This Pivotal Season, Part 2: Ranking Seattle's Young Core

This should be boring.

My intention is only to evaluate Seattle's young players, those who are still signed to their rookie contract, those players the Seahawks hope to get surplus value from, and those players, should they excel, who will comprise the core of young, under-contract players Seattle will depend on for the next few seasons.

For fun and in the spirit of the Internet, I will count down those players in list form, roughly approximating my opinion of their relative performance and importance. One player I think I am unfairly omitting is Tanner McEvoy. I think he has tremendous potential, plays a role no other Seahawk plays, and may outperform every other player on this list. Honestly. His DVOA last season was 68.0%, which is easily the highest rate of efficiency among any receiver with ten or more receptions in 2016. McEvoy will get more attention when I'm breaking down tape this preseason.

12. Kevin Pierre-Louis

Career AV: 3

Contract: Final season of a four year, 2.6 million dollar rookie contract

2016 Snaps: 298

Pierre-Louis is unusually fast for a linebacker. He is one of the many Combine stars the Seahawks have drafted recently, and like so many of the rest, has not translated that measurable athleticism into on-field performance.

I had hoped he might fill Seattle's need for a strongside linebacker, a position which has been in flux at least since the departure of Malcolm Smith and pretty much throughout the Pete Carroll era. That does not seem to be happening, and entering his final season under contract, and more a special teams ace than a regular contributor to the defense, he's probably on the roster bubble.

In 2016 Pierre-Louis played in 298 snaps, 227 of which were on special teams. He recorded 40 of those defensive snaps against the Falcons in Week 6. He hurt his ankle, later in the season hurt his hamstring, and never again much factored into Seattle's defense.

I like KPL and have cheered for him not least because of his ongoing struggle with depression, but sometimes a tweener without a clear position is just that, and his limitations in coverage and tackling leave him without a viable role. He's too slow to read and react, and as I remember it, his one career pass defense was a lucky break while in trail coverage of Greg Olsen. He's regularly run over as a tackler, playing smaller than his listed weight and pretty much never achieving leverage.

KPL's still signed to his rookie contract and his contributions on special team could earn him a roster spot, but with a raft of young defensive back prospects, many with the exact mix of size and speed to excel on special teams, I think he's soon to be playing football elsewhere.

Good luck, young man.

11. Cassius Marsh

Career AV: 4

Contract: Final season of a four year, 2.6 million dollar rookie contract

2016 Snaps: 734

Marsh, I think, is a good player. Should Seattle not re-sign him, and the Seahawks have rarely ever signed players they do not believe to be capable of greatness, he should find work elsewhere. The jump from KPL to Marsh is significant, and it's possible I've only included KPL for sentimental reasons. And, y'know, 12.

Marsh is young--he just recently turned 25. He's improving. He does lots of little stuff well. He seems a positive force on the sidelines. He has some scheme versatility, playing a credible defensive end, but not hopeless as a linebacker. Marsh is the closest Seattle has come to a plug-and-play, low-upside, mostly useful as roster depth kind of pick I can remember in recent memory.

As such, he's probably nearing the end of his time in Seattle. If he enjoys a modest breakout season, another team is likely to overpay, such is the innate value of defensive ends. That would be great, obviously, as Seattle could recoup a compensatory pick.

Marsh's direct competition is probably recently signed free agent David Bass. The two are, very broadly, comparably large and fast, and neither has failed out of the league or seized a starting job. I think Marsh makes the team. He could make some great plays this season and contribute to a championship season. Maybe, somehow, he breaks out and earns himself another contract, but I doubt it.

10. Paul Richardson

Career AV: 5

Contract: Last season of a four year, 4.7 million dollar rookie contract

2016 Snaps: 359

Paul's fast. He's athletic enough to be electrifying in stretches. He seems to have a good relationship with Russell Wilson. Like Marsh, he's pretty young, and his two-game run of excellence in last year's playoffs was certainly exciting. It's certainly exciting too that, at this point in the list, the remaining ten players all have very good potential.

But Richardson's suffered so, so many knee injuries, and despite his apparent emergence in last year's post-season, and despite teams readily playing five or more wide receivers, he's been surpassed by Tyler Lockett, and should Lockett be healthy, there are limited snaps available. 185 of Richardson's 338 offensive snaps came in Weeks 16, 17 and the Wild Card and Divisional Rounds.

I don't buy this "health's a skill" nonsense. It's odd how if something's phrased like an aphorism, truth is assumed, but let's not mince words: Players who suffer repeated injuries to one part of their body, especially the knee, often never fully regain health or ability, and soon must retire. If Richardson does break out this season, he's still a dicey free agent signing. For Seattle, he's almost redundant already, and short of something phenomenal or tragic, he's already buried on the depth chart and behind a player still playing on his rookie contract. The best case scenario may be some kind of mix of partial breakout by Richardson, full health for Lockett, and a fatty free agent contract for Richardson with another team next offseason.

9. Mark Glowinski

Career AV: 10

Contract: Second to last season on a four year, 2.6 million dollar rookie contract

2016 Snaps: 1,186, most among all Seahawks players

The Glow is ... not yet gone. In fact, he is the only player to play in 100% of Seattle's offensive snaps last season. But beware mediocre players on poorly functioning units, they may be starting by default.

It's tricky differentiating individual performance on the offense line, especially blocking for a quarterback who simultaneously creates and defeats pressure, and especially when that quarterback is different degrees of injured throughout the season. It doesn't help that Christine Michael, bless his heart, couldn't see a hole if he were falling down a mine shaft. And so I must admit Glowinski's relatively low ranking is determined as much by position and my perception of his potential as it is his play, which isn't really fair.

Courtesy the Washington Post, here's a quick and dirty breakdown of his stats:

Career Offensive Line Stats
Year Team G GS Pen Yds False Start Holding Sacks Allwd Yds
2015 Sea 10 1 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
2016 Sea 16 16 4 25 3 1 3.50 21.00
Totals 26 17 4 25 3 1 3.50 21.00

3.5 sacks allowed is pretty bad for a guard, and given the nature of splitting a sack between two or more linemen--especially a sack allowed from the roil of the interior--that could represent as many as seven sacks allowed. This relatively high incidence of failure matched with few memorable positive plays (but that may just be a failure of my memory) make me think Glowinski is a high-character, low-upside player Seattle would be happy to start, so long as he's one of the lesser lights on the offensive line.

He's a fighter with good power and good potential as a run blocker, like seemingly every guard Seattle has drafted since Tom Cable joined the team, but interior pressure is death to Russell Wilson, and I don't see Glowinski overcoming that shortcoming any time soon.

8. George Fant

Career AV: 6

Contract: Second season of a three year, 1.6 million dollar contract

2016 Snaps: 724

Let's get this out of the way.

Career Offensive Line Stats
Year Team G GS Pen Yds False Start Holding Sacks Allwd Yds
2016 Sea 14 10 6 60 2 2 5.00 40.00

And this:

Height: 6047
Weight: 296
40 Yrd Dash: 4.84
20 Yrd Dash: 2.82
10 Yrd Dash: 1.77

225 Lb. Bench Reps: 22
Vertical Jump: 37
Broad Jump: 09'11"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.54
3-Cone Drill: 7.20

Because that's much of what's to be known about George Fant: he ain't know shit about playing left tackle, but he's a superior athlete. Surely more capable minds have run down some of his tape, and so I will defer. But let's consider a sort of best case scenario, in which hope is paid full heed, and we ignore some of the particular discrepancies.

Jason Peters may be on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Peters, it must be said, was much larger than Fant, but Fant has bulked up this offseason to a robust 320. Both Fant and Peters were babes in the woods signed and retained by teams investing in potential. Peters was so raw the Bills actually cut him his first season. Which is just another way of saying, he did not show immediate ability. He didn't really come into his own until his fourth season, when he won the left tackle spot outright and earned his first Pro Bowl.

Fant seemed to improve with experience. That's academic. A player's potential is not circumscribed by a bunch of times and measurements. That said, few people on earth have the necessary tools to play left tackle in the NFL. Fant does. The Seahawks didn't give him a ringing endorsement by signing Luke Joeckel (or maybe they did?) But signing Joeckel may only be insuring against injury or decline. As some have said, it also may be an attempt to add experience in the hopes of accelerating Fant's development. Who knows? By potential alone, Fant earns this ranking, and no other player but maybe Frank Clark has his kind of upside.

7. Germain Ifedi

Career AV: 6

Contract: Second season of four year, 8.3 million dollar contract.

2016 Snaps: 902

Let's do this again:

Career Offensive Line Stats
Year Team G GS Pen Yds False Start Holding Sacks Allwd Yds
2016 Sea 13 13 6 31 6 0 5.50 45.50


Height: 6056
Weight: 324
40 Yrd Dash: 5.27
20 Yrd Dash: 3.04
10 Yrd Dash: 1.79

225 Lb. Bench Reps: 24
Vertical Jump: 32 1/2
Broad Jump: 09'01"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.75
3-Cone Drill: No 3 Cone-Ankle

Another big guy with explosive power for days who struggled badly his first season, it may seem strange ranking Ifedi ahead of Fant, but I think he's much closer to reaching his potential. Seattle has a penchant for big guys who play with poor leverage, with Ethan Pocic recently joining the gang. Why this might be I can't say.

If this whole shithouse goes down in flames, and by that I mean if Seattle disappoints in 2017, I think Tom Cable has to fall under the axe. Somehow this is supposed to work. It has worked, with Seattle finishing 1st, 5th, 7th and 4th in offensive efficiency 2015-2012. But never has that success seemed to radiate from the offensive line outward.

Maybe fans and scouts overemphasize sacks allowed, falling into the heuristic trap of favoring the starkness and vividness of that failure to snap by snap ability to get push. Certain areas in which the offensive line can succeed, like maintaining throwing lanes, can be subtle and hard to observe. And from Wisconsin to Seattle, coaches have matched short but burly Russell Wilson with tall and burly offensive lines. But, however much previous lines have excelled at run blocking or helped Wilson target open receivers, none of that matters if he's hurt.

I expect Ifedi to dramatically reduce his rate of failures this season. If not, he's bench bound.

6. Jarran Reed

Career AV: 3

Contract: Second season of a four year, 4.9 million dollar contract

Snaps: 526

Reed's in the Colin Cole model of run stoppers. He anchors, some. He separates very well. He controls space horizontally very well. His potential is quite a bit better than Cole's ever was, but as a long time Seahawks fan, that's who he reminded me of.

Reed's stats don't pop. He's part of a rotation, and will likely be forever subbed out in nickel packages. But with few other major additions to its front, and Michael Bennett out or playing hurt a significant part of the season, Seattle's run defense absolutely dominated. Its -26.8% ranking was the Seahawks best finish in the Russell Wilson era, and Bobby Wagner, the most likely beneficiary of improved defensive tackle play, had his best season as a pro. When you're middle linebacker records 167 tackles, you can bet the defensive tackles have kept offensive linemen from pulling into the second level.

5. C.J. Prosise

Career AV: 3

Contract: Second year of four year, 3.1 million dollar contract.

Snaps: 147

So much has been written about Prosise that I will keep this short. In the modern NFL, running backs are nearly fungible, but running backs who can catch are not. In just 19 targets of which 17 were converted to catches, Prosise earned nearly twice as much receiving value as he did rushing value: 63 to 38. He is deceptively fast, running in such a gliding manner that he almost appears slow. He sets up his blocks. He can run the route tree like a slot receiver.

It is not impossible that Prosise was simply unusually unlucky in 2016, but the magnitude and variety of his injuries are deeply worrisome. Carroll has expressed as much, and I think Pete Carroll would have a sunny song to share on Twitter the day of the Apocalypse.

4. Thomas Rawls

Career AV: 10

Contract: Final year of a three year, 1.6 million dollar contract.

Snaps: 303

I am probably entirely too optimistic in my projection of Rawls. He was injured and ineffective last season. This site, whatever its credibility I don't know, actually projects Rawls to be more injury prone and more severely injury prone than Prosise. But what Rawls has that only two other players on this list have, is an exceptional season of performance already on their resume.

AV awarded Rawls 7, um, AVs for 2015 and 3 for 2016. That's one of its many weaknesses: It better understands the forest than the trees. Football Outsiders, by comparison, ranked Rawls as cumulatively the most valuable back in 2015, and second only to Le'Veon Bell in value per rush among qualifying backs. He has good vision, skilled feet, a wicked cut back, some breakaway ability and the pop and mentality of a tiny power back--sort of a more gifted Justin Forsett.

Unfortunately, the hammer and the nail are both equally struck, and if you're hitting a rail tie with a ball peen hammer, you're soon to be searching for a new tool.

3. Justin Britt

Career AV: 25

Contract: Final season of a four year, 3.5 million dollar contract

Snaps: 1,064

Early in the Season when Seahawks fans were thinking Super Bowl, Carroll had this to say about Britt:

He’s done well in the run game and the pass game. He’s done very well captaining the front and making his calls and working with (quarterback) Russell (Wilson) to direct and redirect protections, and that’s not something we knew would happen. That’s a great positive for us and he’s really embraced the position. I think it starts right there.

Line reads were nutty and fraudulent in those heady Patrick Lewis days. That's untenable for a line comprised of relatively slow mawlers who like clear objectives and berserker tactics. Britt performed above expectations, which is great, but for him to stick, he has to be actually good.

At the time of that interview, Seattle had allowed nine sacks in 142 pass attempts. 6.3% is still pretty bad, comparable to Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan. From Week 5 on, Wilson's sack rate ballooned to 7.3%--which falls in a dead zone below the extremes of Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick and Jared Goff, but worse than all others. Wilson's always been sack prone, and at 7% even, 2016 was his best season as a pro. That seeming achievement may only be robbing Peter to pay Paul. His overall passing numbers were down across the board.

Britt's probably the player I feel the least confidence in evaluating. Centers can hide. To know exactly how much they are contributing, one really needs to thoroughly evaluate the tape, and I haven't. This progression sure looks impressive:

Career Offensive Line Stats
Year Team G GS Pen Yds False Start Holding Sacks Allwd Yds
2014 Sea 16 16 8 70 4 2 7.50 44.00
2015 Sea 16 16 7 47 3 4 2.50 19.50
2016 Sea 15 15 4 35 1 2 0.00 0.00
Totals 47 47 19 152 8 8 10.00 63.50

But what if his ability to make line reads began to deteriorate as the season went on? What if he escaped credit for a sack allowed only by failing to help a struggling teammate? &c.

Seattle, notably, drafted the highest ranked center in the 2016 draft class, and Pocic is well-known for his smarts. Maybe Britt has emerged as part of Seattle's future. Maybe he's gone next season. I like what I've seen and read. I do not take from any of that information that Britt is a sure starter, much less a young star.

2. Tyler Lockett

Career AV: 15

Contract: Third year of a four year, 3.3 million dollar contract

Snaps: 680

Some define athleticism as speed and power. Those are components, no doubt, but without proprioception, and that rare ability athletes describe as "the game slowing down," speed and power are worthless. Lockett has speed. He's certainly feisty. But what thrills me about his ability is how expertly he employs those talents, making complex and contrary movements like securing a pass while dragging his feet, or hand fighting a corner while running near full speed and tracking a pass, or working a cut right off a near total square up to the left.

He's not there and probably will never accomplish such heights, and his shorter arms and smaller hands will forever compromise his ability to excel against tight coverage, but since Seattle has drafted him, I've dreamed of Lockett performing like Antonio Brown. In 2015, Lockett actually performed better on a per snap basis. That run Wilson went on after Graham's injury still gives me shivers, figurative shivers, it's the consumption that gives me the literal shivers.

The inescapable truth is Lockett's injury was awful, not at all your typical broken bone, and Pete Carroll's prognosis is about as dependable as Dr Nick's. In Carroll speak "not quite as far along," is almost ominous, and "doing awesome" could just mean Lockett's a happy young man with millions in the bank and a healthy perspective on life.

1. Frank Clark

Career AV: 7

Contract: Third year of a four year, 3.7 million dollar contract.

Snaps: 705

Yep. Let's acknowledge for a second the queasy fact that the best young player on the Seahawks roster is ... well, Frank Clark. Use your preferred search engine, Seahawks fans of the world. Draw a moral conclusion, including all complicating matters, not least of which that football itself and the brain trauma inherently suffered in playing it could predispose players to violent, antisocial behavior. I will not elaborate further as that is not the purpose of this post.

Clark's excellent. He's so good, so quick, so ferocious, so coordinated, that after notching 10 sacks in his second season, he's somehow still lousy with potential. I think Clark helped get his former teammate Taco Charlton drafted. I watched tape of the two, and the best thing I could say for Charlton is that he often was indistinguishable from Clark.

16 players recorded 10 or more sacks in 2016. Here's how those players rank by sack per defensive snap:

Sacks Snaps Snap per sack
V. Beasley 15.5 671 43.3
D. Hunter 12.5 598 47.8
C. Wake 11.5 589 51.2
J. Bosa 10.5 563 53.6
M. Golden 12.5 761 60.9
L. Alexander 12.5 788 63
F. Clark 10 682 68.2
V. Miller 13.5 933 69.1
E. Walden 11 761 69.2
R. Kerrigan 11 788 71.6
C. Avril 11.5 830 72.2
D. Ford 10 798 79.8
B. Orakpo 10.5 864 82.2
K. Mack 11 949 86.3

Not bad. Clark also had six tackles for a loss, 27 yards on a fumble recovery, and played well against the run. Defensive end is the second most valuable position as determined by salary. What he can do over the next two seasons, what value he can provide as a top-tier pass rusher, could help Seattle win Super Bowls. On a team of standout defensive players, he could be the most important. At the very least, just very recently 24, Clark should be very good for seasons to come.

He could ruin all of that potential in a second.