BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 05/01/2018

Seahawks better? Yes. Good enough? No.

The Seahawks filled considerable holes on the offense during free agency and the draft, but now it’s the defense that seems booked for decay in 2018.

On glare alone, RG D.J. Fluker is a major uptick for the Seahawks’ line. / USA Today

After nearing the league lead in human interest stories from the draft, it’s time for the football question: Are the Seahawks any better?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that, in a vastly improved NFC West, it’s probably not enough.

After purges of the coaching staff and the roster, the Seahawks have resupplied via free agency and the draft in the biggest makeover since 2010, the first year under Pete Carroll and John Schneider.

Most of the alleged national experts are have graded the Seahawks draft as a C or worse, mainly because of a consensus that they overreached with a few choices, plus the fact that no one in the Judeo-Christian world trades up for a punter.

But grading drafts before any draftee has taken a professional snap is like doing a restaurant review with all the meals under plastic wrap. Looks good, but plastic always tastes like plastic.

Many of the same critics who derided the Seahawks’ 2012 choices praised the drafts of 2013, 2014 and 2015. They had it exactly backward.

The only things less reliable in American culture than day-after draft evaluations are high-school recruiting grades and Seattle traffic studies.

Even Schneider was a little equivocal when given the chance to answer a question about his overall assessment.

“We made good decisions all the way through, and we’ll see how it goes,” he said Saturday evening. “You never really come out it going, ‘You know what . . .’  It’s kind of like a doctor. You never hear a doctor come out of a surgery saying, ‘You know what, I don’t know if that was such a good surgery.’”

Schneider’s apparent humility is well earned, given that the Seahawks have only three players on the roster from the three drafts mentioned above — C Justin Britt, WR Tyler Lockett and DE Frank Clark.

To beat on the medical analogy a little bit more, the patient in this case needed leg surgery to be able to run in 2018. The early wager is that the Seahawks have succeeded.

The ground game received an unexpected boost when the Seahawks broke football’s unwritten rule about not taking a running back in the first round. In Rashaad Penny, they have a guy who as a senior had a 7.49 yards per carry average, and seven 200-yard games. He returned seven kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown, tying the NCAA combo record.

San Diego State of the Mountain West Conference, you say, snickering? Tell that to Hall of Fame alum Marshall Faulk.

A hidden virtue is that Penny spent three seasons behind the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, Donnel Pumphrey, now with the Eagles. That means he has low mileage, a virtue in the gurneyscape of the depleted Seattle backfield.

The run game was further boosted by a blocking tight end, fourth-rounder Will Dissly of Washington. He’s played the position only two years, which, when you think about it, is two more than Jimmy Graham played in Seattle. Graham looked at blocking like Rick Moranis’s character in Ghostbusters, Louis Tully, looked at the terror dog.

Since the Seahawks signed in free agency another block-first tight end, Ed Dickson, the possibility exists that the Seahawks need not fear the Rams’ formidable pass-rush tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald. If the Seahawks run 60 times from two-tight-end formations, that leaves Russell Wilson to pass five or six times, tops.

We kid. Then again, D.J. Fluker.

Signed cheap in free agency from the Giants, where he his boss was Mike Solari, Seattle’s new line coach, Fluker is 350 pounds of slaughterhouse nasty, a huge uptick from the semi-healthy Luke Joeckel. I’m buying Carroll’s contention that the four O-line holdovers will man up to nearly the NFL average this season.

But if RT Germain Ifedi remains the most penalized player since Conrad Dobler, the Seahawks drafted a potential solution in  Jamarco Jones of Ohio State. I’ll let Pro Football Focus, which labeled him one of the top steals of the draft, explain:

While he wasn’t particularly dominant in any particular phase of the game, Jones performed at an above average level across the board, making him a high-floor prospect and quite the steal  in the fifth round.

Allowing just 11 total pressures across 431 pass-blocking snaps, Jones tied for 11th in the draft class in pass-blocking efficiency (98.0) in 2017. He also ranked 35th run-block success percentage (92.1), which should only improve if Seattle’s coaches can correct his technique a bit and help him win the leverage battle at a more consistent rate.

To summarize on offense: Penny, Dickson/Dissly, Fluker and Jones solve immediately a lot of problems.

To summarize on defense . . . well, that’s a lot easier, because it can be said in two sentences:

Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril must be replaced all at once. No can do.

Nor is there apparent improvement at the corner opposite Shaquill Griffin. That’s five positions in less reliant hands.

The celebrity hire, LB Shaquem Griffin, is going to be a good NFL player, but he’s going to start out backing up LB K.J. Wright and playing special teams.

The newcomers on defense in 2018 aren’t terrible, but they have to fill screaming voids. By 2019, the defense rises.

At least for a season, the Seahawks will be carried more by the offense, which figures to be a thigh-slapper for fans of 60 rushes a game.

The rest of the NFC West has on its big-boy britches. It is perhaps the NFL’s toughest division, especially if Arizona rookie QB Josh Rosen is as good as he is brash.

Then again, if Aussie-rules punter Michael Dickson forces most opponents to start drives in the Outback among the dingoes, the Seahawks will again savor the pleasure of degrading the graders.


YourThoughts

  • coug73

    Hope springs eternal in the human breast or I would rather be lucky than good. The 2018 season will be PC’s Waterloo, the question is does he win?

    • art thiel

      The Seahawks have been heavy on the unlucky, but I have no idea when such things turn.

  • John M

    As with players, there are no two coaches that think-react exactly alike, so it will be interesting to see how the new crew gets their folks ready for a game. At this point, the dynamic between all the new faces has few measurables to point at and seems the biggest unknown . . .

    • art thiel

      True enough. Talent is 75 percent of the game, but outcomes in the NFL are determined by small-margin things like alignments and personnel matchups determined by coaches.

  • Matt712

    All those dearly departed defensive players mentioned have arguably peaked already. Sure, compared to their primes, the new starters have much to live up to, but I’d much rather see young guys get better than old guys get worse, even if it means another 9-7 season. Funny how one 9-7 year can fill you with dread while a second one could fill you with optimism.

    And maybe even 9-7 is wishful thinking, but (and it could simply be nostalgia) this draft felt a lot like 2012. Except, in 2012, the Seahawks didn’t have the best QB, the best middle linebacker, and the best free safety in the division.

    • art thiel

      I told someone the other day that looking at 9-7, it depends on whether you’re coming or going. What’s needed is a lot of production from the classes of ’16 and ’17.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    It’s just not the doom and gloom everyone else sees. , I don’t see it. Are we the best team in the division – better than the Rams ? No , of course not – not this year anyway . But the Rams are on a one year all-or-nothing ride once all those contacts come due next year .

    With no Kam Chancellor , no Cliff Avril , no Richard Sherman , and no running game OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER , we finished 2 field goals short of 11 wins last season .

    We have a first ballot HOF kicker , a new punter that can apparently nail 80 yard punts like popcorn and also directionally punt inside the 20 from the end zone ( He’s been labeled the Aaron Donald of punting ) , AND a madman gunner named Griffin that runs 4.38 40’s and wants nothing more than to rip peoples heads off for passing on him , special teams looks vastly improved . That’s a factor of the game and an area of improvement I think far too few are looking at ..

    Add the above aforementioned improvements at running back , Fluker and the tight ends .. things should be looking up quite a bit this season Seahawk fans . And that automatic pencilling in of the Rams as Division Champions ? Injuries are funny things , and it’s an oblong ball . Sometimes things bounce funny .

    • art thiel

      Many things have to go right, but this is hardly a bad team once the draftees get plugged in. It’s just that the absences stand out to more people than the additions. The Seahawks scare no one, which doesn’t mean they can’t win nine.

      • Ron

        https://www.sportsline.com/nfl/futures/

        According to that betting line, only the Cardinals and Redskins have worse odds than the Seahawks. With the exception of the Cardinals, every team that the Seahawks play this coming season will be considered better.

  • tor5

    I know I’m not as savvy as most NFL geeks, but I don’t really understand the criticism of the punter pick. I’m thinking if he averages 5 yards or so above the average punt, that adds up to a lot of turf, shorter returns, and a lot of defensive pressure. And that would seem to be very valuable. And then there’s the moneyball aspect. If they can get Jon Ryan punts for much cheaper, that releases a few mil to upgrade some other position (of course, hate to see Jon go…). A lot of “ifs” but I thought it was a pretty slick draft move. What am I missing?

    • art thiel

      It’s kind of a hackneyed football aphorism that teams shouldn’t use a pick on a punter when most are available as UDFAs. But I don’t see a problem, given the special set of skills he showed from his Aussie-rules days. We’ve seen several of his mates in college and NFL able to drop the ball onto the green like an eight-iron.

      • Husky73

        Hackneyed aphorisms…stop, I’m begging you.

  • Centiorari

    I like the draft, we got at least 3 starters, some good special team/developing players and overall were very focused. A lot of the negativity from critics of the Seahawk’s draft is more about when the player was drafted not about the player’s actual value to the team. I like that they got “their guy” and didn’t take too many risks on back up options for value that haven’t panned out like years prior. I also don’t think most of those guys they picked a bit early, Penny, Dissly, Dickson, would be there by the time the next Seahawk pick came around. Another team obviously wanted Penny in the first round, I suspect the Patriots, if a team wanted to trade for him right after he was selected. Both Dissly and Dickson saw runs on the position in the same round that they went and both players were unique among their peers in skill sets that at least gave me the feeling that they were wanted by teams that picked that position shortly after. I especially like the d-line talent that we got as UDFA, if you wanted value, there is quite a bit there. Currently the only position of real worry for me is WR, I hope that the hawks passing on drafting/FA one is more about the current roster than wishful thinking on UDFA’s, this year we can get by but who do we expect to take over for Lockett if he leave, WR salaries aren’t going down from what P Rich got.

    • art thiel

      You’re right about the uselessness of guessing about over-reaches. The coaches understand their needs better, and if they target a problem-fixer, they’re obliged to go for it.

  • ll9956

    Another great piece, Art. A pleasure to read. It would be so sweet if the new crew members prove the “experts” wrong. It would also be sweet if Solari can help Ifedi cure his severe case of penalty-itis.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Something wasn’t working between Cable and Ifedi, and I’m not sure who was more responsible.

  • jafabian

    I’m curious if the Seahawks will bring back Joeckel. He played hurt last season and even came back after mid-season surgery. If he’s cheap why not? I’d love to see Khalif Barnes brought in to camp. I’m also wondering if they might bring back Derrick Coleman to play FB though Mike Tolbert is also available. Record-wise I don’t believe the team will be better but the foundation may be. Sometimes you get addition through subtraction.

    • art thiel

      I don’t believe Joeckel has signed anywhere, but he had so much surgery done on the knee before Seattle that it was an over-reach to expect him to contribute even close to an average level.

  • Ron

    Seahawks have joined the outer orbits of the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears…

    https://www.sportsline.com/nfl/futures/

    Remember, 2019 is where it’s at.

  • Burnt Orange

    I actually like this draft on many levels and no one can truly judge a draft until,3 years down the road. So, we’ve got to,wait and see. That being said, I was like many of the pundits when the Hawks picked a punter, “WTF did we just do? Trade up to get a punter?”. Then, I texted my friend who’s a UT Alum who follows the Horns religiously and inquired about Dickson. Keep in mind he goes to every game each year home/away and has done so for the last 15 years. His response about Dickson, “2nd greatest special teams player we’ve ever had. He will be a Pro Bowl punter within 2 years. But you also have an excellent UDFA in Poona Ford who’s an absolute beast of a player and will lock down the middle of the Dline.” I was a whole lot happier upon hearing my friend’s response. He wasn’t so high on on UDFA S Hall, but he said if Hall transitions to SS/Linebacker, hits exactly like Kam Chancellor, but he’s not quite as fast as Chancellor. Super excited and Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      There you go, searching for eyewitness statements. Good on yer, mate.

  • Effzee

    I need to see Goff do it again for me to be afraid of that team. I think their success had a lot to do with the Seahawks regression. The thing that really disappoints me is that Pete and John wasted two years before firing Bevell. He should have been gone the week after calling the play that cannot be unseen. They should have been able to tell that what Cable was doing was ill-advised and ineffective as well. Some of us were calling for these changes for the past two years. It was just never going to work, once Beast Mode left. They wasted two friggin’ entire seasons. So frustrating that they could not see what was just glaringly obvious and staring them in the face. That said, I love this draft, and I don’t buy the hype that we are now second fiddle to the Rams.

  • Husky73

    The Judeo Christians, Rick Moranis, the Outback and Conrad Dobler in the same column!! ….no mas….I step away. In awe.