Staying in the NFC West, today we will preview the Seattle Seahawks a team that has dominated the NFL in the past few seasons, but will enter 2016 without their feature back and tone setter Marshawn Lynch (aka “Beast Mode”). The Seahawks have been incredibly successful under Head Coach Pete Carroll who joined Seattle in 2010 after leaving the NFL and coaching Southern California for eight years in College Football. Since 2010 the Seahawks have gone 7-9 in Carroll’s first season in 2010 which saw the Seahawks win a Wild Card game; 7-9 in 2011; 11-5 in 2012; 13-3 with a Super Bowl victory in 2013; 12-4 with a controversial call resulting in the Seahawks losing Super Bowl 49 in 2014 and finally 10-6 in 2015. Despite the recent loss of Running Back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks show no signs of slowing down in 2016 as the 7 Pro Bowlers and 3 All-Pro’s from 2015 still remain on the roster and the Seahawks appear to have addressed the loss of “Beast Mode” at Running Back. Yet all this may not matter if the Seahawks cannot address their largest problem area from 2015, the Offensive Line. Everyone knows the Seahawks for their elite Defense and smash-mouth running style, yet if they cannot figure it out upfront then it will be difficult for Russell Wilson to try and bring home the Franchise’s second Super Bowl.
The Seahawks are not famed for having a high-power Offence in recent years and it is true that they are run first team who plays physical up the gut football alongside a hard-hitting Defense. This recipe has been extremely successful for Seattle even in 2015 as their feature back Marshawn Lynch appeared in only 7 games. 2015 is a strange one for the Seahawks as they racked up the 4th most amount of Offensive yards in the League and also produced the 5th highest scoring Offence (Higher than they achieved in their previous two seasons where they appeared in the Super Bowl). Something has clearly started to click in Seattle and this was all with the underachieving of free agent pick up, Tight End Jimmy Graham. Let us take a look at some of the key players who could be instrumental in guiding Seattle back to the Super Bowl and also the wider Offence.
Just nine days removed from signing a 4-year $87.6 million contract extension, Russell Wilson is close to entering the prime of his career at 27 years of age. Despite being taken in the 3rd round, Wilson achieved enormous success early in his career. He won Rookie of the Year in 2012 as he tied Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdowns by a rookie (26) before winning a Super Bowl in his sophomore year and then losing Super Bowl 49 in his third year with that famous play call that saw Wilson throw an interception on an attempted slant route.
Despite Wilson’s height, which many scouts flagged as an area of concern during the Draft, Wilson has managed to become an established (elite? Maybe after next season we can label him that) Quarterback in the NFL and has second highest NFL passer rating of all time. In his four years as a pro, Wilson has thrown 106 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. When you compare this to Andrew Luck’s record in the same amount of time (the cannot miss prospect out of Stanford in the same Draft) of 101 touchdowns with 55 interceptions it is an impressive feat. What is even more impressive is that during Wilson’s four years, the best Receiver on Offence has been either Golden Tate or Doug Baldwin. Russell Wilson was denounced earlier in his career by critics as simply a ‘game manager’, however, 2015 saw Wilson take a big step forward in silencing these claims as he had his best year as a pro. Wilson went over 4,000 yards for the first time and posted his highest touchdown total (34), highest competition percentage (68.1%), most amount of yards per average completion (8.3) and led the league with an astounding 110.1 Quarterback rating. This was all while swallowing 45 sacks on the season (just under 3 per game).
Russell Wilson has proved that he can now beat teams with both his legs and his arm. Wilson is deadly coming off play action as he possesses the ability to pick teams apart finding his speedy targets down the field or take off and use his wheels to pick up first downs. Wilson has an incredibly quick release and his baseball background is clear to see as the ball fizzes out of his hand. Wilson was drafted in the 4th round of the MLB Draft while in College and also played in the MLB in the offseason after he hoisted the Vince Lombardy Trophy. Wilson has taken steps towards becoming a complete Quarterback and it is clear that the nurturing Head Coach Pete Carroll offered Wilson as he placed a young rookie QB alongside a dominant Defense and Running game has worked wonders in allowing Wilson to grow at the Quarterback position. Wilson will enter the 2016 season with arguably the most talented receiving corps he has had to date and if Seattle’s rushing attack can keep grinding out yards and keeping Defense’s true (having to respect the run and bring players down into the box) then Wilson should continue to take strides in 2016 and leave his ‘game manager’ reputation behind him.
No more “Beast Mode.” These words would have been a nightmare for the Seattle Seahawks in any other offseason, however, the 12th man up in Seattle have hope in the running game as 2015 witnessed the emergence of rookie Running Back Thomas Rawls. Rawls was an undrafted pick up by the Seahawks in 2015 and went on to rush for 830 yards in just 13 games averaging an astonishing 5.6 yards per attempt. Despite fracturing his ankle late into the season, Rawls is expected to be ready for Seattle’s season opener and Head Coach Pete Carroll and Offensive Co-Ordinator Darrell Bevell will be hoping that he can fill the void left by Marshawn Lynch. Rawls is an elusive back who is similar to Lynch in that he takes on the form of a human bowling ball as Defenders appear to simply bounce off him and can lower his shoulder to transform into a freight train and plough through defenders. Seattle will hope that Rawls can keep progressing and allow them to implement their run first smash mouth style of offence that opens up so much for Wilson in the passing lanes.
Yet if Rawls fails to impress then the Seahawks could give snaps to either of the pair of extremely talented Running Backs that they took in this years draft. C. J. Prosise (3rd round) has the height and size to be a three-down back if the Seahawks require a back up and possesses speed that can beat linemen or Linebackers round the corner. He is a former receiver and therefore offers the Seahawks something different out of the backfield, yet his inexperience at the Running Back position (only 1 year in college) means he will have a lot to learn in pass protection in order to see many snaps during his rookie season. Alex Collins (5th round) is also well built and has the quick footwork to make Defenders miss, however, he suffers from a lack of top end speed and does not plough through defenders like Prosise and Rawles do.
Seattle will again enter another season without a conventional no.1 Wide Receiver and will instead employ smaller receivers. Doug Baldwin at only 5 foot 10 was undrafted in 2011 and showed in 2015 that not only does he ‘play bigger’ than his billed height but that he can also get it done as he pulled in 78 receptions for 1,069 yards to go with 14 touchdowns (tied 1st in the NFL). Jermaine Kearse is 6 foot 1 and he again was an undrafted pickup by Seattle in 2012. Kearse also had an impressive 2015 as he had 685 yards for 5 touchdowns. Kearse presents a slightly taller option for Wilson and is great at turning and locating the football. Russell Wilson has great faith in Kearse as he regularly throws up contested balls that he knows Kearse is able to fight for and pull in for big gains. Tyler Lockett who was a 3rd round pick in 2015 had an impressive rookie season and earned Pro Bowl honours as a Return Specialist. Lockett is again a smaller receiver at 5 foot 9 who excelled in his role as a Return Specialist and proved that he possesses breakaway speed and is a threat with the ball in his hand. His performance in the return game was incredibly promising, as he has proved that he could be a nice option for the Seahawks off screens or end-arounds. He also has the speed to beat corners in man coverage on go routes or posts and many in Seattle will be excited to see what he can bring in his second year.
The Seahawks will be hoping to get the most out of Tight End Jimmy Graham in 2016. After brokering a trade with New Orleans before the start of the 2015 season, Seattle gained the mismatch nightmare Graham presents in exchange for the teams long-time starting Center Max Unger and the teams 1st round pick in the 2015 Draft. Graham only appeared in 11 games for Seattle and failed to impress as he had with the Saints as he posted only 2 Touchdowns and 605 yards with 73 receptions. Graham only missed 5 games and it is clear that even his limited season was way behind the 16, 10, 11 and 9 touchdown seasons he posted at the Saints. The Seahawks hoped that Graham would be the ultimate Red Zone threat due to his tall 6 foot 7 frame and his athleticism which means Wilson could just throw the ball up on fades or into the corner away from smaller Corners. If Graham can spend the 2016 offseason learning the playbook alongside rehabbing his torn right patellar tendon then Russell Wilson could have the ultimate check down weapon and red zone threat in the NFL outside of Rob Gronkowski. The Seahawks also have a decent back up Tight End in Luke Wilson who has a created a strong chemistry with QB Russell Wilson and is an able run blocker. In 2016 Quarterback Russell Wilson will have arguably the most talented receiving corps during his time in the League and should post another 4,000+ yard season.
The Offensive Line
Seattle’s Offensive Line was its Achilles heel last year as Wilson was sacked tied 3rd most in the NFL last season 45 times. The O-Line was always likely to come under scrutiny following the departure of Seattle’s long-servicing Pro Bowl Center Max Unger and the lack of continuity upfront which plagued Seattle in 2015 will most likely be further exacerbated in 2016. The departure of Seattle’s Left Tackle Russell Okung to the Broncos this past offseason (their 6th overall pick in 2010) and Right Guard J. R. Sweezy who spent four years in Seattle means that the game of musical chairs along Seattle’s Offensive Line will continue. I have complied a 2 deep depth chart of my how I see Seattle lining up come Week 1, however, this could all change quickly as you will see by reading on.
Ok, lets starts with Left Tackle. The most important position for most NFL teams as nearly every NFL Quarterback is right handed and therefore this Tackle protects the QB’s blindside. Russell Okung was Seattle’s nailed in starter and his departure means that Seattle will have to shuffle their line to fill the void. Garry Gilliam who started at Right Tackle last season (undrafted in 2014) has transitioned to Left Tackle and will most likely face competition from Bradley Sowell (formerly with the Cardinals). Gilliam struggled at Right Tackle last season and was one of the League’s worst Tackles; however, Gilliam is originally a LT and had to learn the RT position on the fly throughout the season.
Left Guard will feature a competition between Mark Glowisnki and Rees Odhiambo after last season’s starter Justin Britt (who played RT in his rookie season) has been moved to Centre. Still keeping up with all this? Mark Glowinski (4th round pick in 2015) started one game at RG in 2015 away at Arizona and is now moving across to the Left side. Glowinski will most likely win out this training camp battle; however, the Seahawks could go with the raw talent that rookie Odhiambo (4th round 2016 pick) possesses.
Center will be a battle between last years started Patrick Lewis, rookie Joey Hunt and 2014 2nd round pick Justin Britt who will play in his third position across the Line in three years. Lewis appeared to struggle at times last year, however, he was tasked in trying to fill a huge void left by Pro-Bowl Center Max Unger. The Seahawks are clearly high on Lewis and eager for him to fit somewhere along the Line. Seattle also drafted Centre Joey Hunt in this years draft so it could well turn into a three-way battle royale for the Centre spot.
Right Guard will be Jahri Evans. The veteran Guard earned Pro-Bowl honours 6 times in his 10 years with the Saints and although he struggled with injury last season he is by far the best lineman on this roster and the Seahawks will hope that he can stay healthy. Evans will also be a welcome addition in the meeting room as he can hopefully guide and help the young talent the Seahawks will have in the room. Germain Ifedi who I have listed as the back-up RG was Seattle’s first round pick this season and do not be surprised to see him filling in for any underperforming Linemen throughout the season. Ifedi has made an impression on Seahawks O-Line Coach Tom Cable who has praised Ifedi’s brains and commented that he has progressed faster in terms of installing playbook than any previous Rookie. It is hoped that Ifedi will go on to become the Seahawks franchise Left Tackle one day, but for now Cable has him down as a Guard and he will provide depth throughout the season.
Right Tackle should be J’Marcuss Webb yet there are some controversies emerging out of Seattle’s training camp. Webb signed a 2-year $6 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was widely expected to start week 1 at Right Tackle. I still have Webb down as their starter despite him recently being relegated to taking 2nd and 3rd string reps in camp. Undrafted college basketball player George Fant has been taking first team reps despite him never playing a single game as an Offensive Linemen. Fant played 4 years of college Basketball before returning for a fifth year to play Tight End. At 6 foot 5, 296lbs and with a 4.83 40 time, Fant has all the athleticism and build of a franchise Left Tackle, however, his lack of football knowledge (he had not previously played since he was 13 years old) is something that could likely hinder him and I believe the Seahawks will favour the safer option in Webb.
The Seahawks Offensive Line struggled in 2015 and I expect them to struggle again in 2016 as they lack continuity upfront. Seattle will need to create more time for Quarterback Russell Wilson off of play-action by throwing in a mixture of skinny bootlegs as well as faking the read option.
So far I previewed the Seahawks Offence which has the talent in order to take Seattle all the way to the Super Bowl as long as their dominant Defence can keep games close and give the Offence good starting field position. In order to continue the 2016 preview of the Seattle Seahawks I will address the Defense, Special Teams, schedule and give you ‘the skinny.’ To read on please click here…