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Seahawks 90-man roster review: Meet the linebackers

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks-Minicamp Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the hopefuls on the Seattle Seahawks’ 90-man roster. Seattle had 11 draft picks this year and made several significant moves in free agency. These are some simple thoughts on the new players and things to look for as we head into mini-camp on June 11th.

The Linebackers: Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Cody Barton, Ben Burr-Kirven, Austin Calitro, Justin Currie, Emmanuel Ellerbee, Shaquem Griffin, Barkevious Mingo, Mychal Kendricks

* A quick note – since the writing of the Defensive End profile, the Seahawks have officially moved Jacob Martin from OLB to DE, signaling his progression into a regular rusher and confirming what we wrote earlier.

This is easily one of the most talented and crowded groups on the team. For reference, the Hawks kept six linebackers last season, and seven the year before.

Leader of the pack – Bobby Wagner / KJ Wright. These two have been the staples of Pete Carroll’s defense since 2012. They had combined for only thirteen missed games in their career until Wright had his first significant knee injury last season. Reports are they are ready to go and are currently coaching up the rookies and younger players. Speaking of the new guys...

Flashy newcomer – Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven.

There’s been a strange early pairing of Barton and BBK. They both seem to have impressed since the beginning of rookie camp, but the uniqueness with these guys is how often they have been mentioned in the same sentence. It sometimes takes a minute to remember one is a third round selection and the other is Seattle’s third fifth round pick. There must be different internal expectations about them, right? Burr-Kirven is an absolute tackling machine, finishing college with the 9th most tackles in the Pac-12 since 2005. But Barton is the better overall player with better measurables and consistency in getting behind the line of scrimmage and pass deflection.

Just when it seemed like a separation was occurring, last week Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr referred to them as one unit. “They love ball. I think they have good size, they’re fast, they have great football IQ”.

Until Pete Carroll finds a way to morph two players into one super-linebacker, this remains one of the most interesting rookie stories on a team full of interesting rookies. Expect to see both contribute early on special teams, and we’ll see what happens from there.

Most to lose – the Seahawks, in regards to Wagner’s contract situation. Seattle finds itself looking at the possibility of another hall-of-fame candidate holding out through training camp. Fortunately, Bobby’s approach is decidedly different than Earl Thomas last year, but time is running out to keep this thing from getting messy.

But that’s not really what we’re here for, so I give you Austin Calitro. His journey has been a significant uphill battle, and signs point to his run being at an end in 2019. Calitro has gone from the New York Jets to the San Francisco to the Seahawks to the Cleveland Browns and back to Seattle, last season, all before he ever actually played a down in an NFL game. Whereas last year provided an opportunity based on need, this year looks more like a closed door from overcrowding. Calitro’s added value last year was special teams, and even that part of the game is more competitive now. Most of this draft class excels at “Teams”. BBK knows it’s a special teams journey. Schneider called Travis Homer a “hell of a special teams player”. Barton is expected to be an immediate contributor.

The Seahawks hadn’t drafted a linebacker since Kevin Pierre-Louis in the 4th round of 2014. Why bother – they’ve had two of the best and healthiest pair in the league since 2012. This season, they finally broke rank and drafted two (If you’re wondering wait what about Shaquem Griffin, see below). Hopefully at least some of the future beyond Bobby and KJ is on the roster right now, but I don’t think it’s Calitro.

Oldie but a Goodie – Wagner, Wright, and Kendricks won’t see the field at the same time every down, but Carroll is interested in finding a way to make it happen. If he does, Seattle will have one of their best – and oldest – trios on the field. The three have twenty-five years of experience between them. They have combined for 18 recovered fumbles, 101 passes defended, and 145 tackles for loss.

Schematically, this is not impossible. KJ started his career at Middle Linebacker, then played three seasons at strong side followed by five years on the weak side. He covered five games at middle when Bobby got hurt in 2014. Kendricks has also played all three positions, following a similar timeline to KJ. He began his career at weak, moved to middle, and most recently has been playing on the strong side. All it would require is playing a little less nickel than Carroll has in recent past, allowing three linebackers instead of an extra cornerback. We’ll look at corners in the days ahead, which have been a popular topic this offseason, but if we must choose between Kendricks/Barton or a current Seahawk corner…let’s play less nickel.

Fun Fact: Mychal Kendricks was drafted one slot ahead of Bobby Wagner in 2012.

Best chance to make the team – as an edge rusher, Barkevious Mingo and Shaquem Griffin. Immediate reports were that Mingo and Shaq have seen early work with their hand on the ground, rushing the passer. Giving the more unproven situation currently at DE, that may be the necessary move that gets one or both of them a spot on the roster.

According to Pro Football Focus, Shaquem Griffin’s 91.3 pass rush grade his senior season was fourth in the country, and his 23 percent pressure rate was second in all of college football.

Remember as part of the Auburn game that endured Griffin to so many, his edge rush was crucial:

It’s not impossible we would see a similar progression of Shaq’s play time this year. If Ziggy Ansah’s shoulder keeps him sidelined any amount of time, it’s far more likely that Griffin will remain valuable as a rotational speedster coming off the edge in the first few games. It will be his shining moment to prove he’s worth more than a one-game start like 2018.

Meanwhile, Mingo only recorded one sack and two QB hits last season. I don’t know if Seattle will have the space to keep both players this year, and this should be of particular interest this summer.

The Kendricks situation – I will happily refer you to this great coverage on Mychal Kendrickslegal situation.

Thank you for your services - Justin Currie is an undrafted free agent who has only played three games since joining the league in 2015. Emmanuel Ellerbee, also undrafted, bounced in and out of the practice squad last season. Austin Calitro, reasons already listed. There will probably be even another casualty, as it would cost Seattle elsewhere if they keep both Griffin and Mingo.

Best Madden 2019 Rating – Bobby Wagner, 99. All-time elite.

Most important stat heading into 2019

8.3% DVOA on short passes to the left, 30th out of 32

10% DVOA on all passes to the left, 29th out of 32.

Not good. This is where KJ would normally play, and the combination of his injury, suspended Mychal Kendricks, and whoever-was-filling-in did not meet Seattle defensive expectations. As many noticed last season, the middle of the field was often wide open for receivers underneath. This area needs significant improvement for the Hawks to compete with the likes of the pass-happy New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. Seattle’s hope this year would be that continuity at linebacker and an extra year’s experience for young corners provides growth in the passing defense.