The Seahawks started the 2020 season 6-1 and, even though they won four of those games by one score, including a pair that came down to 4th down stops, and even though they ranked just 12th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.37%, there was reason to be optimistic that the Seahawks could keep winning. Their offense led the league in first down rate over expected at +3.52%, with the team primarily being held back by a defense that ranked 26th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.15%. Normally teams with a profile like this are good bets going forward because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance, meaning it was much more likely their defense would improve going forward than it was that their offense would drop off.
Their defense did improve going forward, in fact significantly so, to the point where they finished 11th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.19%, despite their horrendous start. Better health was a big part of the reason for their improvement, particularly the re-addition of top safety Jamal Adams and top cornerback Shaq Griffin, but the Seahawks also added veteran edge defender Carlos Dunlap in a key trade deadline deal with the Bengals.
However, the Seahawks’ offense did not hold up their end of the bargain, falling to 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.46%, leading to the team finishing 9th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.65%, which is good, but not the high ceiling the Seahawks would have had if their offense had continued playing at a high level. The Seahawks finished at 12-4, but relied on a 8-3 record in one score games to get there and were one and done in the post-season, losing at home to the Rams in the first round.
It was an all too familiar finish for the Seahawks, who have made the post-season in eight of Russell Wilson’s nine seasons with the team, but who haven’t played in an NFC Championship since their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2013-2014. The key difference was Russell Wilson was on a cheap rookie deal back then, allowing the Seahawks to spend significant money on his supporting cast on both sides of the ball, while Wilson is now highly paid, first signing a 4-year, 87.6 million dollar extension and then adding a 4-year, 140 million dollar deal onto that which now takes him through the 2023 season.
If anything, Wilson has gotten better since his Super Bowl appearances, transitioning from more of a game manager to a legitimate franchise quarterback, but his increasing salary has made it very tough for the Seahawks to add enough talent around him to get back to the Super Bowl. Since the start of the salary cap 27 years ago, only 7 teams have won the Super Bowl with their quarterback taking up 10% or more of the cap and all 7 of those quarterbacks are Hall of Famers. By comparison, more than half (14 of 27) have taken up less than 7% of the cap while a third (9 or 27) have taken up less than 5% of the cap, including Wilson when he won. Now Wilson’s cap hit takes up 17.5% of this year’s cap, which would dwarf the current record of 13.1% (Steve Young) if Wilson somehow managed to win it all again in 2021.
Wilson and the Seahawks winning it all seems unlikely given the rest of this roster, which isn’t drastically improved from a year ago and overall doesn’t seem to give Wilson as much help as he needs to take this team all the way again. The one hope the Seahawks might have is for Wilson to play as well as he did to start last season, when he looked like the MVP of the league and led an offense that was arguably the best in the league. Over his first 7 games, Wilson completed 71.5% of his passes for an average of 8.40 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, as compared to 66.6% of his passes for an average of 6.82 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in his final 9 games, coinciding with this offense’s second half decline.
Wilson is likely to be better this season than he was in the second half of last season, but it would be a big surprise to see him keep up his first half pace from last season for a full year. We’ve seen a lot of Russell Wilson as an NFL quarterback (144 starts) and, while he is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, we haven’t seen him consistently play at an MVP level for a long enough stretch to seriously contend for the award. That’s unlikely to change for him, now in his age 33 season.
In total, Wilson has completed 65.1% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 267 touchdowns, and 81 interceptions in his career, while adding 5.61 YPC and 21 touchdowns on 803 carries. On PFF, he’s finished in the top-15 in all 9 seasons in the league, in the top-10 in 7 seasons, and in the top-7 in 6 seasons, including a career best 3rd ranked finish in 2019 and a 6th ranked finish in 2020. Quarterbacks have shown the ability to play at a high level into their mid 30s without decline and, while Wilson is a little more reliant on athleticism than most quarterbacks, which is usually the first thing to go, he’s definitely a good enough passer to make up for becoming a little less effective with his legs if his mobility does start to decline.
Wilson has also been highly durable, never missing a start in his career, playing through serious injuries on multiple occasions. Because of that, his backup quarterback is never really been needed and the Seahawks haven’t invested in that position as a result, but needless to say the Seahawks would be in big trouble if they lost Wilson for an extended period of time, as they would have to turn to Geno Smith and his 72.9 career QB rating in 31 starts in 8 seasons in the league. As long as that doesn’t happen, Wilson should remain one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but probably not good enough for the Seahawks to be a high level team, which could be a big problem for a team that plays in the toughest division in football.
The best thing Russell Wilson has going for him is probably the presence of his top-2 receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who were one of two wide receiver duos to both surpass 1000 yards receiving in 2020. Part of that is because they got to play with a quarterback like Wilson and, without other consistent options in the passing game, Metcalf and Lockett received a massive target share, combining to be targeted on a whopping 46.8% of the Seahawks pass attempts. However, Metcalf and Lockett both played well in their own right, finishing 18th and 32nd respectively among wide receivers on PFF.
For Lockett, it was his 2nd straight 1000 yard season and he came close to making it three in a row with a highly efficient 57/965/10 slash line on 70 targets in 2018. Overall, he’s averaged 80/1025/9 over the past three seasons, while playing all 48 games and finishing 23rd, 21st, and 32nd among wide receivers on PFF. Still in his age 29 season, he should remain a similar player, but he doesn’t nearly have the upside of DK Metcalf, who seemed to clearly take the #1 receiver role away from Lockett last season. A 2nd round pick in 2019, Metcalf flashed with a 58/900/7 slash line and 1.69 yards per route run as rookie, but he took that to another level in year two, finishing with a 83/1303/10 slash line and 2.06 yards per route run, while Lockett saw his yards per route run average drop to 1.68, his lowest since 2017, with Metcalf becoming more of a focus in this passing offense.
Lockett remains a high level #2 wide receiver, but he’s not the #1 option anymore and if the Seahawks are able to find more consistency in other parts of this receiving corps, those targets would likely come from Lockett before they came from Metcalf, who has the upside to be one of the top wide receivers in the league for years to come. Development isn’t always linear and Metcalf is no guarantee to be better or even as good in 2021 as he was in 2020, but he’s already proven himself to be one of the better wide receivers in the league and he doesn’t even turn 24 until later this season.
The biggest move the Seahawks made trying to find a consistent third option in this passing game was signing ex-Rams tight end Gerald Everett to a 1-year, 6 million dollar deal in free agency. A 2nd round pick by the Rams in 2017, Everett only started 11 of his 61 games in four seasons with the Rams, who also preferred to start the more well-rounded Tyler Higbee. Everett has never shown much as a blocker, but he’s been a better pass catcher than most #2 tight ends, averaging 1.42 yards per route run, and deserved a shot like he’s getting in Seattle to prove himself as a starter. I wouldn’t expect a big breakout year from him, but he could have a solid receiving total if he gets enough opportunity.
The Seahawks gave three tight ends, Greg Olsen (429 snaps), Jacob Hollister (374 snaps), and Will Dissly (557 snaps) all about equal passing game opportunity last season, but only Dissly remains. He will likely slot in as the #2 tight end behind Everett and could still see somewhat significant action, especially as a blocker, which is where he has an edge on Everett. As a receiver, Dissly flashed a lot of potential in his first two seasons in the league, as the 2018 4th round pick averaged 2.43 yards per route run, but that came across just 10 games total in two seasons, due to back-to-back devastating season ending leg injuries.
Dissly returned in 2020 and actually played all 16 games, but he didn’t seem to be as explosive as previously and he did not translate the promise from a limited role into a larger role, averaging just 1.15 yards per route run on the season. He’s a still solid blocker and he could be better as a receiver in 2021, now another year removed from those injuries, but he should remain the #2 tight end at best regardless and he could just as easily suffer another injury and not make it through a full season. His primary competition for the #2 job will be Colby Parkinson, a 2020 4th round pick who played sparingly as a rookie (51 snaps), but who the Seahawks still have hopes for in year two and beyond.
The Seahawks also used a 2nd round pick on Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge to replace middling veteran David Moore as the #3 receiver. Moore played just 482 snaps, had just a 35/417/6 slash line, and averaged just 1.38 yards per route run, while earning a middling grade from PFF, so he won’t be hard to replace, but Eskridge is still a rookie who could have some growing pains in year one. The flip side of that, however, is that Eskridge possesses an upside that Moore never had and could easily prove to be an upgrade, not just in the long-term, but in year one as well.
Eskridge’s primary competition for playing time will likely be 2020 6th round pick Freddie Swain, who played 351 snaps as the 4th receiver as a rookie last season, but struggled mightily and isn’t a guarantee to be any better going forward. Lockett and Metcalf still lead this receiving corps, but their depth looks like it should be better than a year ago with the addition of Everett in free agency and Eskridge in the draft. If they can find a consistent #3 option, this could be one of the top receiving corps in the league.
When DK Metcalf was added two off-seasons ago, it began a shift for the Seahawks, from just 427 pass attempts in 2018 (32nd in the NFL) to 517 pass attempts in 2019 (23rd in the NFL) and 563 pass attempts last season (17th in the NFL). For all the #LetRussCook talk in recent years, when you add the 158 carries that Wilson has had over the past two seasons and the 96 sacks he has taken, Wilson’s usage rate is up there with other high level quarterbacks and this team is not nearly as dependent on their running backs as they used to be prior to Metcalf’s arrival.
That being said, the Seahawks do still have a solid stable of running backs, led by lead back Chris Carson, who was somewhat surprisingly retained on a 2-year, 10.425 million dollar deal in free agency this off-season. Carson seemed like he might be greeted by a relatively strong free agent market and the Seahawks didn’t seem to have the financial flexibility to commit big money to a running back when they had intriguing replacement options behind him, but Carson’s market didn’t develop as expected and he returned to the team he has led in rushing in each of the past three seasons.
Carson was only a 7th round pick of the Seahawks in 2017, primarily due to his injury history and limited playing time in college, and in year one injuries remained a concern, limiting him to 49 carries. However, he flashed potential with a 4.24 YPC average and 61.5% of his yardage coming after contact, leading to him taking over as the starter in 2018 and keeping the role ever since. In total, he’s rushed for 4.57 YPC on 715 carries with 21 rushing touchdowns and a whopping 73.9% of his yardage coming after contact. He hasn’t shown much as a receiver (1.07 yards per route run in his career), but he’s still finished 6th, 9th, and 17th respectively among running backs on PFF in the past three seasons respectively. Still in his prime in his age 27 season, I wouldn’t expect a significant drop off in 2021.
Injuries have remained a concern for him as he’s never played all 16 games in a season, but he still managed 278 carries and 315 touches in 15 games in 2019, so he’s proven he can handle a heavy workload. He saw just 141 carries and 178 touches in 12 games in 2020, but the Seahawks parted ways with veteran backup Carlos Hyde (97 touches in 2020) this off-season, rather than letting Carson walk, and all of the Seahawks other backup options are inexperienced, so Carson should get an uptick in touches per game.
The leading candidate to be the #2 running back is Rashaad Penny. Penny was actually a first round pick, 27th overall, in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he spent his first two seasons playing sparingly behind Carson, managing 150 carries in 24 games, before tearing his ACL late in the 2019 season. That injury extended into 2020 as well, as he saw just 11 carries in 3 games, and the Seahawks unsurprisingly declined his 5th year option for 2022, making 2021 his contract year. However, if he’s healthy, he has a clear path to seeing at least some action as the backup to Carson, who has his own injury history, which could lead to Penny seeing some starts. Penny was a reach who was never good enough to be a first round pick, but his 5.11 YPC average on 161 carries is pretty impressive and he could still have untapped upside.
Other reserve options include 2020 4th round pick Deejay Dallas, 2019 6th round pick Travis Homer, and 2016 5th round pick Alex Collins, who is in his second stint with the team. Dallas and Homer both have some upside, but haven’t shown much on 43 carries and 34 carries respectively. Collins, meanwhile, is by far the most proven of the bunch and actually rushed for 973 yards and 6 touchdowns on 212 carries (4.59 YPC) as the Ravens’ lead back in 2017, but he’s combined for just 3.76 YPC on 163 carries in his other four seasons in the league and has seen just 18 carries over the past two seasons combined. He may have some bounce back potential, but he could just as easily not make this final roster. Led by Chris Carson, this is a solid stable of backs overall with some intriguing backup options, but their lack of experience beyond Carson is a bit of a concern.
The biggest issue on this offense in recent years has been their offensive line, but they actually got off to a good start last season, in part why this offense played so well at the beginning of the year, before finishing as a middling unit at best. The problem was they were never healthy, with their expected starting five offensive linemen not playing together once after week 4. Their most notable injuries were right tackle Brandon Shell and Mike Iupati, who earned above average grades from PFF, but missed 5 games and 6 games respectively and saw their backups play at a significantly worse level. Center Ethan Pocic also missed a couple games.
Iupati opted to retire this off-season ahead of what would have been his age 34 season, an understandable decision given how banged up he’s been in recent years, but Shell returns as the starting right tackle, veteran Gabe Jackson was added this off-season to replace Iupati, and the rest of this offensive line remains from a year ago, so, at least on paper, they have the ability to be a solid unit if they can stay relatively healthy.
Left tackle Duane Brown was one of two Seahawks offensive line to make all 16 starts last season and he played at a high level, finishing as PFF’s 6th ranked offensive tackle, but there is some concern over whether or not he can do that again. Brown has been a consistently above average offensive tackle across an impressive 13-year career in the NFL, including seven finishes in the top-10 among offensive tackles on PFF, but his finish last season was still the 2nd best of his career and, now going into his age 36 season, it would be a surprise to see him repeat that performance.
Brown obviously hasn’t shown any signs of decline yet, but at his age, there is a strong possibility of that happening this season and the possibility that he drops off significantly exists as well. He also isn’t guaranteed to play all 16 games again as, even though he’s been relatively durable in his career, he’s missed at least some time in 6 of 13 seasons, including 4 of the past 6. Given how well he played last season, if he shows his age or misses significant time, that will have a noticeably negative effect on the rest of this offensive line and the offense as a whole.
Damien Lewis also made all 16 starts last season and figures to play next to Brown at left guard in 2021. Lewis mostly played right guard as a 3rd round rookie in 2020, with the exception of a brief stint at center in place of the injured Ethan Pocic, but right guard is Gabe Jackson’s natural position, while Lewis has the versatility to move to left guard. In addition to his versatility, Lewis didn’t play like a rookie in 2020, especially not one who fell to the 3rd round, finishing the season as PFF’s 16th ranked guard. He’s not guaranteed to be as good again in 2021, but he also could keep getting better and seems likely to develop into a consistently above average starter long-term.
Ethan Pocic is the shakiest of the Seahawks starters, as the 14 starts he made last season were actually a career high and his 24th ranked finish among centers, while mediocre, was actually the best finish of his career, as the 2017 2nd round pick had earned only well below average season long grades from PFF in his first three seasons in the league, across 16 combined starts. He’s a former high pick who is only going into his age 26 season and the Seahawks believe in him enough to bring him back as a free agent on a 1-year, 3 million dollar deal, but he could easily be a below average starter.
Brandon Shell and Gabe Jackson also come into the season with some concerns. Shell finished 36th among offensive tackles on PFF in 11 starts last season, but he had previously never earned more than a middling grade for a season from PFF in 51 starts in 5 seasons with the Jets to begin his career, after being selected in the 5th round in 2016, and he’s also never made all 16 starts in a season, so it might be wishful thinking to expect him to play the whole season.
Jackson, meanwhile, was almost released by the Raiders this off-season ahead of a 9.6 non-guaranteed million dollar salary, but the Seahawks offered the Raiders a late round pick when they found out he was available and restructured his deal to a 3-year, 22.575 million dollar deal. Jackson’s original contract was 55 million over 5 seasons, which the 2014 3rd round pick signed after his 3rd season in the league, when he was coming off of finishes of 11th among guards on PFF in 2015 and 27th among guards on PFF in 2016, but he never quite lived up to that contract.
He finished 14th among guards in 2018, but has otherwise been just a slightly above average starter since signing that deal, signing a 43rd ranked finish in 2020. Injuries have been a concern for him in recent years, missing 9 games in 4 seasons and being limited in others and, now going into his age 30 season, his best days are almost definitely behind him, but if he can stay reasonably healthy, he should be able to be at least a capable starter for the Seahawks with the upside for more, so he wasn’t a bad addition.
If injuries strike, the Seahawks’ depth options are limited. Jordan Simmons led all Seahawks reserves with 593 snaps played last season, making 6 starts at guard, but he finished 75th out of 86 eligible on PFF and the 2017 undrafted free agent also struggled in his only other career action in 195 snaps in 2019. He might have the best chance of any of their reserves to find himself in the starting lineup because, if Ethan Pocic struggles at center, they could shift Damien Lewis back there and plug Simmons into the starting lineup at guard.
Other reserve options include swing tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who has mostly struggled in 29 starts in 6 seasons in the league, 2019 4th round pick Phil Haynes, who has seen just one offensive snap in two seasons in the league, 2018 5th round pick JaMarco Jones, who has struggled across 509 career snaps, and 6th round rookie Stone Forsythe, who is unlikely to make a positive impact if forced into action in year one. The potential is there for this to be a solid offensive line for the first time in a while, but the downside is there as well with several inconsistent starters, a dominant left tackle who might find it tough to be quite as dominant now in his age 36 season, and shaky reserve options.
Along with better health as the season went on, one big reason for the Seahawks’ offensive turnaround in the second half of the season was their trade for Carlos Dunlap of the Bengals. A 2nd round pick by the Bengals in 2010, Dunlap was one of the Bengals’ best players of the past decade. From 2010-2019, Dunlap finished 35th or better among edge defenders on PFF in all 10 seasons, including three finishes in the top-5 and a 4th ranked finish in 2019. Also a strong run stuffer, Dunlap combined to total 81.5 sacks, 149 hits, and a 12.1% pressure rate in 148 games over that stretch.
The 2020 season was Dunlap’s age 31 season, so some drop off was to be expected, but when Dunlap struggled early in the season, he was benched by the Bengals, playing just 12 snaps in week 7 against the Browns, and as a result the long-time Bengal demanded a trade, which led to him going to Seattle mid-season in what amounted to a salary dump. However, Dunlap proved to have something left in the tank in the second half of the season, earning an above average grade overall from PFF and totaling 5 sacks, 10 hits, and a 12.1% pressure rate in 8 games.
Dunlap still didn’t have as good of a season as he was used to in his time in Cincinnati and now he’s another year older in his age 32 season, but the Seahawks opted to bring him back this off-season on a 2-year, 13.6 million dollar deal and he figures to continue factoring into the Seahawks’ edge defender rotation. One reason for that is simply that the Seahawks don’t have many other good options at the position. They are, however, reasonably deep and are hoping to find productive rotation players through competition.
Benson Mayowa led this group with 571 snaps played last season, despite only playing 13 games, but the Seahawks would probably like to avoid him seeing such a big role again in 2021. Mayowa managed just 6 sacks, 6 hits, and a 9.0% pressure rate and his snap count was actually a career high for his 8 years in the league. His career pressure rate of 8.9% isn’t any better, he’s mostly earned middling grades from PFF as a rotational player, and now he heads into his age 30 season. He would also definitely be a below average option if relied on for a significant role again.
The Seahawks also have hybrid interior/edge players in Rasheem Green (365 snaps) and LJ Collier (559 snaps), who will continue seeing some action on the edge, particularly on early downs. Collier was a first round pick by the Seahawks in 2019, but he struggled mightily through 152 rookie year snaps in an injury plagued first season in the league and in 2020, even though he was healthy and played all 16 games, he still struggled, finishing 86th out of 139 eligible interior defenders on PFF. In total, he’s managed just a 5.3% pressure rate in his short career, which would be underwhelming even if he played all of his snaps on the interior. He still has some upside, but he was considered a reach when the Seahawks selected him and he hasn’t done anything to prove the Seahawks right yet.
Green was also a high pick, selected in the 3rd round in 2018, but he also hasn’t shown much, earning below average grades from PFF in each of his three seasons in the league, while averaging 370 snaps per game and managing just a 7.2% pressure rate. He’s still very young, only going into his age 24 season, so it’s possible he could be better going forward, but thus far he’s yet to show any signs of being a solid starter or even rotation player.
Alton Robinson, a 2020 5th round pick, also saw 336 snaps as an edge defender last year, but, while he held his own, it came in very limited action and he wasn’t a high draft pick, so he has an uphill battle to become a consistent rotational player long-term. Robinson wasn’t even the first edge defender the Seahawks took in 2020, taking Darrell Taylor in the 2nd round, and, while he didn’t play a snap as a rookie due to injury, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him earn a significant role if he’s healthy in 2021. He has the most upside of the Seahawks’ young edge defenders, although that says more about the rest of the bunch than it does about him because he’s yet to even make his NFL debut.
The Seahawks also added veterans Aldon Smith and Kerry Hyder in free agency and both figure to see significant action if they can. The reason I say if they can is because Aldon Smith is yet again in off-the-field trouble. Smith was originally selected 7th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and burst onto the scene early in his career, totaling 47.5 sacks, 46 hits, and a 14.6% pressure rate in 59 games in his first 5 seasons in the league, but then off-the-field issues led to him being out of the league completely from 2016-2019, before he resurfaced with the Cowboys in 2020.
Smith didn’t quite show his old form in 2020, but he did have an impressive season, staying out of trouble, playing 809 snaps in 16 games, earning an above average grade from PFF, and doing his best work as a pass rusher with 5 sacks, 10 hits, and a 11.3% pressure rate. He signed with the Seahawks this off-season, but another off-the-field incident surfaced shortly after and now has his long-term future in limbo. It’s possible we could see him suit up for the Seahawks in 2021, but it’s also possible that comes only after a long suspension.
Hyder doesn’t have the same upside as Smith, but he’s a reliable option. He missed most of 2017 and 2018 with injury (153 snaps total), but in his last three healthy seasons, he’s earned average or better grades from PFF, he’s averaged 608 snaps per season, and he’s been at his best rushing the passer, with 17.5 sacks, 23 hits, and a 11.6% pressure rate, while playing all 16 games in each of his three healthy seasons. His age is a minor concern in his age 30 season and he is unlikely to be any better than he’s been, but he could remain a solid starting option. He’ll rotate heavily with several other options and this is an underwhelming edge defender group overall, but they could mostly decent play if they manage their rotation correctly and get improved play from some young players.
With a couple Seahawks edge defenders lining up on the interior frequently in sub packages, the Seahawks don’t have as much need for traditional interior defenders, only giving significant action to three players in 2020, Jarran Reed, Poona Ford, and Bryan Mone. Reed was traded to the Chiefs this off-season in what amounted to a salary dump and, while he was a middling player last season, he leaves behind a lot of snaps (847) to replace. The Seahawks have a few candidates to replace him, including returning opt-out Al Woods, free agent acquisition Robert Nkemdiche, and third year holdover Bryan Mone, who could earn a significant uptick in playing time with a strong off-season. The Seahawks could also play their edge defenders on the interior more often.
Woods has been in the league since 2010 and has generally been a solid run stuffer in his career, but he’s another year older after the opt out, npw going into his age 34 season, he’s never surpassed 564 snaps played in a season, and he really leaves something to be desired as a pass rusher, with a career 3.9% pressure rate. Mone, on the other hand, has only played 317 snaps since going undrafted in 2019 and he’s struggled across that playing time, but he’s likely to see a larger role in year three by default, even if he’s likely to struggle if counted on for extended action.
Nkemdiche, meanwhile, is only worth mentioning because he’s a former first round pick (29th overall by the Cardinals in 2016) who is still relatively young, going into his age 27 season, but he’s been a massive bust and was out of the league entirely in 2020. Even before sitting out 2020, Nkemdiche had shown very little through 4 seasons in the league, playing 776 snaps total with the Cardinals and Dolphins and earning below average grades from PFF in all four seasons. There’s a chance he could make this roster and make an impact, but it seems more likely that he doesn’t make the team at all, which could possibly end his chances in the NFL.
Poona Ford is still locked into one starting role and, with Reed gone, it’s possible he sees an increase in snaps as well, although the 670 snaps he played last season were already a significant amount. It was also a career high for the 2018 undrafted free agent, but he wasn’t phased by the heavy workload, as he finished the season as PFF’s 12th ranked interior defender on the season. That didn’t come out of nowhere either, as Ford was PFF’s 29th ranked interior defender across 231 rookie year snaps in 2018 and their 8th ranked interior defender across 506 snaps in 2019.
The 5-11 310 pounder only looks like a big run stuffer, which is where he excels, but he’s not a bad pass rusher either, with a career 5.5% pressure rate, including 2 sacks, 8 hits, and a 6.7% pressure rate in 2020, justifying his every down role. Only in his age 26 season, he should remain at least an above average starter, even if he doesn’t quite match last season’s performance, and it’s possible he could be even better going forward if he continues to develop his pass rush game, which took a big leap in 2020. Heading into the final year of his rookie deal, locking him up seems like a priority for a Seattle team that otherwise lacks high level players on the defensive line and will be relying primarily on heavy rotations to try to get decent play upfront.
The last remaining member of the dominant Seahawks defense that led this team to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances early in Russell Wilson’s career is linebacker Bobby Wagner and, even now going into his age 31 season, he’s arguably their best defensive player. That’s in part due to all the talent that has been lost around him over the past few years, but Wagner is also still playing at a high level, finishing the 2020 season as PFF’s 3rd ranked off ball linebacker, while playing all but 11 snaps for the Seahawks.
A 2nd round pick in 2012, Wagner has earned an above average grade from PFF in all 9 seasons in his career, including seven finishes in the top-12 and five finishes in the top-4. He’s also been very durable, missing just 9 games total, while playing an average of 63.1 snaps per game. Even if he starts to decline in 2021, he should remain an above average starter, although any sort of significant drop off from him would be a huge blow to this defense.
Bobby Wagner’s long-time running mate at linebacker, KJ Wright, was not retained this off-season and, while he remains a free agent, it seems unlikely that the Seahawks will bring him back for his age 32 season, especially since they drafted his replacement a year ago in the first round, taking Jordyn Brooks 27th overall. Wright still played at a pretty high level in 2020 though, despite his age, as he finished 8th among off ball linebackers on PFF, while Brooks struggled across 367 rookie year snaps. Given that, it’ll be tough for Brooks not to be a downgrade, even if he takes a big step forward in his second season in the league.
The Seahawks will also have to replace Brooks as the third linebacker and their only choices are a pair of 2019 draft picks who have hardly played in two seasons in the league, 3rd round pick Cody Barton (266 snaps) and 5th round pick Ben Burr-Kirven (15 snaps). This group has some young players with potential, but they’ll be relying on Bobby Wagner to once again play at a high level and they’ll likely miss veteran KJ Wright, even if his age made him unlikely to repeat last season’s performance even if retained.
The Seahawks’ secondary getting healthy was a big part of why this defense was better down the stretch, but unfortunately they won’t have the same unit as a year ago after some off-season losses. One was Quinton Dunbar and, while he came to Seattle with expectations last off-season, he struggled across 397 snaps in an injury plagued season, so he won’t be missed much. However, the Seahawks also lost cornerback Shaq Griffin, who earned an above average grade from PFF in 12 starts and had been the Seahawks’ #1 cornerback in recent years, before leaving for a 3-year, 40 million dollar deal with the Jaguars this off-season.
The Seahawks added ex-49er Ahkello Witherspoon in free agency and also used a 4th round pick on Tre Brown, but the latter is unlikely to make much of an impact in year one, while the former is an underwhelming starting option, as he was very inconsistent throughout his 4 seasons with the 49ers, who selected him in the 3rd round in 2017. Witherspoon showed flashes of brilliance, but also struggled mightily for stretches and missed 17 games in 4 seasons. He has good size at 6-2 195 and the Seahawks tend to get the most out of taller cornerbacks, but it’s not like he was poorly coached with the 49ers, who run a similar coverage scheme to the Seahawks. Witherspoon may still have some untapped potential, only in his age 26 season, but he could also remain frustratingly inconsistent.
Witherspoon will likely start, but the Seahawks could have a pretty open competition for roles at cornerback. With Griffin missing some time and Dunbar missing even more, DJ Reed (560 snaps), Tre Flowers (578 snaps), and Ugo Amadi (552 snaps) all saw somewhat significant action, with varying levels of success, and all are back to compete for roles. Flowers was the worst of the bunch, finishing 93rd out of 136 eligible cornerbacks on PFF. He is also the most experienced, but his struggles weren’t surprising as the 2018 5th round pick has earned below average grades from PFF in each of his first three seasons in the league (37 starts in 42 games), so his experience doesn’t work in his favor. The Seahawks still love his size at 6-3 203, but he isn’t guaranteed to continue seeing a significant role.
DJ Reed was the best of the bunch last season and the 2018 5th round pick has generally made a positive impact when relied on for significant playing time in his career, but those opportunities have been limited, as he’s made just 10 career starts and has averaged just 348 snaps per season. He’s a projection to a larger role, but there is some upside there. Amadi, meanwhile, was a 4th round pick by the Seahawks in 2019 and, after hardly playing as a rookie (76 snaps), he held his own in a larger role in his second season in the league. He’s also pretty unproven and could struggle in a full-time role, but he definitely has upside and he’s not a bad option to have even if he doesn’t take a step forward in year three.
The Seahawks also took a flyer on veteran Pierre Desir, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if he didn’t even make the final roster. Continuing this organization’s love of bigger cornerbacks, Desir is 6-1 198, but that might be the primary reason the Seahawks are giving him a chance, as he hasn’t earned it with his play in the past two seasons, finishing below average on PFF in both seasons, including a 116th ranked finish out of 136 eligible cornerbacks across 519 snaps in 2020, a season in which he was cut down the stretch by the winless Jets. Desir was PFF’s 18th ranked cornerback across 903 snaps with the Colts in 2018, but never lived up to that and otherwise was never more than a middling cornerback who never topped 683 snaps in another season. Going into his age 31 season, he could be completely at the end of his line.
The Seahawks have good depth at safety with Marquise Blair returning from injury, so they could use three safeties together somewhat regularly in sub packages to mask their lack of proven depth at cornerback. Both Blair and starting safety Quandre Diggs have experience as slot cornerbacks, although the Seahawks seem to prefer Blair there more than Diggs, whose slot experience is primarily from earlier in his career with the Lions. Blair was a 2nd round pick of the Seahawks in 2019 and showed a lot of potential across 230 rookie year snaps, only to see his second season ended by injury after just 63 snaps in two games. The upside is still there for him to develop into at least a solid sub package option for the Seahawks, though the injury and his overall lack of experience hurt his projection.
Diggs, meanwhile, is plenty experienced and should remain a starting safety. A 6th round pick in 2015, Diggs was a solid slot cornerback earlier in his career, but he’s been better at safety, where he has been an every down player, averaging 62.6 snaps per game in 42 games (all starts) over the past three seasons. Diggs was more of a middling starter in 2020, but he finished 35th among safeties on PFF in 2018 and 18th among safeties on PFF in 2019 and could easily bounce back in 2021, still only in his age 28 season.
Along with Diggs likely being a little better in 2021, the Seahawks will especially be hoping from a bounce back year from fellow starting safety Jamal Adams, which is more important for a variety of reasons. For one, the Seahawks simply have a lot invested in Adams, who they traded a pair of first round picks to acquire a year ago from the Jets and, now in the final year of his rookie deal, a lucrative extension is almost definitely looming on the horizon.
On top of that, Adams is one of the top safeties in the league at his best, which is why the Seahawks gave up as much as they did for him in the first place, and he’s still only in his age 26 season. Selected 6th overall by the Jets in 2017, Adams was an above average starter from the word go and took a big leap from year one to years two and three, finishing as PFF’s 3rd ranked safety in 2018 and their 4th ranked safety in 2019. However, after being traded, he fell all the way to 47th among safeties in his first season in Seattle, while missing four games with injury.
Adams’ 9.5 sacks jump off the stat sheet and that’s not a fluke, as he has a 24.9% pressure rate for his career as a blitzer, but he only rushed the passer on 19.0% of his pass snaps and was a liability in coverage, while not being particularly good against the run either, so his effectiveness as a blitzer wasn’t enough for Adams to be worth the investment in year one and the Seahawks didn’t acquire him to only be effective when taken out of coverage to blitz. Adams was never really healthy all season and has a very good chance to bounce back in his second season in Seattle if he can be healthier, but his long-term projection is shakier than it was a year ago. They’ll need him to play at a high level to compensate for an otherwise underwhelming secondary.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Seahawks in 2020, as they started out with strong offense and mediocre defense, only to see their offense drop off significantly in the second half and their defense to start playing at a high level. Their offense dealt with some injuries down the stretch, while their defense was missing key players earlier in the season, but overall their first and second half splits seem like the result of random variance more than anything and, even if injuries were the driving factor, they can’t necessarily depend on better health in 2021, as they ranked a middling 20th in adjusted games lost and injuries are part of the game.
Overall, the Seahawks finished last season 9th in first down rate differential at +1.65%, which is about right for how they played across the season as a whole. They managed to go 12-4, but needed to win 8 of their 11 one score games to do so and just based on that being unlikely to repeat, they could see their win total drop by a couple, with a roster that overall seems about as talented as their squad a year ago, without major changes being made overall.
The Seahawks are one of the better teams in the league, but they’re not one of the top few teams in the league and, in a division where all four teams look like strong playoff contenders, the Seahawks could have a tough battle to even make the post-season. Ultimately, they seem more likely to get in than be left out, but their schedule doesn’t have many breaks. I will have a final prediction for the Seahawks at the end of the off-season with the rest of the teams.