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Seahawks need “underclassmen” to have strong 2017 season

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NFL: NFC Divisional-Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks had a disappointing season in 2016, but still made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. That tells me that “disappointing” isn’t that bad, but “satisfying” or “surprising” may actually be quite good. That’s why they could be on the edge of a third Super Bowl run in five years next season, but they’ll need some of their draft picks since the last Super Bowl run to step up.

There are certainly opportunities.

Players going into their third season include Frank Clark, Tyler Lockett, Thomas Rawls, and Mark Glowinski. Clark is coming off a 10-sack season, including an 11th in the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons, and he may have the highest ceiling of any pass rusher drafted by the Seahawks since Michael McCrary in 1993. If Lockett returns in perfect health from a broken leg, he’s one of the most explosive and dynamic weapons that Pete Carroll has had during his Seattle tenure. Rawls is a game-changer, but he too needs to stay healthy.

Glowinski is the biggest question mark from a talent standpoint. There aren’t any health issues on Glowinski’s resume, but he’s often cited as one of the worst starting guards of 2016 and he had all of 2016 to work on the craft, so it wasn’t like he was going through a position change or working with the backups. However, it’s going to be a challenge for any guard to have to work with an array of awful tackles to his left. Stability there may increase quality from Glowinski.

Players going into their second season are even more abundant than the “juniors,” as the Seahawks’ top eight picks from the 2016 draft are all still with the team: Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, C.J. Prosise, Nick Vannett, Rees Odhiambo, Quinton Jefferson, Alex Collins, and Joey Hunt. The notable undrafted free agents include Tanner McEvoy, George Fant, Trevone Boykin, Troymaine Pope, JD McKissic, and DeAndre Elliott.

The only certain “starters” at this point appear to be Ifedi and Reed, with the latter clearly winning “Seattle Defensive Rookie of the Year” honors. This is where the Seahawks can either get a significant boost from their second year players or be significantly disappointed, because there was a lot left to be desired from this group despite Reed’s dominance as a run-stopper and Prosise’s unique gifts as an offensive weapon.

Ifedi, like Glowinski, has a long ways to go as an NFL starter. But the thing is that players can go “long ways” in the time between their rookie year and year two. That’s why I would have a lot more hope for Ifedi, and maybe even Fant, than Glowinski. Not to say that all three can’t be good -- or bad -- but Glowinski didn’t have the rookie “excuse” in 2016.

I think Prosise could have absolutely been the difference in Seattle being at home right now or playing in the Super Bowl. I don’t say that as extreme hyperbole or to be “hot take of the day” but the offense was a different monster when he was active and it would not have taken much for the Seahawks to get the number two seed over the Falcons. Playing at home in round two, vs going on the road, is like playing in two separate dimensions of the multiverse. If Prosise comes into training camp at 100% and doesn’t go down again, Seattle’s offense has a whole different outlook for 2017.

Vannett was rarely ever seen during his rookie season but the likely loss of Luke Willson means there’s an opening for a significant contributor at TE2 behind Jimmy Graham. Will he bypass Brandon Williams or be a fly on the wall again next year? Odhiambo will have the opportunity to push for a starting spot at all four offensive line positions other than center. He can’t not get that chance. But he wasn’t very good looking as a rookie, albeit without much time to prepare and moving around a lot. Hunt probably won’t have a chance to contribute, as he is entrenched behind Justin Britt at center, but who knows what could happen next with this line.

I think Jefferson was also a bigger loss than given credit for. He looked great over the summer and in preseason and would’ve been extremely useful while Michael Bennett sat out a few games, so can he come back healthy in 2017 or is he doomed for the Jordan Hill (bite my tongue) trail?

Collins was the source of much controversy among fans because of his position as a player more highly regarded than Pope or Christine Michael by the coaches, but by the end of the year he looked quite good. Whether Rawls has more health issues or not, there would be a place for Collins on the active roster next season behind him and Prosise, should he earn it. The team will definitely bring in more competition at running back, including a potential full offseason for Pope to show what he can do.

Finally, we have no idea what to expect from the rookie class, as it does not exist yet, but we do know where help is currently needed most: Offensive tackle, cornerback, SAM linebacker, pass-rushing defensive tackle, and perhaps safety, receiver, running back, and guard. Okay, so almost everything is on the table, but definitely tackle and cornerback are taking centerstage right now.

I would think that 2017’s rookie contributions on the final 53-man roster will be smaller than they were this season. Elliott, for instance, is a really intriguing cornerback and I wouldn’t discount the idea of him replacing DeShawn Shead next year. Jefferson may become a regular in the rotation. Fant, Glow, and Ifedi may not budge from their positions. Vannett is likely going to fill the void left by Willson. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor may not miss any time. Prosise and Rawls may not miss any time. Lockett and Paul Richardson may not miss any time. Seattle’s impending free agents in 2017 aren’t, in my opinion, as hard to replace as they were in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The pieces are mostly already in place. They just need to take advantage of these opportunities, and hopefully, prove that they’re worthy of graduating to a second contract.