2016 NFL Season Preview: Seattle Seahawks
Even with unanswered questions abound, the Seahawks aim to ride the league’s top scoring defense with a relatively new-look offense back to the Super Bowl.
Players re-signed: Doug Baldwin, Jeremy Lane, Jermaine Kearse, Christine Michael, Michael Morgan, Ahtyba Rubin, Jon Ryan
Free agents signed: Tony McDaniel, Bradley Sowell, J’Marcus Webb, Brandon Williams
Players lost: Alvin Bailey, Marcus Burley, Clint Gresham, Jordan Hill, Bruce Irvin, Patrick Lewis, Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Mebane, Drew Nowak, Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy, Will Tukuafu, Cary Williams
Players drafted: (1) Germain Ifedi, (2) Jarran Reed, (3) C.J. Prosise, (3) Nick Vannett, (3) Rees Odhiambo, (5) Quinton Jefferson, (5) Alex Collins, (6) Joey Hunt, (7) Kenny Lawler*, (7) Zac Brooks*, (UD) Trevone Boykin, (UD) Tyvis Powell, (UD) Tanner McEvoy, (UD) Nolan Frese, (UD) George Fant, (UD) DeAndre Elliott, (UD) Taniela Tupou
*not on final 53-man roster
The Pete Carroll-John Schneider era Seahawks place a great deal of value in carrying out their annual youth infusion. With their core group of players (all drafted by Seattle) established, they look to complement those players through the draft. Because they value drafting and developing talent at such a high level, the Seahawks are not aggressive about retaining non-core players who may ultimately cost too much, hence the departures of Bruce Irvin and the talented but perpetually injured Russell Okung, among many others.
The Seahawks attacked the 2016 draft as they do many others: targeting positions of concern and players they found talented often, and in great volume, drafting ten times. Marshawn Lynch retiring was major. Granted, having Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael waiting in the wings did a lot to soften the blow. Despite this, the team heavily values competition, and was not content to rest on their laurels at the running back position – they went out and added even more talent at the position in players like C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins, and undrafted free agent Troymaine Pope, who impressed but did not make the final 53-man roster.
Finally hearing their fans’ pained cries for help on the offensive line; Seattle targeted the offensive line multiple times in the 2016 draft as well, adding guard/tackle Germain Ifedi, guard Rees Odhiambo, and center Joey Hunt. To follow along with the blocking theme, they drafted Nick Vannett, an inline tight end that will bring what the other TEs have solidly lacked. Reinforcements on the defensive line were drafted in Jarran Reed, a nose tackle prospect with solid upside, and Quinton Jefferson, who will provide pass rush at the defensive tackle position. They would close the draft out with Kenny Lawler, a wide receiver currently on the practice squad and Zac Brooks, another running back who ultimately did not make the cut.
2016 Season Outlook
The offense has been a question mark for the Seahawks for a number of years now. The outlook is currently brighter than ever, but there are some unresolved matters that will inevitably be addressed as the season goes on.
The offensive line has consistently rated towards the bottom of the league for years now. If you’ve watched more than one Seahawks game, you’ve seen things like Marshawn Lynch evading hits in the backfield, Russell Wilson running for his life, Russell Wilson getting sacked (164 times in his first four seasons), and untimely penalties turning causing a potentially manageable series to die at 3rd and impossible. Poor offensive line play has plagued this team. So why is there cause for optimism, despite Seattle losing its most talented lineman in Russell Okung to the Denver Broncos? The preseason. Granted, it was just the preseason, but judging this line from this preseason compared to past offensive lines from other preseasons has been like night and day. The line played as a unit. Russell Wilson had time to throw. Running backs had holes to run through. It was enough to make a grown Seahawks fan cry. After Justin Britt spent two terrible seasons at right tackle and left guard, he seems to have finally found a home at center. Mark Glowinski has looked solid at left guard. Germain Ifedi has a vice grip on the starting right guard position. Garry Gilliam is slated to begin another year at right tackle, and Bradley Sowell has been surprisingly competent, holding down the left tackle position. This unit has shown true promise, especially with protecting the quarterback. If Tom Cable, the offensive line coach, has finally resolved his blind spot in pass protection, this unit can finally shed the burden as this team’s albatross.
One would think that with Russell Wilson at quarterback, there are no questions at this position, right? Not so much. Trevone Boykin, undrafted rookie, enters this season as Wilson’s primary backup. Boykin had a decent preseason, showing some flashes, but many more moments that one would expect from an undrafted rookie. Can Boykin hold down the backup QB spot? Time will tell.
In the interim, any Seahawks fan will hope that Russell Wilson continues his trend of not missing a single start as he enters his fifth year. As for Wilson, he is coming off of a career year, setting highs in passing yardage (4,024), passing touchdowns (34), completion percentage (68.1), and passer rating (110.1). Much has been made of his 24-1 TD-INT ratio in the last seven games of the season (6-1). While it is unreasonable to expect Wilson to continue that regular season streak, the upgraded offensive attack, heavily featuring 11 personnel (three WRs, 1 RB, 1 TE) and quick hitting passing is still in place. The onus is now on Wilson to keep firing the ball as quickly as possible – he has a history of holding the ball too long; helping pass rushers shred an already vulnerable offensive line. This has played a role in the unpredictable sandlot passing offense that has created as many lowlights as highlights. It is time to move on from that in full. Russell Wilson has a special gift for making a play out of nothing as a passer, but these plays cannot be the cornerstone of the passing offense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Save for star wide receiver tight end Jimmy Graham, and Tyler Lockett exploding onto the scene, this group has been considered nondescript. However, this group features a number of capable playmakers, beginning with Doug Baldwin. Baldwin has truly emerged into his own as a top wide receiver, using his route running and deceptive speed (4.48 40 time) to pester opposing defensive backs. Tyler Lockett packs explosive speed (4.4 40 time), shiftiness, and outstanding route running into a compact (5’9”) frame, and has incredible upside. Jermaine Kearse is ostensibly the quietest of the bunch, but has a knack for making the big play at the right time. Paul Richardson is another speedster (4.33 40 time) who can stress a defense vertically, provided he can stay healthy. Luke Willson brings impressive speed (4.5 40 time) and size to the TE position, and loves to embarrass flat-footed safeties and linebackers down the seam. Should Graham make a full recovery from a devastating knee injury, expect him to gradually blend into the scene as yet another potent aerial weapon in this offense.
As mentioned before, the Seahawks have managed to assemble an impressive depth chart with Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, C.J. Prosise, and Alex Collins. Pete Carroll loves to run the ball. Tom Cable loves to run the ball. Running the ball has never been a concern with this team, and even with Marshawn Lynch hanging up his cleats, the run game can very much be the key that opens up a world of success on this offense. Rawls and Michael are likely to share the bulk of the workload, with Prosise helping out on passing downs. Thomas Rawls is coming off of a very impressive rookie season, where he averaged 5.6 yards per carry, 2.7 of those coming after contact. He is an intimidating runner, and the smash to Christine Michael’s dash. While Michael brings incredible speed as a runner, he also has some toughness between the tackles in his own right. If Rawls and Michael stay healthy, Prosise may not get a lot of touches. He brings bruising size (6’1”, 220lbs) and blistering speed (4.48 40 time) to the position, but is a work in progress. While there are a number of variables (namely pass protection) affecting the success in the pass game, the run game is no-nonsense; the Seahawks will run the ball. They will run with variety, and they will run consistently..
Where there are questions on offense, there are answers on defense. Kris Richard is firmly entrenched as defensive coordinator, which should eliminate the coverage mishaps that plagued Seattle early last season. There was very slight turnover, with few pieces to integrate into the system. While this group may face some hiccups here and there, expect Seattle to resemble the stingiest scoring defense for yet another year.
Seattle brings back most of its disruptive defensive line, responsible for pressuring the quarterback and anchoring the league’s top run defense. Nose tackle Brandon Mebane left for the Chargers in free agency, and is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by Jarran Reed, once Reed is healthy. Rotation player Jordan Hill, the 3-tech pass rusher, was recently waived, due to his inability to stay healthy. He is expected to be replaced by Quinton Jefferson. Pass rushing bookends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are back, and where the team loses Bruce Irvin on the defensive line, they gain more snaps from Frank Clark, who is poised to build on a productive rookie campaign. Cassius Marsh also figures into the defensive end rotation, provided he can effectively rush the passer. The Seahawks bring back Ahtyba Rubin, their base package 3-tech, and a key to their imposing run defense. Tony McDaniel has also been signed to provide depth at the 3-tech position. Should the rookies from this group integrate themselves well, this line can be even stronger than before.
There is virtually no change in this group, with only strong side linebacker Bruce Irvin departing. He is to be replaced by Mike Morgan. Led by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, expect these linebackers to be thoroughly athletic, anywhere from solid to outstanding in coverage, and gather stops regularly.
The only major change in this group is the departure of Cary Williams, during the previous season. This was sorely needed. Jeremy Lane is back and healthy, DeShawn Shead has another year of experience playing cornerback, and Richard Sherman is still #25. Earl Thomas should bring yet another season of great centerfield play, and Kam Chancellor should bounce back after a down year last season. Marcus Burley was released in favor of keeping Tharold Simon, who should make plays if he finds his way onto the field (and stays healthy). Pete Carroll has finally relaxed the confines of his pass defense, freeing Richard Sherman to shadow elite receivers at will, also rotating Shead and Lane into different cornerback positions as needed. Expect this group to do what they do best; run with heavy cover-3 and man concepts, and limit playmaking opportunities for opposing receivers.
The NFC West is an ornery group – the 49ers are terrible, the Rams are terrible but prickly, and the Cardinals are explosive. If Chip Kelly has learned from his experience in Philadelphia, the 49ers could be a slightly tougher out than expected every week. The Cardinals made few moves, but return Tyrann Mathieu healthy (for now), and add Chandler Jones as a featured pass rusher. The Rams… have Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Todd Gurley. Whether or not that translates into a team that can win, remains to be seen. If the Seahawks play to their capabilities, they can win this division, and its ultimate prize: home field advantage for a deep playoff run. However, if the Seahawks experience their fits and starts out the gate as they are prone to, they will end up behind the Cardinals, yet again. And I will have agita, yet again.
Prediction: 12-4, 1st in the NFC West