The Seahawks won 11 games and made the post-season last year, their 7th post-season trip in 8 seasons with Russell Wilson, but they played a lot worse than their record suggests. Of their 11 wins, only one came by more than a touchdown and they actually had a losing record on the season in games decided by a touchdown or more at 1-3. At least two of their wins came because the opponent missed a makeable field goal at the end of the game.
Their +7 point differential was more in line with an 8-8 team and, going into week 17 last season, the Seahawks actually had the worst point differential ever for a 11-4 or better team. In terms of first down rate differential, they were even worse, ranking 19th at -1.17%, worst among playoff qualifiers, as they relied heavily on a +12 turnover margin to win many of those close games, something that tends to be highly unpredictable on a year-to-year and week-to-week basis. If the Seahawks want to win double digit games and make it back to the post-season in 2020, they’ll likely need to elevate their level of play.
The Seahawks’ offense was not the problem in 2019, as they ranked 12th in first down rate at 37.00%, unspectacular, but above average. The Seahawks’ offense has consistently been above average throughout Wilson’s tenure in Seattle, despite Wilson not always having the best supporting cast. Last year was arguably Wilson’s best season, as he finished a career high 3rd among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, completing 66.1% of his passes for an average of 7.97 YPA, 31 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, while adding 4.56 YPC and 3 touchdowns on 75 carries.
Overall, Wilson has been a top-16 quarterback on PFF in every season of his career, including 5 of 8 seasons in the top-7 among quarterbacks. Over his career, he’s completed 64.5% of his passes for an average of 7.87 YPA, 227 touchdowns, and 68 interceptions, while adding 5.55 YPC and 19 touchdowns on 720 carries. In addition to being a high level quarterback, Wilson is also incredibly tough and durable, having never missed a game in his career (128 starts) despite routinely taking significantly more hits than your average quarterback. Because of that, the Seahawks have never invested in a backup for him and will once again go with veteran Geno Smith (72.2 QB rating, 31 career starts). Needless to say, he’d be a significant dropoff from Wilson if he had to see action.
There were once again a lot of issues with Russell Wilson’s supporting cast last season, but an obvious strength were their top-2 wide receivers, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Both players earned above average grades from Pro Football Focus and they had slash lines of 82/1057/8 and 58/900/7 respectively, despite playing on a relatively run heavy offense. That’s not surprising from Lockett, who had a 57/965/10 slash line in 2018, but Metcalf was just the 64th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and was considered very raw entering the league, so few expected a big rookie year from him.
After his impressive first season in the league, Metcalf looks like he could develop into one of the better wide receivers in the league long-term, even if it takes him a few seasons to get there. In 2020, he’ll need to avoid a sophomore slump to take a step forward. Lockett, meanwhile, finished in the top-34 among wide receivers on PFF last season for the 3rd times in 5 seasons in the league and is still in his prime in only his age 28 season, so he should remain an above average receiver for at least another couple years. This could be one of the better wide receiver duos in the league for years to come if Metcalf can continue developing quickly.
The Seahawks really lacked a 3rd option in the passing game last season though, as no other pass catcher topped 349 receiving yards and a whopping 40.6% of their passing targets went to either Lockett or Metcalf. Among wide receivers, David Moore ranked 3rd with 34 targets received, turning them into 17/301/2, while Malik Turner (242 snaps), Jaron Brown (374 snaps), and Josh Gordon (136 snaps) also saw notable action. Moore remains, but the other three are all gone, leaving Moore to compete with free agent acquisition Phillip Dorsett, 2019 7th round pick Josh Ursua (11 rookie year snaps), and 6th round rookie Freddie Swain for the #3 receiver job and for reserve roles.
The two veterans, Moore and Dorsett, are likely the favorites for the job, but both would be underwhelming options, hence why they’ll have to compete with inexperienced late round picks. Moore was selected by the Seahawks in the 7th round in 2017 and has been middling at best in limited action over the past two seasons. He’s best as a situational deep threat, as he’s caught just 43 of his 87 career targets (49.4%), but for an average of 17.3 yards per catch, 6th most among players with at least 40 catches over the past 2 seasons.
Dorsett, meanwhile, comes over from New England on a close to minimum level deal. He was a first round pick by the Colts in 2015 and then was traded to the Patriots for Jacoby Brissett two seasons later, but he was a disappointment for both teams, earning mediocre grades from PFF throughout his 5-year career and never topping more than 33 catches in a season, despite ample opportunity with the Patriots over the past two seasons. Whoever wins the #3 receiver job figures to be underwhelming.
At tight end, Jacob Hollister led the way with a 41/349/3 slash line, even though he didn’t join the team until week 6. The 2017 undrafted free agent wasn’t bad in the first significant action of his career, but he’ll face competition for playing time, with 2019 week 1 starter Will Dissly returning from injury and free agent Greg Olsen arriving from Carolina on a 1-year, 7 million dollar deal that suggests he’ll at least have a big role, if not start.
Dissly was drafted by the Seahawks in the 4th round in 2018 and has shown a lot of upside as both a blocker and a receiver (2.43 yards per route run), but he’s suffered a torn patellar tendon and a torn achilles tendon over the past two seasons respectively, limiting him to just 376 snaps total. It’s possible he could break out in a starting role if healthy and he’s still only going into his age 24 season, but he’s still unproven and his durability and long-term athleticism after a pair of significant injuries are both big question marks.
Olsen has also had injury problems over the past three seasons, limited to 30 games total over that stretch. Prior to the past three seasons, he finished in the top-12 among tight ends on PFF in 5 straight seasons and averaged a 77/969/5 slash line over that stretch, including a 3-year stretch from 2014-2016 where he was the only tight end in the league to surpass 1000 yards receiving in all 3 seasons, but he’s been limited to a 51/575/4 slash line per 16 games over the past 3 seasons and is now going into his age 35 season, so, even if he can stay healthy, he’s likely to be a significantly diminished player from what he was in his prime. He’s not a bad starting option, but he comes with a lot of uncertainty.
Along with 4th round rookie Colby Parkinson, who could also be in the mix for a role, the Seahawks are hoping they can find a couple productive players at the tight end position, to mask their lack of depth at the wide receiver position, but that’s far from a guarantee. This isn’t a bad receiving corps, talented by a talented top duo, and their overall depth is better, but they may still lack a consistent 3rd option in the passing game.
The Seahawks have always been a run heavy team in the Russell Wilson era, in part because of Wilson’s propensity to take off and run himself, but also because this offense loves to feed the ball to running backs as well. Chris Carson has been the beneficiary of that over the past two seasons, totalling 525 carries in 29 games, which he has taken for 4.54 YPC and 16 touchdowns, leading to him ranking 11th and 7th in rushing grade among running backs on Pro Football Focus over the past two seasons respectively.
Unfortunately, Carson’s 2019 season was ended in week 16 by a serious hip injury and, making matters worse, backup running back Rashaad Penny, who has flashed with a 5.26 YPC average on 150 carries in 2 seasons in the league since being drafted in the first round in 2018, also suffered a season ending injury that week, going down with a torn ACL. With #3 back CJ Prosise also injured at the time, the Seahawks had to turn to 6th round rookie Travis Homer and former lead back Marshawn Lynch, who was signed out of retirement.
Carson is expected to be ready to return for week 1, even if he spends most of the off-season rehabbing, but Penny is very much in doubt for the start of the season and Prosise is gone. Likely in an attempt to avoid last year’s disaster situation, the Seahawks added a pair of reinforcements at the position this off-season in veteran Carlos Hyde and 4th round rookie DeeJay Dallas. Dallas is probably more of a long-term play, barring significant injuries to guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but Hyde is an experienced back who figures to open the season as the #2 back until Penny is able to return and he provides insurance for Carson as well, as not only is Carson returning from a significant injury, but he also has a history of significant injuries.
Hyde has primarily worked as a lead back in his career, averaging 13.4 carries per game in 80 games in 6 seasons in the league, but he figures to be a true backup as long as Carson is healthy, as Carson figures to regain his 2019 role. Hyde’s career 4.08 YPC average is underwhelming and he does nothing on passing downs (129 catches in 80 games with a 3.87 yards per target average, while struggling as a pass protector), but he’s coming off arguably the best season of his career, rushing for 1,070 yards and 6 touchdowns on 245 carries (4.37 YPC) with the Texans in 2019, and he’s a perfect fit for what the Seahawks look for in a running back, as they value tough between the tackles runners and don’t often throw to running backs out of the backfield (Carson has just 57 catches over the past 2 seasons). He’s useful depth behind Penny and Carson, who have injury concerns, in a deep backfield overall.
Russell Wilson has consistently had offensive lines that have struggled in front of him. That was the case last season and, while they made significant changes this off-season, it seems likely that will remain the case in 2020. Of their five regular starters last season, two of them, left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Germain Ifedi were set to hit free agency and, while Iupati returned, the Seahawks also cut center Justin Britt, ahead of an 8.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, and right guard DJ Fluker, ahead of a 3.75 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, so the Seahawks will have at least three new starters upfront this season.
Left tackle Duane Brown is the only starter locked in at the position he played last season, understandably so, as he was by far their best offensive lineman. That’s been the case since Brown arrived in Seattle in 2017, as he’s finished in the top-25 among offensive tackles in all 3 seasons, including a 20th ranked finish in 2019. That streak of high level play actually goes back a full decade, as his last finish outside of the top-25 at his position was his 2nd season in the league in 2009. Over that ten year stretch, Brown has finished in the top-10 at his position in 5 of 10 seasons and he’s been one of the consistently better left tackles in the league overall. His age is a concern in his age 35 season though, especially given how important he is to this line. He could easily decline noticeably this season and the Seahawks really can’t afford that happening, given the state of the rest of this group.
Iupati is probably locked in at left guard too. He was underwhelming last season, but he was a capable starter and, with the Seahawks having to replace right guard DJ Fluker already, it’s unlikely that Iupati won’t be able to lock up a starting job. Even though Iupati was a marginal starter in 2019, the big news is that he played all 16 games, after missing 21 games over the previous 2 seasons combined. Iupati is going into his age 33 season, so his days of being an above average starter like he was in his prime are almost definitely gone, but if he can remain healthy he could remain a capable starter for another couple seasons.
The Seahawks didn’t add any veterans to replace Fluker, so they’ll have to turn to someone inexperienced to replace Fluker. Fluker didn’t play at a particularly high level last season, but it’s hard to see how any of his replacements would be a significant upgrade. Their options are 2019 4th round pick Phil Haynes, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie, 3rd round rookie Damien Lewis, and 2018 5th round pick JaMarco Jones, who played 317 snaps as a versatile reserve last season in the first significant action of his career, seeing action at left tackle, left guard, and right guard. Jones might be their best option because he has some experience, but the Seahawks like his versatility as a reserve and may opt to keep him in that role. There’s also an outside chance two guards from that group start, sending Iupati to the bench, but that’s unlikely in an underwhelming group.
At center and right tackle, the Seahawks did make veteran additions this off-season, signing BJ Finney and Brandon Shell respectively. Shell, a 5th round pick by the Jets in 2016, has developed into a capable starter over the past 3 seasons (37 starts). He may have reached his ceiling, but his 2-year, 9 million dollar deal is pretty fair for his skill set and it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade by default over Germain Ifedi, who finished last season 72nd out of 89 qualifying offensive tackles.
Finney, meanwhile, only has made 13 starts in 5 seasons in the league as a reserve, but he’s played pretty well in limited action and his 2-year, 8 million dollar contract suggests he’s viewed as a full-time starter in Seattle. Finney is a versatile player who has played both center and guard, but he has a much clearer path to playing time at center, without another capable center on the roster. Finney is a projection to a larger role, so he’s not a guarantee to be an upgrade over Britt, who finished last season 25th out of 36 qualifying centers, but he comes with some upside. Overall, this group should struggle again in 2020, especially if Duane Brown regresses significantly at left tackle.
The Seahawks’ biggest problem last season was their defense, which ranked 25th in first down rate allowed. They had the 3rd most takeaways at 32, behind the Patriots and Steelers, who were also the top-2 defense in first down rate allowed, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis and defenses that rank significantly higher in takeaways than they do in overall team defensive stats almost always see significant regression in their takeaway total the following season. The Seahawks are never going to be a team that turns the ball over a lot because Russell Wilson is one of the least turnover prone quarterbacks in the league, but I wouldn’t expect them to match their +12 turnover margin from last season, which will have a noticeable effect for a team who won so many of their games by a thin margin last season.
In addition to natural regression in takeaways, this defense also lost some key players this off-season, most notably edge defender Jadeveon Clowney. The Seahawks haven’t ruled out a reunion with Clowney, but as of right now he’s not on the roster, after a 2019 season in which he finished 9th among edge defenders on Pro Football Focus, despite playing most of the second half of the season through injuries. Clowney’s sack total (3) wasn’t overly impressive, but he added 10 hits and a 11.4% pressure rate while dominating against the run and he did all that while being consistently double teamed. His absence will have a noticeable effect on a defense that had a lot of problems to begin with.
In Clowney’s absence, the Seahawks have a variety of options to try to replace him, although none have Clowney’s upside. The Seahawks signed a pair of veterans in free agency in Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa to deals of 1-year, 5.5 million and 1-year, 3.05 million and they used 2nd and 5th round picks on Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor and Syracuse’s Alton Robinson. They also have 2019 first round pick LJ Collier set for a bigger role after an injury plagued rookie season in which he was limited to just 152 mediocre snaps and they have a pair of holdovers in Rasheem Green and Branden Jackson who could also be involved.
Both Green and Jackson were both pretty mediocre last season, but Green was a 3rd round pick in 2018 and still has some upside, so he’s likely to still be involved, while Jackson is an 2016 undrafted free agent who has struggled throughout his career and may not be a lock for a roster spot at a position group with a lot of options. Collier also still has significant upside, despite his terrible rookie year, though it’s worth noting many considered Collier in the 2nd-3rd round range, rather than the late first where the Seahawks took him. Darrell Taylor also has upside and could earn a role as a rookie, but Alton Robinson seems better suited for a deep reserve role at this stage of his career.
Veterans Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa should also be in the mix. Mayowa struggled early in his career, but has been a solid rotational player on an average of 404 snaps per season over the past 4 seasons and, still in his age 29 season, could see a similar role with the Seahawks this season. Irvin, meanwhile, is coming back to where his career started, spending the first 4 seasons of his career in Seattle before spending the past 4 seasons with the Raiders, Falcons, and Panthers. Irvin is now going into his age 33 season and has been noticeably worse over the past two seasons, earning middling at best grades from PFF after being an above average starter for most of his prime. He’s still played 540 snaps per season over the past two seasons and should still have a role in 2020, but he could continue declining.
The Seahawks will have to determine roles in this group in training camp and the pre-season. They have plenty of depth, with Bruce Irvin, LJ Collier, Benson Mayowa, and Rasheem Green being most likely to see significant snaps and Darrell Taylor, Branden Jackson, and Alton Robinson also potentially in the mix, but they lack a clear top edge defender and there’s unlikely to be one that emerges from this group to even come close to effectively replacing Jadeveon Clowney. Until they bring back Clowney, this looks like an underwhelming group.
The Seahawks also lost players on the interior of their defensive line, losing Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods. Woods was a strong run stuffer, while Jefferson was a capable pass rusher (9.7% pressure rate), so they’ll be missed, especially since the Seahawks did nothing to replace them. As a result, they have little depth on the interior, in contrast to the edge where they have up to 7 options for playing time. They also don’t really have top end talent at this position either, with Jarran Reed and Poona Ford, their top holdovers from 2019, looking locked into starting roles.
Ford has shown a lot of promise as a run stuffer in 2 seasons in the league, flashing on 231 total snaps as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and then carrying that over into a larger role in 2019, playing 506 snaps total and finishing 17th among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus in run stuffing grade. He may be overmatched in an every down role though, as he’s not much of a pass rusher, with 0.5 sacks, 3 hits, and a 4.2% pressure rate in his career. He should play at a high level on early downs, but on passing downs he’ll probably be a liability.
Reed, meanwhile, was a well-rounded player as a solid starter for the Seahawks in 2017 and 2018, but he missed the first 6 games of 2019 with suspension and was not the same upon his return, earning a middling grade from PFF. Only in his age 28 season, the 2016 2nd round pick has bounce back potential, but he was never as good as his 10.5-sack total in 2018 suggested and it’s surprising the Seahawks couldn’t re-sign him to a more favorable deal as a free agent this off-season given how last season went for him, bringing him back on a 2-year, 23 million dollar deal that pays him as an above average starter and lets him hit the open market again before he’s 30.
Ford and Reed may be solid starters, but depth is a big problem. Bryan Mone, who played just 89 snaps last season, is the only other player at the position who played at least 1 snap for this defense last season and they didn’t add any reinforcements. Despite being a highly unproven 2019 undrafted free agent who struggled in what limited action he’s seen thus far, Mone could still have a big role as a rotational reserve in 2020. 2019 6th round pick DeMarcus Christmas would also seem to be an option, even though he didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Depth is a huge problem at this position and their starters aren’t good enough to compensate.
Despite their issues on the defensive line and other parts of this roster, the Seahawks surprisingly decided to use their first round pick on off ball linebacker Jordyn Brooks. The Seahawks have had one of the best linebacker duos in the league over the past decade or so with Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright and, even though Wright is on the wrong side of 30 and seems to be on the decline, the Seahawks also used a 3rd round pick in last year’s draft on off ball linebacker Cody Barton, who seemed like a potential future starter, so linebacker didn’t seem like much of a need. They also used 5th round picks in 2018 and 2019 on Shaquem Griffin and Ben Burr-Kirven, so they had solid young depth as well. On top of that, Brooks was considered by many to be a 2nd-3rd round prospect and the Seahawks drafted him one spot ahead of Patrick Queen, who was arguably the top off ball linebacker in the draft class.
Brooks’ draft status suggests he’ll play as a rookie, but he may be limited to being the 3rd linebacker and only playing in base packages, as Wright could keep his every down role for another season. Wright had earned an above average grade from Pro Football Focus in each of his first 8 seasons in the league prior to last season (108 starts), but he fell to about average last season in 16 starts and now is heading into his age 31 season. He may have another couple solid seasons left in the tank as an every down player, but he could also continue declining and obviously his long-term future with the team seems shaky, given all the draft capital they’ve spent on the position in recent years.
Bobby Wagner is also now in his 30s, as of this summer at least, and he’s also coming off of a relatively down year, but for him that means he finished 12th on PFF among off ball linebackers after 3 straight seasons in the top-4 prior to last season, including back-to-back seasons as the #1 overall player at the position in 2017 and 2018. Wagner could continue declining over the next few seasons, but he should remain an above average every down linebacker, something he’s been throughout his 8-year NFL career (118 starts). Wagner and Wright might not be what they once were, but the Seahawks have no shortage of promising young depth players.
The one big addition for the Seahawks on defense this off-season was cornerback Quinton Dunbar, or at least it seemed that way when he was acquired. Dunbar had a breakout season with the Redskins in 2019, starting all 11 games he played and finishing 3rd among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus overall, but the Seahawks were still able to get him for just a 5th round pick this off-season. Dunbar flashed in the first four seasons of his career prior to last season, but he made just a combined 14 starts over those 4 seasons, so he’s a complete one-year wonder, and he’s never made it through a full 16-game season without missing time with injury. He’s also going into the final year of his contract and wants a big extension, which is why the Redskins wanted to move him, but he was still an obvious steal for a 5th round pick.
Unfortunately, the situation has changed since Dunbar was acquired, as he was arrested for armed robbery in May. The details of the case are still unclear and it seems like there’s at least a chance that Dunbar was set up, but it’s a serious legal situation that complicates his status for the season. Even if he doesn’t end up facing legal charges, he could still be subject to league discipline, although the league usually lets the legal process play out first, so he may not be suspended realistically until 2021 at the earliest. If he can play, he should be a solid starter even if he regresses from last season, but it’s not a guarantee he’ll be allowed to play.
If the Seahawks have Dunbar available, they’ll have a solid cornerback duo with him and incumbent #1 cornerback Shaq Griffin. A 3rd round pick in 2017, Griffin was up and down in his first 2 seasons in the league (27 starts), before breaking out with an 11th ranked finish among cornerbacks on PFF in 2019. He’s still a one-year wonder in terms of playing at that level, but he’s an experienced starter who is only going into his age 25 season, so he could easily develop into a consistently above average starter long-term.
If Dunbar is out, the Seahawks would likely have to turn back to Tre Flowers, who has made 30 starts over the past 2 seasons, but has finished 103rd out of 126 qualifiers and 110th out of 135 qualifiers among cornerbacks on PFF in coverage grade in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Flowers is still young, in his age 25 season, and he’s a solid run defender, but the former 5th round pick is far from a guarantee to ever develop into a capable coverage cornerback. It makes a lot of sense that the Seahawks would bring in Dunbar as an upgrade over him and if the Seahawks have to go back to Flowers because of Dunbar’s off-the-field situation it would be a big blow to this secondary.
Tre Flowers could still be the 3rd cornerback, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the primary slot cornerback, as the Seahawks are much deeper at safety than they are at cornerback and could easily use 3 safeties together in sub packages with regularity. 2019 4th round pick Ugo Amadi could also be in the mix for the #3 cornerback job, after playing 76 nondescript snaps as a rookie last season.
If the Seahawks decide to go with three safeties as their primary sub package look, 2019 2nd round pick Marquise Blair seems like the best option to cover the slot. Blair was a relatively high pick and showed a lot of potential on 230 snaps as a rookie, but he doesn’t have a clear path to a starting job at safety and could be a natural fit on the slot. At safety, Blair’s biggest competition for a starting job is Bradley McDougald, who has made 39 starts for the Seahawks over the past 3 seasons. He finished 33rd among safeties on PFF in 2017 and 25th in 2018, but fell to 72nd out of 100 qualifiers in 2019 and is now going into his age 30 season, so it’s possible Blair could push him into the #3 safety role, but it’s unlikely and he’d probably have a big role either way, as will Blair likely.
Quandre Diggs is locked in as an every down player at the other safety spot, after being acquired from the Lions for a 5th round pick at last year’s trade deadline, which proved to be a steal, as Diggs was PFF’s 4th ranked safety from week 8 on after joining the Seahawks. Diggs had been a capable starter throughout the previous two and a half seasons with the Lions, showing his versatility by playing both safety spots and on the slot, but the Seahawks got the most out of him by playing him as a single high safety on almost every snap, something the Lions never did with him.
Diggs probably won’t be quite as good as he was down the stretch last season, but it’s entirely possible he’ll have a big of a late career breakout in his age 27 season, his 6th season in the league, now in a spot that seems to fit him the best. The Seahawks’ cornerback depth is suspect, especially with Dunbar potentially looking at a suspension, but if he can play, This secondary has a massive upside if Griffin, Diggs, and Dunbar can all play like they did last season. The downside is there as well there.
The Seahawks weren’t as good as their record suggests last season and that’s the baseline coming into this season. On top of that, they lose probably their best defensive player from last season in Jadeveon Clowney. However, this defense could be significantly better on the backend if Quinton Dunbar is able to play, as Dunbar and 2019 mid-season addition Quandre Diggs would really boost this secondary, potentially back to “Legion of Boom” esque levels, although that’s far from a guarantee. The Seahawks also appear to be slightly improved in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, even though they didn’t make any major off-season additions. The Seahawks are probably still behind the 49ers in the division, but they could still qualify for one of the three wild card spots depending on how everything shakes out. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.
Final Update: The Seahawks are not getting Jadeveon Clowney back, but Quinton Dunbar will be available for the start of the season and this secondary got even better when they added Jamal Adams via trade from the Jets. The Seahawks paid a steep price for Adams, giving up a pair of first round picks for a playoff who will also command a market resetting contract extension in the next year or so, but he undoubtedly makes them a better football team. The Seahawks might not be able to catch the 49ers in the NFC West, but they’re equipped to potentially go on a deep playoff run as a wild card.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC West)