt Schaub, Dak Prescott), with Wilson being the only one of those five to win the Super Bowl as the starting quarterback.
While the Seahawks did remain in contention most seasons after their Super Bowl victory, they never made it back to the Super Bowl after Wilson’s third season in the league, where they came a goal line interception away from winning back-to-back. Wilson continued to play well, completing 65.0% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 292 touchdowns, and 87 interceptions, with 5.54 YPC and 23 touchdowns on 846 carries across the 10 seasons, while finishing in the top-10 among quarterbacks on PFF in 7 times, but, when the Seahawks won their Super Bowl, Wilson was on a cheap rookie contract, which made it easier to keep talented players around him, which was no longer the case as Wilson became higher paid as he got later into his career.
Along with Wilson’s contract increasing significantly, the Seahawks also failed to find cheap replacements for expensive veterans in the draft, resulting in the Seahawks consistently being good, but not good enough, losing in the first or second round in each of their last five post-season appearances, despite consistently high level play from Wilson. This off-season, rather than running it back another season, the Seahawks decided to go through a full rebuild, tear everything down and start over, with the intention of competing 2-3 years down the line, when they will have a cleaner cap situation and will hopefully have accumulated more talent in the draft.
As part of that rebuild, the Seahawks somewhat surprisingly traded Russell Wilson, sending him to the Broncos for a package of picks centered around a pair of first and second round picks, as well as three players, Shelby Harris and Noah Fant, who were starters in Denver in 2021, and Drew Lock, a young quarterback who the Seahawks view as a potential replacement for Wilson, even though he was a backup for the Broncos last season.
On some level, the decision makes some sense, as Wilson was heading into his age 34 season and would likely be on the decline by the time the Seahawks could realistically build a Super Bowl caliber roster around him, while being the 8th highest paid quarterback in average annual salary, on a 4-year, 140 million dollar extension. The Seahawks traded Wilson likely at the highest his value would ever be again and they did it after a disappointing season in which Wilson missed time with injury and in which the Seahawks finished below .500 (7-10), the first time either of those had occurred throughout Wilson’s tenure with the team.
On the other hand, Wilson’s injury was a fluke thing for a player who is otherwise incredibly durable, otherwise never missing any time in his career, and he somewhat miraculously was able to return from a 6-8 week hand injury after only three games missed. Wilson struggled in his first three games after returning, but, aside from those three games, he completed 67.7% of his passes for an average of 8.24 YPA, 23 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions last season, while earning PFF’s 10th highest grade among quarterbacks over those games.
I often mention that it’s really tough to win with a quarterback with a high cap number unless he is a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, as all quarterbacks have been that have won the Super Bowl while accounting for more than 11% of the salary cap, but Wilson played at that Hall of Fame level throughout his tenure as the Seahawks starter, so I don’t think he was overpaid, especially since he’s only owed 51 million remaining on contract over the next two seasons, with much of the money paid out upfront.
The Seahawks were also better than their record in 2021, even with Wilson missing three games and being limited in three others, finishing with a +29 point differential and ranking 16th in overall efficiency. Their 7-10 record was underwhelming, but they went 2-5 in games decided by one score and 1-5 in games where Wilson was out or not at his best, so it wasn’t hard to see how the Seahawks could bounce back and make their 9th playoff appearance in 11 seasons in 2022 if they had opted to bring back Wilson and most of their core. A rebuild was probably needed, but quarterbacks like Wilson don’t grow on trees and it could take them several years to find one close to as good as Wilson, while Wilson could easily remain at least an above average starting quarterback over that same time period.
The Seahawks passed on several opportunities to add another quarterback this off-season, not adding a quarterback at all in the draft and most recently passing on the opportunity to add Baker Mayfield for the price of a future mid round pick and a backup quarterback’s salary, so, while it’s possible they could still add a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo if he becomes available at the right price, they seem at least somewhat committed to Drew Lock at least for 2022, after specifically requesting the 2019 2nd round pick from the Broncos in the Wilson trade.
Lock has made just 21 starts in three seasons in the league and has mostly struggled, completing 59.3% of his passes for an average of 6.68 YPA, 25 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, finishing 35th among 42 eligible quarterbacks on PFF in his lone season as a full-time starter (13 starts) in 2020 and struggling in three starts in 2021, when he was the clear backup to Teddy Bridgewater and completed just 60.4% of his passes for an average of 7.09 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in 3 starts as an injury replacement down the stretch. However, Lock is still young, in his age 26 season, and the Seahawks clearly thought highly of him when he was coming out of the draft three years ago, enough to believe they can develop him into a starting quarterback.
Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, but Lock has shown some promise and talent thus far in his career, and he will at least get a chance in 2022. The Seahawks retained Geno Smith, their backup for the past three seasons, this off-season and are nominally calling this a quarterback competition, but they clearly believe in Lock somewhat and, while Smith knows the playbook and is a solid backup, he has just a 75.7 QB rating in 34 career starts, with just 5 starts in the past 7 seasons combined, so starting him would do nothing to clarify the Seahawks’ long-term quarterback situation, with Smith in his age 32 season.
It’s possible Smith would be the better short-term option, but Lock at least has some upside and, if he struggles, he would probably give them a better draft pick than starting Smith would have, which would put the Seahawks in position to take one of the top quarterbacks available in a much better quarterback draft class in the 2023 NFL Draft, armed with extra draft picks from the Wilson trade to move up if needed. If Lock does take a big step forward and develop into a solid starting quarterback, the Seahawks would have to pay probably somewhat significantly to keep him as a free agent next off-season, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad problem to have as long as they don’t overpay him. This is one of the worst quarterback rooms in the league, but there is at least a possibility Lock takes a step forward in his 4th season in the league.
With this team going through a rebuild, Lock doesn’t have much support around him even if he does take a step forward and develops into at least a capable starter, as the Seahawks have the 4th lowest average annual salary of any team in the league, which correlates heavily with winning percentage, and that shows up when you look at this roster. However, one thing that Lock does have going for him is a talented wide receiver duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who have been one of the better wide receiver duos in the league since Metcalf was drafted in the 2nd round in 2019.
Lockett broke out back in 2018, averaging a 78/1063/9 slash line with a 1.97 yards per route run average over the past four seasons and finishing 23rd, 21st, 32nd, and 14th among wide receivers on PFF overall grade. Metcalf, meanwhile, had a solid rookie season, with a 58/900/7 slash line and a 1.69 yards per route run average, and then has taken it to another level over the past two seasons, with a combined 2.01 yards per route run average and slash lines of 83/1303/10 and 75/967/12 respectively, while finishing 18th and 15th among wide receivers on PFF in overall grade.
There was some speculation that Metcalf would be gone as part of the rebuild this off-season, ahead of the final year of his rookie deal, with other high level wide receivers getting big extensions and/or being traded for several high picks this off-season, but the Seahawks appear unwilling to move him, even turning down a package from the Jets that included the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft. Metcalf has yet to sign an extension, but he’s still only in his age 25 season and is the kind of piece you rebuild around, rather than trading away, so I would expect them to eventually work something out, even if it comes next off-season and after a franchise tag. Metcalf will be hurt statistically by a downgraded quarterback situation, but could take another step forward in his own right, just barely entering his prime.
Tyler Lockett, on the other hand, could have made sense to trade, now heading into his age 30 season, owed another 46.5 million over the next 4 seasons, and likely to return at least a decent draft pick in a trade, after yet another 1,000 yard year in 2022. Instead, the Seahawks brought him back as an aging, highly paid #2 wide receiver, with Metcalf emerging as a true #1 opposite him. Lockett has a good chance to remain an above average wide receiver, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started to decline and he is likely to be hurt more by Wilson’s departure than Metcalf, who is a good fit as a deep threat with the gunslinging Drew Lock, even if Lock ends up throwing more than a few interceptions on those passes.
None of the Seahawks other wide receivers did much last season though, with Metcalf and Lockett being their only wide receivers to even average 1 yard per route run. Freddie Swain played 592 snaps as the #3 receiver, but averaged just 0.94 yards per route run and had just a 25/343/4 slash line, finishing dead last among 110 eligible wide receivers on PFF in the first significant action of the 2020 6th round pick’s career.
The Seahawks drafted Dwayne Eskridge in the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL Draft to be the #3 receiver, but he struggled so much on the field and behind the scenes that he couldn’t even get on the field ahead of Swain, playing just 187 snaps, averaging 0.59 yards per route run, and finishing with just a 10/64/1 slash line. Eskridge still has the potential to develop into a starting caliber player long-term and, even if that doesn’t happen this season, it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade on Swain, but, even if he is an upgrade on Swain, he’s unlikely to be that productive in this offense, well behind Metcalf and Lockett in the pecking order, with Drew Lock as his quarterback. Swain would also likely struggle if he had to be the #3 receiver again.
The Seahawks did acquire Noah Fant in the Wilson trade and he is likely to be their #3 option and could be an upgrade as the primary receiving tight end, a role in which free agent departure Gerald Everett was decent last season, averaging 1.34 yards per route run. Fant has averaged 1.56 yards per route run in three seasons in the league since the Broncos selected him in the first round in 2019 and he’s still only in his age 25 season, so he should be a significant upgrade for the Seahawks as a receiver, which will be a boost for this offense, even if he’s not as good as a blocker.
However, Everett only played 649 snaps and had just a 48/478/4 slash line last season, despite a decent yards per route run average, because the Seahawks also using backup tight end Will Dissly somewhat significantly, playing him 512 snaps last season, and, given that the Seahawks re-signed Dissly for 24 million over 3 years this off-season, Dissly is likely to continue playing a significant role, even with Fant in town, which would limit Fant’s statistical upside.
Dissly looks like an overpay on that contract. He has a career 1.53 yards per route run average, but has averaged just 1.15 and 1.18 yards per route run respectively over the past two seasons, while being an underwhelming blocker, after suffering significant leg injuries in each of his first two seasons in the league, limiting him to 10 games combined over those two seasons. Dissly was a 4th round pick and showed a lot of promise early in his career, but his injuries could have permanently sapped his athleticism and, now going into his 5th season in the league, he’s running out of time to make good on his potential.
With Fant ahead of him on the depth chart, two great wide receivers, and an underwhelming quarterback, Dissly is unlikely to come close to being productive enough to justify his contract, just like he hasn’t been thus far in his career, although it’s possible we see the Seahawks run more two-tight end sets this season to compensate for their lack of wide receiver depth. This is a talented receiving corps because Metcalf, Lockett, and Fant are a good top-3, but they are a bit of a top heavy group, with questionable depth, especially at wide receiver, which hurts their overall grade.
The Seahawks were almost always a run heavy team with Russell Wilson under center, in part because Wilson took off and ran on his own a significant amount, averaging 84.6 carries per season, but they still had a below average pass/run split last season, even with Wilson running less than he ever had, with just 43 carries. Even with position of strength in the receiving corps, I would expect this team to remain run heavy with the inexperienced Drew Lock under center, especially with Lock also athletic enough to take off and run from time to time as well, with rushing stats that extrapolate to 217 yards and 4 touchdowns on 55 carries (3.96 YPC) per 16 starts in his career.
Running backs obviously will also continue having a big role in this offense, although it’s unclear how the carries will be divided. Chris Carson was their lead back from 2018 through the first four games of last season, averaging 4.58 YPC and scoring 24 touchdowns on 720 carries in 45 games, while finishing 6th, 9th, and 17th among running backs in overall grade on PFF in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively. However, he suffered a potentially career ending neck injury that cost him all but those four games last season and that has him very questionable for 2022 and beyond.
Alex Collins was the first running back to get a chance to replace Carson, but he struggled with 3.81 YPC on 108 carries and is no longer with the team. Rashaad Penny took over as the starter for the final 6 games of the season and was a significant improvement, averaging a ridiculous 6.92 YPC with 6 touchdowns on 102 carries in those 6 games, finishing as PFF’s 11th ranked running back in overall grade on the season, albeit in limited action.
To that point in his career, Penny had been a bust, selected in the first round in the 2018 NFL Draft, but struggling to stay on the field, with just 178 carries in 31 games in three and a half seasons in the league prior to taking over as the starter down the stretch last season. He always flashed potential in limited action though, with a 4.87 YPC average on those 178 carries. He chose the perfect time to play his best football, as it came right before he was set to hit free agency this off-season, with the Seahawks understandably declining his 5th year option prior to last season.
Penny wasn’t cheap to retain in free agency, receiving a 1-year, 5.75 million dollar deal, and, still only in his age 26 season, he has the upside to be worth that kind of money if he can stay healthy, but his injury history is significant and he got a lot of his yardage last season on a few long runs, with is not usually sustainable, with 52.3% of his rushing yards coming on 13 carries of 15+ yards and a 47% carry success rate that ranked just 38th out of 50 eligible running backs.
It’s likely Penny gets hurt and/or regresses significantly in terms of YPC this season, especially with this offense as a whole taking a hit without Wilson, but he does have a good chance to open the season as the starter, barring a miraculous return from Carson. The Seahawks also used a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft on Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker, who provides good insurance with both Penny and Carson having concerning injury histories and who could be involved in this offense even if Penny and Carson both happen to be healthy. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Walker ultimately proved to be their best running back, given that Carson may never play again and that Penny is not proven as a full season lead back.
The Seahawks never threw to their running backs much with Russell Wilson and that’s unlikely to become a significant part of their offense this season, with Penny and Carson averaging 0.80 yards per route run and 1.04 yards per route run respectively in their professional careers and Kenneth Walker having just 19 catches in his collegiate career. DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer actually led this backfield in passing snaps played last season, but, with Walker being added, there may only be room for one of them to have a role this season.
Homer should be the favorite for the job in that case, as the 2019 6th round pick has averaged 5.92 YPC on 64 carries with 1.45 yards per route run in his career, while Dallas, a 4th round pick in 2020, has averaged just 3.67 YPC on 67 carries with 1.28 yards per route run. Homer likely won’t play a huge role though, even if he wins the job, in a backfield that is unsettled, but that has some promising options, even if Carson is ultimately unable to return to action from his neck injury.
Avoiding a historically bad quarterback class entirely, the Seahawks opted to use the first round pick they got from the Broncos on offensive tackle Charles Cross, selected 9th overall. That made a lot of sense, not only because taking a quarterback would be a reach, but because offensive tackle was arguably an even bigger need than quarterback, with last year’s starters Duane Brown and Brandon Shell both not being retained or replaced this off-season.
It’s possible the Seahawks could still reunite with Brown, who remains unsigned as a free agent and who had a solid season as PFF’s 37th ranked offensive tackle last season, a reunion that would move Cross to right tackle but, going into his age 37 season, Brown could easily not be as good again, nor would it be a good fit for either side for Brown to be on a rebuilding team at his age, so it’s unlikely a reunion happens and that Cross will likely begin his career as the immediate starter on the blindside.
The Seahawks also used a 3rd round pick on another offensive tackle Abraham Lucas and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started at right tackle, giving them two rookie tackles, which could easily be a problem. Lucas actually should probably be considered the favorite for the right tackle job if the Seahawks don’t add a veteran tackle at some point, as Lucas’ biggest competition for the job is Jake Curhan, a 2021 undrafted free agent who was the swing tackle as a rookie and made five starts at right tackle in place of an injured Brandon Shell, but predictably struggled, finishing 82nd out of 88 eligible offensive tackles on PFF. He’s no guarantee to be any better in 2022 and he’s a pretty underwhelming option even as a swing tackle.
The Seahawks let go of free agent center Ethan Pocic, who was solid last season, but who missed 6 games with injury and was replaced by Kyle Fuller, who finished 40th out of 41 eligible centers on PFF across 447 snaps. Fuller could actually be the starter in 2022 though, as Austin Blythe, the veteran the Seahawks brought in to replace Pocic, is a downgrade from Pocic and is not a guarantee to beat out Fuller, even if Blythe would likely be the better option. Blythe was a capable starter from 2018-2020 with the Rams (47 starts), but last season he was a reserve who played just 12 snaps with the Chiefs and now he’s heading into his age 30 season and could easily be on the decline.
Guard is the position of strength on this offensive line, at least by default, with starters Damien Lewis (13 starts) and Gabe Jackson (16 starts) being their only two remaining starters on this offensive line from a year ago, having both earned middling grades from PFF in 2021. Lewis was a 3rd round pick in 2020 and was even better in 16 rookie year starts, finishing 16th among guards on PFF, meaning he could easily bounce back and be an above average starter in 2022 and beyond, still only in his age 25 season. Jackson, on the other hand, is on the way down, now going into his age 31 season and his best days are almost definitely behind him, not finishing higher than 40th among guards on PFF in any of the past three seasons, after finishing no worse than 33rd among in every season from 2015-2018, back when he was in his prime.
However, Jackson isn’t totally over the hill yet, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he remained at least a capable starter, even if he’s getting to the point where a significant decline is becoming more likely. The Seahawks also have decent depth at guard, with top reserve Phil Haynes being a 2019 4th round pick who has flashed potential thus far in his career, albeit on just 137 career snaps. He’ll be a primary reserve in 2022, along with the loser of the Lucas/Curhan and the Blythe/Fuller position battles, on an offensive line with a very concerning starting five, which could easily feature a pair of rookies and that seems to lack any high level players.
The Seahawks’ rebuild has also left them without a lot of talent on defense as well, losing numerous key players on defense this off-season, meaning they are likely to be significantly worse in 2022 than they were in 2021, when they already weren’t a particularly good unit, finishing 18th in defensive efficiency. One big loss was Carlos Dunlap, who only played 482 snaps last season and left something to be desired against the run, but also led the team in sacks with 8.5, while adding 6 hits and a 11.3% pressure rate. Going into his age 33 season, he understandably did not fit into their rebuild.
The Seahawks also didn’t bring back fellow veterans Rasheem Green (847 snaps), Benson Mayowa (510 snaps), and Kerry Hyder (508 snaps), who all struggled and could be addition by subtraction, but losing those three along with Dunlap leaves them very thin at the position. Their biggest free agent acquisition at the position was ex-Charger Uchenna Nwosu, who they signed to a 2-year, 19.055 million dollar deal, before using a 2nd round pick on edge defender Boye Mafe, who has a high upside and could make an upside as a rookie, even if he’s likely to have some growing pains in year one.
Nwosu was a 2nd round pick back in 2018 and flashed potential on an average of 328 snaps per season in his first three seasons in the league, before earning a middling grade from PFF on 781 snaps in his first season as a starter in 2021. He should remain at least a solid starting option, with the potential to maybe take a step forward, still only in his age 26 season. Nwosu and Mafe will compete for roles with Darrell Taylor (545 snaps) and Alton Robinson (371 snaps), who are their only returning edge defenders.
Taylor and Robinson have potential, but they have struggled thus far in their careers, with Robinson, a 2020 5th round pick, being middling at best across 707 total snaps thus far in his career, and Taylor, a 2020 2nd round pick, missing his entire rookie season with injury, before finishing 99th among 129 eligible edge defenders on PFF in 2021. Taylor especially could still develop into a solid starter, but that’s far from a guarantee, and Robinson is more likely to be a reserve long-term. This is a young group, lacking a clear top edge rusher without Carlos Dunlap, who will be missed, but there is at least upside here.
The interior defender position is one that actually will be a position of strength for them in 2022 and that is actually likely to be better than a year ago, adding Shelby Harris to the mix from the Russell Wilson trade. Harris finished in the 59th percentile among interior defenders on PFF across 564 snaps in 2021, which was actually his lowest finish in five seasons, ranking 35th, 10th, 19th, and 8th among interior defenders in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively. Also a solid run defender, Harris has totaled 21.5 sacks, 25 hits, and a 8.2% pressure rate in 75 games over those five seasons combined. He’s now going into his age 31 season and could already be on the decline, so his best days might be behind him, but he could easily still be a solid starter.
Harris joins a group that already had a pair of players who played significant roles and finished above average on PFF in 2021, Al Woods and Poona Ford. Al Woods isn’t much of a pass rusher, with a career 4.3% pressure rate and a 5.8% pressure rate a year ago, but he plays the run at a high level, finishing in the top-17 among interior defenders on PFF in three of his past four seasons, on an average of 502 snaps per season, including a 4th ranked finish in run defense grade and a 14th ranked finish in overall grade on 620 snaps in 2021. He’s going into his age 35 season and could easily decline significantly in 2022, but with Harris being added, Woods will likely play a much smaller snap count as purely a base package run stuffer, a role he could easily continue being useful in.
Poona Ford, on the other hand, has developed into a three down player. Undrafted in 2018, Ford flashed a ton of potential as a rookie, playing just 231 snaps, but finishing as PFF’s 8th ranked interior defender, including 5th in run defense grade, to go with a 6.4% pressure rate. He hasn’t graded quite as highly since, but he has seen his snap count increase in every season, from 506 to 670 to 802 in 2021, while finishing 29th, 12th, and 19th among interior defenders on PFF over the past three seasons respectively. The 5-11 310 pounder is still at his best against the run, but he has 4 sacks, 12 hits, and a 7.2% pressure rate as a pass rusher over the past two seasons as well. Still in his age 27 season, I wouldn’t expect anything different from him in 2022 and the Seahawks were smart to bring him back on just a 2-year, 12.345 million dollar deal this off-season.
The Seahawks also brought back a familiar face for depth purposes, signing Quinton Jefferson, a 2016 5th round pick by the Seahawks, who spent his first four seasons in Seattle, prior to spending 2020 in Buffalo and 2021 in Las Vegas. Jefferson leaves something to be desired against the run, but he’s been an effective pass rusher over the past four seasons, finishing average or better on PFF in all four seasons, totaling 14 sacks, 36 hits, and a 9.1% pressure rate in 63 games. He’s played 592 snaps per season over the past four seasons, but will probably play a smaller role as a situational pass rusher in a deep position group in Seattle.
Bryan Mone (395 snaps) and LJ Collier (219 snaps) both saw action at the interior defender position last season and both are still on the roster, but it’s unclear what, if any, role they will have this season. Mone went undrafted in 2019 and has been underwhelming thus far in 712 career snaps, the majority of which came last season. Collier, meanwhile, was actually a first round pick in 2019, but he has not come close to living up to where he was drafted. After playing just 152 snaps as a rookie, Collier was PFF’s 87th ranked edge defender out of 124 eligible across 559 snaps in his second season in the league, before being moved to primarily an interior role in his third season in the league in 2021.
Collier struggled mightily as a pass rusher in 2020, with just a 6.3% pressure rate, and, while he was much better on the interior in 2021, with a 9.6% pressure rate, that came in a very limited role and it came at the expense of his run defense, which was horrible on the interior. Collier has the size of a hybrid player at 6-2 292, but hasn’t been able to establish himself at either position thus far and he’s running out of time, in his age 27 season and his 4th season in the league. His easiest path to playing time might be moving back outside, with the Seahawks having a strong interior defender group.
Another key defender who was let go this off-season as part of the Seahawks rebuild was linebacker Bobby Wagner, the last remaining member of their Super Bowl defense, joining the team in the same draft as Wilson in 2012 and being let go almost immediately after Wilson was traded this off-season, saving the Seahawks 16.6 million in cash and cap space and officially signaling the beginning of the rebuild. Wagner has declined in recent years and was heading into his age 32 season, but he was one of the best players in the league at his position in his prime and he was still PFF’s 16th ranked off ball linebacker in 2021, so he’ll definitely be missed.
Likely anticipating letting go of Wagner at some point as he aged, the Seahawks used a first round pick in 2020 on linebacker Jordyn Brooks, but he hasn’t come close to developing into the same player as Wagner. He flashed potential on 367 snaps as mostly a base package run stuffer as a rookie, but he struggled in coverage and those struggles in coverage continued into his first season as an every down player in 2021. He finished 2nd in the NFL in tackles and earned PFF’s 15th ranked grade among off ball linebackers in run defense, but his coverage struggles led to him finishing just 40th overall among off ball linebackers on PFF, slightly above average, but not nearly the same level Wagner has performed at in his career.
Brooks could be better in his third year in the league, but he likely still won’t be as good as Wagner even if that happens and he was already playing every down on this defense, so he’s not really even a replacement for Wagner, which will be left to another two young linebackers Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven, who are both close to complete unknowns at the NFL level and could easily struggle in the first significant action of their careers. Barton was a 3rd round pick in 2019, but has played just 456 defensive snaps in three seasons in the league, in part because he’s been buried on the depth chart in a relatively talented position group, but he also hasn’t shown much in his limited action to justify a larger role. He’ll have to play one either way this season, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was a liability.
Burr-Kirven, meanwhile, has even less experience on defense, being selected in the 5th round in 2019 and playing just 15 defensive snaps in 2019 and 2020 combined, before missing all of last season with a torn ACL. He’ll probably have to see at least some role in this linebacking corps, with all of the Seahawks other linebacker options being undrafted free agents or special teamers. Even if cutting Wagner made sense as part of their rebuild, his absence will leave a big hole in this linebacking corps, which is now a below average group that lacks experienced players.
In addition to losing their top pass rusher Carlos Dunlap and their top linebacker Bobby Wagner this off-season, the Seahawks also lost top cornerback DJ Reed, who finished as PFF’s 11th ranked cornerback as a 14-game starter in 2021 and then signed a 3-year, 33 million dollar deal with the Jets this off-season. Unlike the aging Dunlap and Wagner, Reed was only heading into his age 26 season, so bringing him back would have made some sense, but if there is one position where the Seahawks are confident in their ability to find and develop players it’s cornerback, so it’s somewhat understandable the Seahawks wouldn’t want to pay a significant price to keep a former 5th round pick who they found on waivers two years ago and coached up into an above average starter.
That being said, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Seahawks will be able to get the same kind of season that Reed had in 2021 out of any of their cornerbacks in 2022, and this is a very unsettled position group in Reed’s absence. Sidney Jones is their top returning cornerback (730 snaps, 11 starts) and figures to remain a starter, after finishing 28th among cornerbacks on PFF last season, but he’s been very injury prone in his career, limiting him to 25 starts in 47 games in 5 seasons in the league.
Jones was a 2nd round pick by the Eagles back in 2017 and has always had talent, so it’s not a surprise that the Seahawks were able to get the best year of his career out of him in his first season with the Seahawks in 2021, but he never finished higher than 37th among cornerbacks on PFF, nor had he ever played more than 321 snaps in a season prior to last season, so there is no guarantee Jones has the same kind of season in 2022 as he did in 2021. He’s still only in his age 26 season and the upside is there for him to be an above average starter if he can stay healthy and continue developing, but those could be big ifs and he’s a shaky option as the Seahawks’ de facto top cornerback.
Ugo Amadi also played a significant role last season (692 snaps), but he finished as PFF’s 132nd ranked cornerback out of 134 eligible so, even with Reed leaving and an unsettled position group, Amadi should not be locked into a role. The good news is Amadi was at least a middling player in the first significant action of his career in 2020 (552 snaps) and, as a 2019 4th round pick who is still only in his age 25 season, he has the upside to bounce back and be a useful contributor in 2022, even if it’s in a part-time role. That’s far from a guarantee though and, considering how badly he played last season, he should have to earn back any playing time he gets.
The Seahawks did add several cornerbacks to the mix this off-season, but Artie Burns and Justin Coleman are just veteran flyers, while rookies Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen were just 4th and 5th round picks. The Seahawks are hoping they can coach up at least one of these players into a steal, which is a possibility, but far from a guarantee. Burns might have the best chance of having a surprise year, as he was a first round pick by the Steelers in 2016 and earned slightly above average grades from PFF in his first two seasons in the league, before his career got derailed.
Burns fell out of favor with the Steelers coaching staff, despite his solid play in his first two seasons in the league, actually being limited to just 375 snaps total in the next two seasons, before the Steelers let him go as a free agent following the 2019 season. Burns then signed in Chicago, but tore his ACL before his first season with the team in 2020 and didn’t get on the field until week 12 of 2021. Burns played well in limited action last season though, earning his way into the starting lineup and ranking 9th among cornerbacks on PFF from week 12 through the rest of the season, across 254 snaps. He definitely comes with a history of inconsistency, but he’s still only in his age 27 season and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was able to continue his solid play from down the stretch last season into 2022 in his new home in Seattle.
Coleman’s addition, on the other hand, is actually a reunion for the Seahawks and they are hoping he can bounce back to the level he played at in his two seasons in Seattle in 2017 and 2018, when he finished 31st and 46th among cornerbacks on PFF as the Seahawks primary slot cornerback, playing snap counts of 654 and 672, before finishing below average in the past three seasons with the Lions and Dolphins since leaving Seattle, across an average of 601 snaps played per season. Coleman definitely has had an inconsistent career, but he’s still only going into his age 29 season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was at least a capable slot cornerback for them in 2022.
The Seahawks also have a pair of recent draft picks that didn’t see significant roles last season, but could earn more playing time in an unsettled group in 2021. Tre Brown was a 4th round pick in 2021 and was decent on 255 snaps as a rookie, suggesting he could deserve a larger role, though he’d obviously be a projection to that larger role. Marquise Blair is less promising, even though he was a 2nd round pick, as he’s now heading into his 4th season in the league and has done next to nothing thus far in his career, playing just 412 snaps in three seasons in the league.
That’s in part due to injuries, limiting him to 22 career games and just 8 in the past two seasons, and, if he can stay healthy, there could be untapped potential for a player who is still only going into his age 25 season, but that’s a big if. He’s also not a candidate to play outside cornerback, as a slot cornerback/safety hybrid. His versatility could actually help him make this final roster, but, even if he does make the roster, he could easily spend another season as a deep reserve who sees limited action. Most likely, Jones, Burns, and Coleman will be the Seahawks top-3 cornerbacks in 2022, with the young players providing depth behind a top-3 that all have significant concerns, but this is a very wide open cornerback group.
Things are much more settled at safety, where the Seahawks opted to keep free agent Quandre Diggs as part of this rebuild, making him the 9th highest paid safety in the league in terms of average annual value on a 3-year, 39 million dollar deal, even though he’s heading into his age 29 season and will likely start to decline in the next couple years, while the Seahawks are going through their rebuild. Diggs also has never finished higher than 18th among safeties on PFF so, while he has been an above average starter for most of the past four seasons (49 starts) and while he’s unlikely to start to decline just yet in 2022, the Seahawks probably overpaid him a little bit.
Diggs will start next to Jamal Adams, another safety the Seahawks have put a lot of resources into, sending the Jets two first round picks, almost as much as they got from Denver for Russell Wilson, just for the rights to acquire Adams, who would then need a 4-year, 70.58 million dollar extension (2nd among safeties in average annual value) to be kept long-term. Adams was the 6th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and had developed into one of the best safeties in the league, finishing 3rd and 4th among safeties on PFF in his final two seasons with the Jets before being sent to Seattle, but, upon being acquired by the Seahawks, Adams did the opposite of what most defensive backs do when they join the Seahawks and regressed significantly, finishing the 2020 season as PFF’s 47th ranked safety.
The Seahawks still believed in his upside long-term and that he would bounce back from his down year, giving him that massive extension even after struggling in 2020, instead of letting Adams play out the final year of his rookie deal in 2021, but Adams did not bounce back, again finishing just 66th among safeties on PFF, even worse than the prior year. Adams is still only in his age 27 season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he bounced back at least somewhat going forward, but, at this point, it’s starting to look like he might not find his early career form again. He at least has upside, but, most likely, Adams and Diggs will again only be a solid, but unspectacular safety duo, one that gets paid like an elite duo. Even with questions at cornerback, this isn’t necessarily a bad secondary, with a solid safety duo and some promising cornerbacks, but there are definitely concerns in this group.
Special teams were a strength for the Seahawks last season, ranking 5th in special teams DVOA, and not much looks different this season, with Jason Myers, Michael Dickson, Freddie Swain, and DeeJay Dallas all likely to return as kicker, punter, kickoff returner, and punt returner respectively. The one concern is that their top core special teamer from a year ago, Cody Barton, is now likely to have to play a bigger role on defense, in the absence of Bobby Wagner and, as a result, is unlikely to play much on special teams. This should still be an above average group, but they probably won’t be quite as good as a year ago.
The Seahawks are obviously going through a complete rebuild, but there are reasons to expect them to be a little better than most are expecting them, giving them tied for the 3rd lowest over/under win total in the NFL at 5.5 wins. For one, they were better than their record last season, even with Russell Wilson missing time and being limited in several other games, so they are starting from a higher base point than most realize.
The Seahawks also have done a pretty good job finding low-cost talent in free agency and have a coaching staff led by Pete Carroll that had coached up underwhelming rosters before. The difference is he doesn’t have Russell Wilson anymore, which is why they aren’t likely to make the post-season, but they could be more competitive than many are expecting. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.
Prediction: TBD, TBD in NFC West