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.
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.