Seattle Seahawks 2014 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Seahawks won the Super Bowl last season. Even though no team has repeated since the 2003-2004 Patriots and no team has even won a playoff game the year after winning the Super Bowl since those Patriots, the Seahawks are a popular pick to repeat. That makes some sense. They were legitimately one of the best teams in the league last season (unlike recent champions like the Giants and Ravens) and their young core is still intact after the off-season. I disagree that they’ll repeat though.

While I wouldn’t be surprised if they won this year and while I do expect them to win another Super Bowl at some point while their core is still together and while I do expect them to win at least one playoff game and snap that streak, there are three reasons why I wouldn’t pick them to win the Super Bowl. One is purely that Super Bowl champions rarely repeat. It’s very tough to do. This is a young team. A lot of them got paid this off-season. They could easily just not be as hungry as they were last season and they won’t catch anyone off guard as the whole league has spent the off-season figuring out how to beat them.

Two, while they didn’t lose any of their core this off-season, they still had losses and they are more top heavy than they were last season. Clinton McDonald, Breno Giacomini, Michael Bowie, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Sidney Rice, Brandon Browner are all gone this off-season and they didn’t really replace any of them. None of those were their core guys, but their depth is a lot more suspect this season. They might look like the best team in the NFL right now, but injuries always strike.

Three, they aren’t going to be able to dominate the turnover battle like they did last season, when they had a league best +20 turnover margin. They should still have a positive turnover margin because of how talented they are and because they weren’t overly reliant on recovering fumbles to do that (51.67%, 14th in the NFL), but turnover margins tend to be very hard to rely on and very inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis so +20 isn’t what I would predict for them (or any team) this season.

Teams with a turnover margin of +4 in a week on average have the same turnover margin the next week as a team that had a turnover margin of -4 the previous week, a turnover margin of about +0.0. Meanwhile, teams that have a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season see their turnover margins drop by an average of about 15.8 the following season, resulting in 2.32 fewer wins. Teams with a turnover margin of -15 or worse in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +2.04. Meanwhile, teams with a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +3.42, a difference of about 1.38.

In terms of pure rate of moving the chains differential, the Seahawks were “only” 5th in the NFL at 6.12% (behind Denver, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Carolina). Their defense was 3rd in the NFL, allowing opponents to move the chains at a mere 66.23% rate, but their offense wasn’t spectacular, moving the chains at a 72.35% rate, 13th in the NFL. If they’re unable to dominate turnovers like they did last season, they’re not the best team in the league, especially when you add in their off-season losses and the psychological effects of winning the Super Bowl.

One of the biggest parts of that young core is quarterback Russell Wilson. The 2012 3rd round pick has proven to be one of the greatest draft steals in NFL history. Obviously he got a lot of help from his supporting cast en route to winning the Super Bowl in his 2nd season in the league, but he did a lot of it on his own, completing 63.6% of his passes for an average of 8.09 YPA, 50 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions in 2 seasons in the league (100.6 QB rating). He’s also added 1028 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing on 190 carries (5.41 YPC) in 2 seasons.

He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked quarterback in 2012 and 4th ranked quarterback in 2013. He’s slightly worse than that in terms of pure passing grade as a lot of his high grade comes from his running ability, but, even as a pure passer, he’s graded out 8th overall in both seasons. In pure running grade, he’s graded out 2nd overall in both seasons. Only going into his age 26 season, his 3rd year in the league, he might not have even peaked yet and he’s put himself among the NFL’s top quarterbacks.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

Wilson hasn’t just gotten help from his defense. He’s also gotten it from his running game, which has allowed him to only attempt 800 passes in 2 seasons in the league. Defenses focusing on the running game sets up easier passes downfield and allows Wilson to throw downfield more easily. Some of it is Wilson himself, as he’s averaged an impressive 5.41 yards per carry on 190 carries in 2 years in the league, but a lot of it is Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch, a former first round pick run out of Buffalo, has completely turned around his career over the past 3 seasons in Seattle, rushing for 4051 yards and 35 touchdowns on 901 carries (4.50 yards per carry) and adding 87 catches for 724 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. He’s been even better than that as he’s done that despite poor blocking up front. He doesn’t do much as a pass catcher, but he’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th, 4th, and 2nd ranked running back in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively in terms of pure rushing grade. Last season, he broke 75 tackles, 18 more than any running back in the NFL (Adrian Peterson). That propelled him to the 4th best elusive rating in the NFL as he broke 86 tackles on 337 touches and averaged 2.50 yards per carry after contact.

However, there’s some reason for concern. Lynch is going into his age 28 season with 1753 career carries. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Lynch is 52nd all-time with 7389 rushing yards.

He’s not at the level where the Seahawks should be worried that his abilities completely fall off a cliff, but age is starting to become a factor. He could show some decline this season, especially since he’s had 988 regular season touches over the past 3 regular seasons combined. Last season, he had 403 touches including post-season, most in the NFL. That’s especially concerning considering his violent running style. On top of that, Lynch missed a significant amount of off-season practices with a holdout, which won’t help him. The Seahawks are most likely going to cut him after this season, rather than paying him 7 million dollars non-guaranteed in 2015. There’s a reason they wouldn’t give him an extension this off-season. He could easily be on the decline this season.

The good news is the Seahawks have Christine Michael waiting in the wings behind him. The 2013 2nd round pick didn’t do much as a rookie, with 18 carries for 79 yards and just 26 snaps played, but he’s drawn rave reviews this off-season going into his 2nd year in the league. He’ll siphon some carries off from Lynch as they try to keep the veteran fresh and take over as the lead back in 2015 and beyond. Given the success in running backs drafted outside of the first round over the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he turned into an above average starter long-term.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

Wilson gets a lot of help from his running game, but he doesn’t get a lot of help from their offensive line. I mentioned that their offensive line doesn’t run block well (22nd in team run blocking grade on Pro Football Focus last season), but they were also 20th in team pass blocking grade. Russell Okung and Max Unger are the big investment offensive linemen they have as Okung was the 6th overall pick in 2010 and Unger was re-signed to a 5-year, 25.5 million dollar extension two off-seasons ago. Neither of them really lived up to those investments last season.

Okung was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked offensive tackle in 2012, but he’s graded out below average in each of the other 3 seasons he’s been in the league and he’s missed 19 games in 4 seasons combined with injuries, never once playing all 16 games. Last season, he was limited to 441 snaps in 8 games with a foot injury that he needed to get another surgery on this off-season. That’s not promising as he heads into his contract year. This could easily be his last season with the Seahawks.

Max Unger was better last season, grading out above average as Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked center last season, but he also missed 3 games with injury and overall was not worth his contract. That being said, he’s graded out above average in all 4 seasons he’s been in the league as a starter, at both right guard and center, since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009, and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked center in 2012, excelling as a run blocker. He should have a bounce back season this year.

The rest of the offensive line isn’t very good. Right tackle will be a competition between 2nd round rookie Justin Britt and veteran Eric Winston, who was still available into the end of July as a free agent. There’s a reason for that as he was Pro Football Focus’ 69th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible with the Cardinals last season. He graded out well above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since their origin in 2007 before last season, so there’s some bounce back potential, but he’s going into his age 31 season so those days could just be gone. Whoever starts at this position, I expect below average play.

The Seahawks lost Breno Giacomini, a marginal starter at right tackle, this off-season. They also lost Michael Bowie to a season ending injury this off-season and 2013 7th round pick was one of just two Seahawk offensive linemen to grade out above average last season, doing so on 539 snaps at left tackle, right tackle, and right guard last season. Paul McQuistan is also gone. Even though he was awful at left tackle and left guard, he and the two other aforementioned offensive linemen being gone has completely depleted their depth on the offensive line. After the loser of the right tackle battle and Wade Smith (who was still available as a free agent in August going into his age 33 season, after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 58th ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2013), the Seahawks don’t have a single other offensive lineman I would trust if they had to play significant action.

The Seahawks are also stuck with James Carpenter and JR Sweezy at left and right guard respectively and they don’t really have any competition for them. Carpenter was a first round pick in 2011, but has largely been a bust in 3 years in the league. The Seahawks did not pick up his 5th year option for 2015. Carpenter has made just 26 starts in 3 years in the league, struggled to find a position, and has graded out well above average in all 3 seasons, including 65th out of 76 eligible offensive tackles on 531 snaps in 2011 and 65th out of 81 eligible guards on 781 snaps in 2013. The Seahawks will need him to lock down that left guard spot this season if they’re going to have even average offensive line play, but that seems unlikely.

Sweezy at the right guard position isn’t much better. The collegiate defensive tackle was drafted in the 7th round in 2012 and looked like a late round converted defensive lineman as a rookie, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 72nd ranked guard out of 81 eligible on just 311 snaps in 2012. He was better in 15 starts in 2013, but he still graded out below average, finishing 47th out of 81 eligible guards. It’s hard to trust him as a starting guard going forward into his 3rd year in the league. He’s part of an overall poor starting offensive line that also lacks depth.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

The biggest off-season loss the Seahawks suffered this off-season was Golden Tate. Tate never put up huge numbers in Seattle, but that was largely because it was such a run heavy offense. He averaged 1.80 yards per route run and 2.01 yards per route run in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The Seahawks are hoping they can replace him with the “addition” of Percy Harvin. I put addition in quotation marks because Harvin was technically on the team last season, after the Seahawks acquired him from the Vikings for a 1st and 3rd round pick last off-season, but he only played 20 snaps thanks to injury.

Harvin was dominant in Minnesota, averaging 2.45 yards per route run in his first 4 seasons in the league despite less than stellar quarterback play. He also adds value as a return man (115 kickoff returns for 3241 yards and 5 touchdowns) and a ball carrier (683 yards and 4 touchdowns on 107 carries). He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th, 4th, 9th, and 10th ranked wide receiver in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively.

However, he’s missed 25 games in 5 seasons, including 22 games over the past 2 seasons. If he’s on the field, he should average over 2 yards per route run (while adding value as a runner and a return man), even if he doesn’t get targeted as frequently as he did in Minnesota (targeted on 28.75% of routes run), but his statistical production will be limited by how run heavy the offense is and injuries are still an obvious concern. He’s never had more than 1000 yards or 390 routes run in a season and I don’t expect either of those things to change this season. Given his injury history, he’s not nearly as much of an upgrade over Tate as people think.

The Seahawks need Harvin to stay healthy because their depth at wide receiver is poor, especially with Sidney Rice forced into early retirement by injury. Doug Baldwin will be the other starting receiver, which isn’t bad. Doug Baldwin hasn’t been incredibly productive in his career thus far, as the 2011 undrafted free agent has posted lines of 51/788/4 and 50/778/5 in 2011 and 2013 respectively, with a 29/366/3 line in 2012 in between. However, much of that is because of much of a run heavy team the Seahawks are. He averaged 1.83 yards per route run (on 425 routes run) in 2013, 27th in the NFL, and was Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked wide receiver. In 2011, he was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked wide receiver and, even in 2012, he graded out above average on Pro Football Focus. He just didn’t see as much playing time. He’s averaged 1.91 yards per route run in his career.

However, after him and Harvin, they have don’t have a proven wide receiver. It’s currently a 3-way battle for the #3 wide receiver job. Paul Richardson was a 2nd round pick of the Seahawks, but reports suggest they view him as more of an option for 2015 and beyond. Rookie wide receivers rarely do anything and he could open the season as low as 5th on the depth chart. Jermaine Kearse is probably their best “veteran” option. I put veteran in quotes because the 2012 undrafted rookie has played just 564 snaps in 2 seasons in the league.

However, 486 of them came last season as he played a big role down the stretch with Harvin and Rice both hurt and he graded out above average. He caught 22 passes for 346 yards and 4 touchdowns on 38 targets (57.9%) for 237 routes run, 1.46 yards per route run, grading out slightly below average as a pass catcher, but the 6-1 209 pounder was a strong run blocker. He could be better in his 3rd year in the league, but he’s also an inexperienced former undrafted free agent so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he doesn’t turn into a talented contributor. Ricardo Lockette is also in the mix. He has played 110 snaps in 3 seasons in the league since going undrafted in 2011.

At tight end, the Seahawks have veteran Zach Miller and 2013 5th round pick Luke Willson, who showed well as a rookie. Miller was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked tight end last season, impressing as a pass catcher and especially excelling as a run blocker, grading out 4th in that aspect. He caught 33 passes for 387 yards and 5 touchdowns on 51 attempts (64.7%) and 294 routes run, an average of 1.32 yards per route run. This is nothing new as he’s graded out above average in 5 of 7 seasons in the league since going in the 2nd round in 2007. He’s a perfect fit for this run heavy Seattle offense, but he’s owed 4.8 million non-guaranteed in his age 30 season in 2015, so this could be his last year with the team, especially with Willson behind him on the depth chart ready for a bigger role long-term.

Willson could also see an increase in snaps played this year from the 415 he played as a rookie, at the expense of Zach Miller (742 snaps last season). Willson graded out slightly above average both as a pass catcher and overall last season. He’s not the blocker Miller is, but he caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown on 26 targets (76.9%) and 178 routes run, an average of 1.53 yards per route run. There are no guarantees that he continues to develop into a starter, given that he was only a 5th round pick, but he’s definitely got potential and a significant role for a Seattle offense that prefers to use two-tight ends rather than spreading it out. They’re still overall thin in the receiving corps though.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

The Seahawks obviously still have a fantastic defense, but they did lose depth on the defensive line with Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, and Clinton McDonald all gone as free agents. They did retain Tony McDaniel as a free agent, which is good because he had a strong season last year. He played defensive tackle last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked defensive tackle last season, but he’ll be moving to Red Bryant’s old position at defensive end.

He should be a good fit for that spot. It’s purely a base defensive end position and it’s incredibly valuable in setting the edge against the run for the Seahawks. The run is the 6-7 295 pounder’s specialty, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle against the run last season on 536 snaps last season (266 run snaps, 270 pass snaps). On top of that, he has experience at defensive end, playing 5-technique defensive end for several seasons in Miami’s 3-4, which is essentially what he’ll be doing in Seattle. The issue is he’s graded out above average in just 2 of 7 seasons since 2007 and last year was by far the best season of his career, so he’s still a serious one year wonder. The Seahawks should be happy if he matches Red Bryant’s 2013 season, in which he graded out 17th among 4-3 defensive ends, including 9th against the run, on 488 snaps.

With McDaniel moving to defensive end and Clinton McDonald (27th overall defensive tackle, 16th in pure pass rush grade in 2013) signing in Tampa Bay, the Seahawks have essentially lost two important defensive tackles from last season. To remedy this, the Seahawks brought in Kevin Williams as a free agent. Williams was still available into June as a free agent, but that was partially because of his asking price. Veteran guys like Daryl Smith, Karlos Dansby, John Abraham, and Quintin Mikell all made significant impacts last season after being signed late in the off-season. Williams could absolutely do the same.

He showed decline last season and now is going into his age 34 season, but part of the reason he showed decline was he was so good to begin with. The future Hall-of-Famer was a top-8 defensive tackle in 2007-2010 (maxing out at #1 in 2008) and didn’t finish below 13th until last year. Even last year, he was 29th, grading out slightly above average. He presumably still has another year or two left in the tank and can be valuable in a 500-600 snap role.

Williams will start next to Brandon Mebane, who remains after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked defensive tackle last season. That’s the best season of his career as the 2007 3rd round pick had never graded out higher than 5th (2008) and he’s only graded out above average in 4 of 7 seasons in the league. I don’t expect him to be quite that good again, but he could easily have another very strong season. With him and Williams as the starters, they’re fine, but the issue is that Jordan Hill will play a significant role. The 2013 3rd round pick only played 65 snaps as a rookie. There’s a chance he turns into a solid contributor in a significant role this season, but he could easily be a downgrade over the types of players they had playing significant roles last season.

Michael Bennett is also still around, after being re-signed to a 4-year, 32 million dollar deal this off-season. That deal was an absolute steal for the Seahawks and he undoubtedly took some sort of hometown discount to remain with the defending champs. He’s graded out as among the top-7 in 4-3 defensive ends in each of the last 3 seasons, including #5 overall last season. No other player at his position has done that. He’s a very well-rounded and versatile player who is equally good as a pass rusher and a run stopper and he plays both defensive end and defensive tackle. He could play more snaps this season than the 617 snaps he played last season because of all the off-season losses the Seahawks had on the defensive line. After 632 snaps in 2011 and 985 snaps in 2012, he’s more than up to the task. He’s one of the best defensive players in the league.

Chris Clemons is also gone, but he’ll be the least missed as the aging veteran graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 43rd ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible. He’ll still be missed though as they don’t really have a replacement for the 585 snaps, including 389 snaps on passing snaps, he played last season. He graded out above average in pass rush grade. In sub packages, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin will be the primary edge rushers. Avril has graded out below average in 4 of 6 seasons in the league since going in the 3rd round in 2008, but he’s graded out above average as a pure pass rusher in 5 of 6 seasons.

The 6-3 252 pounder really struggles against the run, but rushing the passer is more important for a defensive lineman and he’s a perfect fit as a situational pass rusher (397 pass snaps out of 574 snaps last season). He’s graded out 5th, 30th, 17th, and 5th in pure pass rush grade in 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 respectively. Last season, he was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 4-3 defensive end, his best season since 2010, but he might not be that good again next season. Still, he should be a real asset for them in sub packages.

Irvin, meanwhile, plays base outside linebacker and moves down to the defensive line in sub packages. He played 512 snaps last season in 12 games (233 run defense snaps, 121 pass rush snaps, 158 coverage snaps) and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker, showing terrific all-around ability. He graded out 4th in pass rush grade, 11th in coverage, and 15th against the run. The surprise 2012 1st round pick struggled as a rookie as a pure defensive end, grading out 34th out of 62 eligible 4-3 defensive ends on 452 snaps, but he’s proven to be a better fit as a hybrid.

The issue is that his status for the start of the season is in doubt thanks to a hip injury. Even if he plays week 1, he could be less than 100% and behind the 8-ball after missing off-season practice and the pre-season. 4th round rookie Cassius Marsh could also be in the mix for snaps as a rookie, which shows their lack of depth. It’s still one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but it’s worse than last season because of serious depth problems.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

As I mentioned, Bruce Irvin will play some base outside linebacker. The Seahawks have Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith at outside linebacker and he might not even have a role. He can play base outside linebacker in Irvin’s absence. He can play some base outside linebacker in coverage situations as the 6-0 226 pounder acts as essentially a box safety. He can also rotate at middle linebacker and the other outside linebacker position. Smith isn’t as good as his Super Bowl MVP would suggest, but, after 232 snaps in his first 2 seasons in the league after going in the 7th round in 2011, Smith graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker on just 490 snaps last season, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher. He should have some sort of role on about 300-500 snaps.

KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner are expected to be the every down linebackers at outside linebacker and middle linebacker respectively. Wagner, a 2011 4th round pick, has graded out above average in all 3 seasons he’s been in the league, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2011, 14th ranked in 2012, and 13th ranked in 2013. He should once again be an above average 4-3 outside linebacker in both sub and base packages in his contract year in 2014.

Wagner, meanwhile, was a 2012 2nd round pick and arguably was better than Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked middle linebacker, right behind only Patrick Willis. He graded out “just” 12th in 2013 thanks to injuries. He missed 2 games and was limited in others. He might not be as good as he was in 2012 again, but he should have a bounce back year as part of a still very strong front 7.

Grade: A-

Secondary

The Seahawks’ secondary might be even better though. In 3 years in the NFL, Richard Sherman has allowed 115 of 248 (46.4%) for 1621 yards (6.54 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, while deflecting 34 passes and committing 26 penalties. No other NFL cornerback really comes close to that, with the exception of Darrelle Revis, who has allowed 43.1% completion, 5.41 YPA, and 12 touchdowns, while picking off 20 passes, since 2008. Sherman is essentially Revis with better ball skills, less of an injury history, and 3 years younger, only going into his age 26 season. I think he’s the best cornerback in the NFL.

The Seahawks did lose both Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner at cornerback. Browner began last season as the starter, but he was limited to 8 starts last season thanks to a combination of injury and suspension. He graded out above average, but now he’s in New England. Thurmond, meanwhile, was Pro Football Focus’ 33rd ranked cornerback last season as their slot cornerback. The Seahawks have Bryon Maxwell, who played well in Browner’s absence last season, as the starter opposite Sherman, but the issue is they don’t have a proven 3rd cornerback.

Currently, Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon are competing for that 3rd cornerback role. Jeremy Lane is a 2012 6th round pick who has 338 career snaps, while Simon was a 5th rounder in 2013 who didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Lane flashed on 167 snaps last season and Simon is drawing rave reviews in practice and the Seahawks’ recent history with developing defensive backs is promising, but both are very unproven. The good news is that Maxwell was Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked cornerback last season on 494 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out better as he allowed 51.1% completion and picked off 4 passes to 2 touchdowns allowed. The bad news is that there is no guarantee he plays that well over the course of a full season, especially since the 2011 6th round pick played just 152 snaps in his first 2 seasons in the league combined.

This is also probably Maxwell’s last year with the team as the Seahawks have so many big contracts and important players that still need big contracts long-term, particularly in the secondary. Richard Sherman signed a 4-year 57.6 million dollar deal this off-season. Earl Thomas signed a 4-year 40 million dollar deal also this off-season, which made him the highest paid safety in the league in terms of average salary. Kam Chancellor got 4 years 28 million last off-season. I don’t see the Seahawks committing starter money to the 4th starting member of their secondary long-term. They’ll probably just rely on their ability to develop defensive backs.

Both Thomas and Chancellor deserve big contracts as they are arguably the best safety duo in the NFL and they complement each other so well. The big 6-3 232 pound thumping Chancellor plays within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on 69.2% of snaps, 5th most in the NFL among eligible safety, while the rangy 5-10 208 pound Thomas plays within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on just 12.6% of snaps, 6th fewest in the NFL.

I don’t think Thomas was quite worth his deal. Some people consider Earl Thomas the top safety in the NFL. I disagree, in favor of Jairus Byrd. Byrd has graded out higher than Thomas on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons that Thomas has been in the league. Byrd was 3rd among safeties in 2011, 2nd in 2012, and 8th in 2013, only coming in 8th because he missed time with injury. Thomas, meanwhile, has never graded out higher than 8th, doing so in 2011, and finishing 10th in 2013, including 4th in pure coverage grade.

There’s something to be said for the fact that Thomas is 3 years younger (only going into his age 25 season). Thomas has also never missed a game, while Byrd has missed 7 games in 5 seasons, including recently 5 games missed in 2013 with foot problems. However, Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, not Thomas. The big difference: In 5 seasons, Byrd has missed 22 tackles, while Thomas has missed 55 tackles in 4 seasons, including 31 over the past 2 seasons alone. That might sound like splitting hairs, but when we’re talking about best safety in the NFL, that type of thing matters. Thomas is still a fantastic football player though.

Like Thomas, Chancellor has graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons he’s been in the league. He didn’t start as a rookie, unlike Thomas, as Thomas was a 1st round pick and Chancellor went in the 5th in the same draft, but he’s graded out 5th, 20th, and 12th in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. While Thomas might be overrated, Chancellor might actually be underrated. He’s part of an overall fantastic secondary, even if it does lack depth at cornerback. It’s still a top level defense, but the depth issue can’t be ignored when discussing it.

Grade: A

Conclusion

If I had to put money on one team winning the Super Bowl this year, the Seahawks would probably not be that team. They won’t dominate in turnovers again this season. They lost a lot of depth and became a much more top heavy and thin team this off-season. They also won’t be as hungry. There’s a reason why no team has repeated since the 2003-2004 Patriots. The Seahawks should become the first team since the 2003-2004 Patriots to win a playoff game the year after winning the Super Bowl, but I don’t see them going all the way. I’ll have an official win prediction for them after I finish every team’s preview.

Prediction: 12-4 2nd in NFC West

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