Seattle Seahawks 2018 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

When the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in the 3rd round in 2012, most did not think much of it. However, Wilson won the week 1 starting job as a rookie and has made every start since, leading the Seahawks to a 65-30-1 regular season record (2nd best in the NFL since 2012, only behind the Patriots), 5 playoff appearances, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and a victory in Super Bowl 48. Wilson does not deserve all the credit, as he was drafted by a talented team with a dominant young defense that was a quarterback away from contention, but he’s also been a big part of their success. He’s completed 64.0% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 161 touchdowns, and 56 interceptions, while adding 3,275 yards and 16 touchdowns on 578 carries (5.67 YPC). He’s finished in the top-8 among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus in 5 of 6 seasons and has earned a positive grade in every season in his career.

Unfortunately, Russell Wilson’s supporting cast seems to be crumbling around him. Their defense finished last season a very middling 14th in first down rate allowed at 33.43% and they had arguably the worst offensive supporting cast in the league around Wilson. Despite that, this team was in playoff contention all year, finishing one game out at 9-7, and Wilson’s play was the biggest single reason why they were even competitive last season. Despite little talent around Wilson, this team still ranked 18th in the NFL in first down rate at 33.47%.

Wilson completed 61.3% of his passes for an average of 7.20 YPA, 34 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, despite being pressured on a league leading 41.4% of his throws. Wilson also added 586 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground on 95 carries (6.17 YPC). The rest of this team managed just 1,043 yards and 1 touchdown on 314 carries (3.32 YPC). Wilson had some capable options to throw to, but he had no offensive line or running game. He accounted for 4,569 of his teams 5,608 yards from scrimmage, a whopping 81.5%, easily the most in the NFL.

Grade: A

Running Backs

In an attempt to improve their supporting cast around Wilson, the Seahawks used the 27th overall pick in the first round on San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, after trading down twice. Penny was a surprise first round pick and was the second running back off the board in a strong running back class. Given the Seahawks’ other needs and how easy it is to find good running backs outside of the first round, the Seahawks obviously think Penny has the ability to be a special running back, but that’s far from a guarantee. Penny averaged 7.23 yards per carry on 473 carries in his collegiate career and topped 2000 yards rushing in 2017 in his only season as a starter, but he’s very raw as a passing down back and did not face the toughest competition in the Mountain West Conference.

Despite the Seahawks’ inability to run the football last season, Penny does have some competition for playing time. Chris Carson and CJ Prosise return from injury, while Mike Davis and JD McKissic showed some promise down the stretch last season. Carson is probably his biggest competition, as the 2017 7th round pick was off to a great start to his career last season before breaking his leg and missing the final 12 games of the season. Despite offensive line issues, he rushed for 208 yards on 49 carries (4.24 YPC) and was Seattle’s only running back who earned a positive running grade from Pro Football Focus. He’s still unproven and has had injury issues dating back to college, hence why he fell in the draft, but he still has some upside.

Mike Davis started the final 6 games of last season, despite spending the first 10 weeks of the season on the practice squad, after the Seahawks cycled through Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy as starters. Davis was not bad all things considered, rushing for 240 yards on 68 carries (3.53 YPC), while adding 15 catches for 131 yards. Despite that, he was non-tendered as a restricted free agent and only re-signed on a cheaper salary, 1.35 million. Davis is a former 4th round pick, but he averaged just 2.00 YPC on 54 carries in his first 2 seasons in the league with the 49ers in 2015 and 2016. Only guaranteed 350K, he’s not a lock for the final roster.

Prosise and McKissic, meanwhile, will compete for passing down snaps. A 3rd round pick in 2016, Prosise has more upside and could also see action as a speedy change of pace back, but he’s played in just 11 games in 2 seasons in the league. When healthy, he’s been explosive, averaging 4.76 yards per carry on 41 carries and 12.8 yards per catch on 23 catches, but he hasn’t seen that much action. He’s entering a make or break 3rd season in the league.

McKissic, meanwhile, is a 3rd year undrafted free agent who led all Seahawk running backs with 34 catches and 235 routes run in Prosise’s absence last season. A converted collegiate receiver at Arkansas State, McKissic also averaged 4.07 yards per carry on 46 carries and ironically scored the Seahawks’ only rushing touchdown by a running back, though he was understandably raw in pass protection. Penny should see the lion’s share of the carries based on where he was drafted, but the Seahawks have some interesting backup options and have always stressed competition at all positions. At the very least, Penny should cede the majority of the passing down snaps to either McKissic or Prosise.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

The Seahawks’ running backs were only part of the reason why they couldn’t run the ball last season. The offensive line failed to consistently open up on the ground, finishing 25th on Pro Football Focus in team run blocking grade, and they were even worse than that in pass protection, finishing 30th. Wilson was the most pressured quarterback in the NFL and the Seahawks allowed the 10th most sacks in the NFL (43), despite Wilson’s mobility. Wilson completed just 47.4% of his passes while under pressure and had just 8 touchdowns to 6 interceptions (as opposed to 26 touchdowns to 5 interceptions with a clean pocket), so his terrible pass protection had a noticeable effect on his statistical production.

Despite that, the Seahawks didn’t do anything substantial to improve this offensive line this off-season and will instead hope that some incumbent starters improve. The player with the most room for improvement is right tackle Germain Ifedi, a 2016 1st round pick who has been a massive bust through 2 seasons. He was PFF’s lowest ranked guard as a rookie in 13 starts at right guard and then finished 79th out of 84 eligible offensive tackles in 16 starts at right tackle last season. He only allowed 4 sacks and 3 hits, but also allowed 45 hurries, struggled as a run blocker, and committed a ridiculous 19 penalties, most in the NFL at any position. It might be too early to write him off as a total bust, but he’s unlikely to turn into a capable starter in his 3rd season in the league. If he’s better in 2018, it could be because it was hard to get worse.

It’s a similar situation at left guard with Ethan Pocic. A 2nd round pick in 2017, Pocic made 5 starts at left guard and 6 starts at right guard as a rookie, but finished as PFF’s 76th ranked guard out of 80 eligible. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but his career is off to a terrible start. The Seahawks seem to have settled in on him playing left guard (he played both guards spots and center in college) and are hoping that keeping him in one spot helps him develop.

Center Justin Britt was also a high pick, going in the 2nd round in 2014. Britt struggled mightily in his first 2 seasons in the league, first at right tackle and then at left guard, but he’s settled in as a capable starter at center over the past 2 seasons. He’s been about a league average starter, but the Seahawks clearly value him, giving him a 3-year, 27 million dollar extension before the start of last season that makes him the 6th highest center in average annual contract value. He’s unlikely to live up to that contract, but he’s a proven starter on an offensive line that lacks them.

While the Seahawks did not make any major additions to their offensive line this off-season, they did make one at the trade deadline last year, sending a 2018 3rd round pick and a 2019 2nd round pick to the Texans for Duane Brown and a 2018 5th round pick. It’s a big price to pay for a player who is in an age 33 contract season in 2018, but the Seahawks were desperate for a left tackle. Despite his age, Brown is still an above average left tackle. He was Seattle’s only offensive lineman to earn a positive grade in 2017, his 8th straight season with a positive grade. His best seasons came in 2011 (7th among offensive tackles), 2012 (2nd), 2014 (12nd), and 2016 (19th). Though his best days may be behind him, he should still have another couple solid seasons left in the tank. The Seahawks reportedly plan to extend him before the season starts.

Brown replaced Rees Odhiambo at left tackle and he was PFF’s 3rd worst ranked offensive tackle, despite just 7 starts. Odhiambo was a 3rd round pick in 2016, so the Seahawks are not giving up on him and have instead moved him to guard, where he’s expected to compete to be the starting right guard. His primary competition will be free agent acquisition DJ Fluker. The 11th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Fluker has 65 starts in 5 seasons in the league, but has earned negative grades in 4 of 5 seasons, including the last 3 seasons. Last season, he finished 51st out of 80 eligible guards in 7 starts before going down for the season with a toe injury. Signed for only 1.5 million this season, Fluker is a desperation option on an offensive line that could be pretty terrible again.

Grade: C-

Receiving Corps

The one thing Russell Wilson did have going for him in 2017 was a decent receiving corps. However, he lost his #2 and #3 targets from last season in Jimmy Graham (98 targets) and Paul Richardson (80 targets) and the Seahawks didn’t do much to replace them. Instead, last year’s #4 target Tyler Lockett figures to take on a much bigger role. A 3rd round pick in 2015, Lockett has flashed talent in 3 seasons in the league, but has never had more than 69 targets in a season. With Richardson and Graham gone, he could see close to 100 targets. Still only going into his age 26 season, Lockett could have a breakout statistical year.

Top receiver Doug Baldwin also figures to have a big statistical year. He’s averaged 82 catches for 1,063 yards and 10 touchdowns per season over the past 3 seasons and could exceed his career high of 126 targets in 2018. He might not be quite as efficient when given more targets, but he could easily top those averages in 2018. He’s also been a top-7 wide receiver on Pro Football Focus in each of the past 3 seasons and has earned positive grades in all 6 seasons in the league. His age is only a small concern, as he goes into his age 30 season.

Snaps are up for grabs behind Lockett and Baldwin on the depth chart, as free agent acquisitions Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall will compete with 2nd year receiver Amara Darboh for the #3 receiver job. Brown played sparingly in his first 4 seasons with the Cardinals before being forced into a larger role in 2017. Brown struggled mightily though, catching just 31 of his 69 targets (44.9%) and averaging just 0.90 yards per route run on 529 routes (4th worst among wide receivers). Part of that was his poor quarterback play, but he also graded out 96th out of 118 eligible wide receivers on PFF. He’s unlikely to turn into a capable weapon in his 6th season in the league in 2018.

Marshall is by far the most proven, as his career numbers are Hall-of-Fame worthy (top-25 all-time in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns). The question is whether or not he has anything left in the tank, going into his age 34 season. Marshall was PFF’s 18th ranked wide receiver as recently as 2015, but has gotten negative grades from them in the past 2 seasons and missed but all 5 games with an ankle injury last season with the Giants, who let him go this off-season rather than pay him 5.5 million non-guaranteed. His one-year deal with the Seahawks has a base salary of 1.105 million, guarantees him just 90K, and has a maximum value of 2.155 million with incentives. He’s a worthwhile flyer, but might not be able to be much of a contributor. Darboh has the most upside, but played just 191 underwhelming snaps as a rookie and is completely unproven.

At tight end, the Seahawks are not just replacing Jimmy Graham, but also #2 tight end Luke Willson, who played 377 snaps last season. They will attempt to do that with free agent acquisition Ed Dickson and 4th round rookie Will Dissly. Third year player Nick Vannett should also play a bigger role after playing just 364 snaps as the 3rd tight end in his first 2 seasons in the league. He was originally a 3rd round pick, so he has upside in his 3rd season in the league, but he’s completely unproven.

Dickson is plenty experienced, with 85 starts in 124 games in 8 seasons in the league, but he’d be a weak starting option. He’s never earned a positive grade for a season in his career, struggling as both a pass catcher and a run blocker. After spending the previous 3 seasons as Greg Olsen’s backup with the Panthers, Dickson became the top tight end in 2017 when Olsen was hurt and still only managed a 30/437/1 slash line. The catch and yardage total were the 2nd highest of his career. Going into his age 31 season in 2018, he’s unlikely to improve. Dissly, meanwhile, is primarily a blocker who won’t see a big role in the passing game. This is a much thinner receiving corps than last season.

Grade: B-

Defensive Line

As important as it was for the Seahawks to retool on offense this off-season, they had even more needs on defense. The Seahawks had the fewest points allowed in the NFL for 4 straight seasons from 2012-2015, but they were a middling unit in 2017 and now are basically unrecognizable. Up to 6 week 1 defensive starters from 2017, including all 3 members of the former Legion of Boom, might not start for the Seahawks week 1 in 2018.

On the defensive line, the Seahawks lost three starters this off-season, defensive end Cliff Avril, who retired due to a neck injury, hybrid defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who was traded to the Eagles after a disappointing season, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who signed with the Vikings as a free agent. Avril will probably be the least missed, as he played just 151 underwhelming snaps last season before getting hurt, but Bennett and Richardson finished 1st and 3rd on this defensive line in snaps with 931 and 654 and both earned positive grades from Pro Football Focus. Those are big shoes to fill.

The Seahawks used a 3rd round pick on a potential Michael Bennett replacement, taking USC’s Rasheem Green. Green has a high upside for a 3rd round pick and has his great athleticism at 6-4 275, but he just turned 21 and is considered very raw. He has the size to line up inside in passing situations like Bennett did frequently (217 of 578 pass rush snaps in 2017), but he’ll likely be a significant downgrade from Bennett as a rookie.

Marcus Smith and Dion Jordan also figure to play bigger roles, after playing 252 snaps and 132 snaps respectively in 2017. Both are former first round pick busts (2014 and 2013 respectively) whose careers the Seahawks are trying to revive. Formerly of the Eagles, Smith was underwhelming last season and has never earned a positive grade from PFF in 4 seasons in the league (just 676 snaps), but Jordan flashed down the stretch and the coaching staff is excited about his upside.

In 5 games, he had 4 sacks, 3 hits, and 5 hurries on 60 pass rush snaps and also played well against the run. He finally looked like the player the Dolphins envisioned he’d be when they drafted him 3rd overall five years ago. It was in very little action though, so he’s still far from a reliable starter. Jordan played just 562 snaps in his first 2 seasons with the Dolphins, earning negative grades in both seasons, and then missed all of 2015 and 2016 with injury and suspension before resurfacing with the Seahawks in 2017.

Fourth year defensive end Frank Clark could also see an increase in snaps with Bennett gone, even though he already played 740 snaps last season, 2nd on this defensive line. A 2nd round pick in 2015, Clark has developed into an above average starter. He flashed in limited action as a rookie and has 19.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits in 2 seasons as the starter, while also playing solid run defense. Still only going into his age 25 season, Clark could continue to get better. The Seahawks would be wise to lock him up long-term this off-season, ahead of the final year of his rookie deal. Also in the mix for snaps at defensive end are hybrid linebacker/defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who will play the old Bruce Irvin role and see edge rusher snaps in sub packages, and 2016 undrafted free agent Branden Jackson, who played 263 underwhelming snaps in the first significant of his career in 2018.

To replace Richardson at defensive tackle, the Seahawks signed Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson from the Vikings and could give more playing time to Jarran Reed and Nazair Jones, a pair of recent high picks. Reed played 616 snaps last season, 4th on this defensive line, but he was primarily a base package player. He has just 3 sacks in 2 seasons in the league (1.5 in each season), but he had 6 quarterback hits and 16 quarterback hurries last season and earned a positive grade overall. He’s also a capable run defender. Now in his 3rd year in the league, the Seahawks may use the 2016 2nd rounder in more of an every down role and give him more pass rushing opportunities.

Jones, meanwhile, was a 3rd round pick in 2017. He only played 284 snaps as a rookie, but earned a positive grade and should see more playing time in his 2nd season in the league. His primary competition for the base package starting job next to Reed is Shamar Stephen, who signed a 1-year, 2.1 million dollar deal with 1 million guaranteed this off-season as a free agent coming over from Minnesota. A 7th round pick in 2014, Stephen struggled mightily in his first 3 seasons in the league and has never earned a positive grade from PFF for a season, but he wasn’t bad on 384 snaps last season. Jones has a lot more upside and should be the favorite to start.

Tom Johnson also comes over from Minnesota on 1-year, 2.1 million dollar deal, suggesting he’s a roster lock (900K guaranteed) and should have a significant role. He’ll primarily be a sub package interior pass rusher. 470 of his 673 snaps came on passing plays in 2017 and, while he might not have quite as big of a role in Seattle, he should see a similar split of passing downs to run downs. He totaled 2 sacks, 9 hits, and 20 hurries on 468 pass rush snaps last season and has earned a positive pass rushing grade from PFF in his last 4 seasons, but he’s also going into his age 34 season and has had issues against the run. Rasheem Green could also see snaps on the interior in passing situations. The Seahawks are trying to patchwork together what used to be a dominant defensive line.

Grade: C+

Linebackers

The one area on this defense that remains mostly unchanged is the linebacking corps, which is good because Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright are arguably the best 4-3 linebacker duo in the NFL. Their value was perhaps never more noticeable than 2017’s week 16 game against the Rams. Wright missed the game with injury, his first missed game in 4 seasons, while Wagner was playing at clearly less than 100%. As a result, the Seahawks were gashed on the ground for 244 yards in a 42-7 loss that basically ended this season.

Wagner is the better of the two and is arguably the best middle linebacker in the NFL. Despite being hobbled by injury down the stretch last season, he still finished as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked middle linebacker for the 2nd year in a row, both times finishing one spot ahead of Luke Kuechly. The 2012 2nd round pick has earned positive grades in all 6 seasons in the league and also finished in the top-5 among middle linebackers in 2012 and 2014. He’s equally good against the pass and the run and, going into his age 28 season, he shouldn’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Wright is also in the prime of his career, going into his age 29 season. A 4th round pick in 2011, Wright has made 103 starts in 7 seasons in the league and has earned a positive grade from PFF in every season. His best seasons came in 2014, 2015, and 2016 when he finished 4th, 2nd, and 3rd respectively among 4-3 outside linebackers, but he also finished 8th in 2017. He and Wagner should have another strong season as every down linebackers.

Barkevious Mingo, meanwhile, will play the 3rd linebacker role, though he might not come off the field in passing situations like 3rd linebackers traditionally do. Instead, he could see significant snaps on the defensive line as an edge rusher in passing situations. The 6th overall pick by the Browns in the 2013 NFL Draft, Mingo hasn’t lived up to his potential, but his versatility has allowed him to carve out a decent career. He had 2 sacks, 4 hits, and 16 hurries on 143 pass rush snaps last season and was decent in coverage and as a run stuffer as well. He’s a good fit in the role the Seahawks have him in. This should be a dominant linebacking corps again in 2018.

Grade: A

Secondary

When Seattle’s defense was at its peak, it was led by the Legion of Boom, cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. However, Sherman was let go this off-season following an achilles tear, owed 11 million non-guaranteed in 2018, while Thomas is going into the final year of his contract and is currently holding out for an extension, and Chancellor is out indefinitely and possibly permanently with a neck injury.

When Sherman was out last season, Byron Maxwell and Shaq Griffin were their top-2 cornerbacks, with Justin Coleman on the slot. That’s most likely going to be how their cornerbacks line up week 1 this season. Griffin has the most upside of the group. A 3rd round pick in 2017, Griffin made 11 starts as a rookie and earned a positive grade from Pro Football Focus. He’s still relatively unproven, but could easily develop into an above average starting cornerback. Part of the reason why they were so confident moving on from Sherman is because they believe in Griffin as a long-term #1 cornerback.

Byron Maxwell also has potential, but he comes with a lot of risk. Maxwell was originally a 6th round pick by the Seahawks in 2011 and he emerged as an above average starter opposite Sherman midway through his 3rd season. After his rookie deal, he took a whopping 6-year, 63 million dollar deal from the Eagles, despite having just 17 career starts under his belt. He lasted just one terrible season in Philadelphia before being traded to the Dolphins the following off-season.

In 2016 with the Dolphins, Maxwell returned to form, finishing 19th among cornerbacks on PFF, but he lasted just 2 starts with the Dolphins in 2017 before being benched and eventually cut. The Seahawks signed him after he got cut and he took over as the starter down the stretch when Sherman was out. The Seahawks brought him back on a 1-year, 2 million dollar deal this off-season. Going into his age 30 season, Maxwell has a very inconsistent history, but he has the ability to be a solid starter and is a great fit in Seattle’s scheme.

Coleman, meanwhile, is a pure slot cornerback, with 410 of his 444 coverage snaps coming on the slot in 2017. Acquired from the Patriots before the start of the season for a mere 7th round pick, Coleman proved to be a steal, earning the first positive grade of his career. He’s a one-year wonder, as the 2015 undrafted free agent was underwhelming on 530 total snaps in first 2 seasons in the league, but he seems to also be a good fit for this scheme, so he could easily continue providing good slot coverage in 2018. The Seahawks also have 5th round rookie Tre Flowers and 2017 6th round pick Mike Tyson (0 snaps on defense as a rookie) in the mix for playing time, but they figure to begin the year as reserves. Even without Sherman, this is still a solid cornerback group.

At safety, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor both still remain on the roster, which is more than you can say about other former stars on this defense, but neither is a lock to start week 1. Thomas has the best chance to start week 1 as he’s actually healthy, but he’s owed just 8.5 million in the final year of his contract and wants an extension that pays him among the highest paid safeties in the NFL (around 12-13 million annually). Thomas was the subject of trade rumors during the draft and now is holding out, skipping mandatory minicamp. If Thomas won’t report without a new deal and the Seahawks are not willing to pay him what he wants, they may revisit trading him later this off-season.

He has to play just 6 games for his contract to toll, so he can miss the first 10 games of the season and still hit free agency next off-season. He’d lose out on gamechecks, but that may be the preferable option for him if he doesn’t want to risk injury for a team that won’t commit to him long-term. When on the field, he’ll be an obvious asset, after finishing in the top-10 among safeties in 4 of the last 5 seasons, though extended holdouts have slowed players in the past.

Chancellor chances of playing week 1 are much slimmer. In fact, head coach Pete Carroll said earlier this off-season that Chancellor would have a hard time ever playing again. Unlike Cliff Avril, who suffered a similar injury, Chancellor did not retire this off-season and still wants to keep playing. He’ll have his neck re-scanned in July, but his chances of being able to go week 1 are not good. He’s been a top-21 safety in 6 of the past 7 seasons and has made 93 starts over that time period. The Seahawks gave him a 3-year, 36 million dollar extension last off-season that included a 10 million dollar signing bonus, so they’re obviously hoping he can recover and return to form, but that might never happen.

Fortunately, the Seahawks do have solid depth at safety. Veteran Bradley McDougald made 9 starts last season and earned a positive grade from PFF from the 3rd time in 4 seasons. The 2013 undrafted free agent is a capable starter with 45 career starts and the ability to play either Thomas’ spot or Chancellor’s spot. He’s obviously a downgrade, but he’s good insurance to have. The Seahawks also have 2017 3rd and 4th round picks Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson in the mix, though they played just 32 snaps and 8 snaps respectively on defense as rookies. The Seahawks also signed veteran Mo Alexander. Alexander made 14 starts for the Rams in 2016 and the first 4 starts of 2017, but he was underwhelming and was eventually released by the Rams after 4 games last season. The Seahawks still have good options in the secondary, but this is not the Legion of Boom anymore.

Grade: B

Conclusion

For years, the Seahawks have been one of the most talented teams in the league and a perennial Super Bowl contender. That is not the case anymore. Many of their former stars are no longer with the team and they surprisingly have done a mediocre job of drafting in recent years, so they don’t have a lot of good young players in the pipeline. The Seahawks brought in a bunch of options at different positions and are hoping that having pure competition will get the most out of their players and compensate for their relative lack of talent. In the tough NFC though, it’ll be a challenge for them to just make the post-season.  I will have an official prediction later in the off-season.

Prediction: XX-XX XX in NFC West

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