General Managers talk about heading into the draft with no holes on the roster. They then look to add to their roster and have a vicious 90-man offseason competition, before finally having a terrific 53-man unit. In truth, it never works out quite like this. But some teams have positions that are visibly areas of concern in terms of depth and talent.
The Seattle Seahawks, following somewhat of a rebuild year in 2018, still have some positions that warrant angst. Years of mediocre-to-bad drafting has seen roster holes enlarge. The competition for these roles should be particularly fierce as a result
“This was not a draft we went into with big holes on our team, we didn’t feel like that,” said Pete Carroll post-draft. The size of the holes is open for debate, but here are 3 positions of early concern on the Seahawks’ roster.
Thinking back to the best days of Seattle pass rush, days when Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were considered depth, there were clear LEO type pass rushers on the team. The LEO is a defensive end who aligns in wider alignments to the 5-technique defensive end.
Typically for the Seahawks, the LEO was around 250lbs and a speedier, bendier EDGE than the 5-technique. Chris Clemons and Avril are prototypes of the position/role. Right now, in 2019, there is no obvious LEO-type on the roster.
There’s been Carroll talk of the bigger, 275lb Free Agent addition of Ezekiel Ansah playing the spot. But Ansah is unlikely to even be ready for the first game of the season thanks to a shoulder injury. Plus: he lacks the ability to bend, particularly after hurting his knee in 2017. Ansah still looks like more of a 5-tech.
Like when Bruce Irvin played some LEO, other SAM linebackers Cassius Marsh and Barkevious Mingo could fill in at LEO. However, this would only really happen in clear passing situations. The pair lack the traits or skillset to play LEO more regularly.
Jacob Martin has more speed and get off than most of the rushers on the team. Yet he was reportedly down to 220lbs by the end of the year and his ability to hold up on early downs is questionable. He is more of a pass rush specialist who plays with nice technique and get off though lacks bend for his profile.
At this point in time, the defensive line make-up appears to be emphasized on stopping the run far better than 2018. The key for the roster might be getting into third and longs where they can get into sub-packages, sending Shaquem Griffin and Martin while kicking the powerful bullrush of L.J. Collier inside to bully a guard.
Doug Baldwin’s retirement was painful for many reasons. Asides from the leadership vacuum it creates, Baldwin was the team’s best receiver. Moreover, he mainly played in a valuable position to the offense: the Z receiver. This being the receiver who lines up off the line of scrimmage or in the slot more, the immediate replacement is unclear.
There were deep Yards After Catch and over-the-middle passing issues last year for Seattle’s offense. Partially that was a result of the lack of available underneath options.
There's a pretty big chicken & egg question with max protect and holding the ball too long.— Nathan Ernst (@NathanE11) April 15, 2019
Also, I'm not sure there's much evidence that the middle intermediate areas of the field are a weakness for Russ. pic.twitter.com/CBskAmOJX7
Interestingly, here's just 2018. So it looks like you're right that it was an issue last year, but that was an abnormality for his career. pic.twitter.com/4qKbr9QcnM— Nathan Ernst (@NathanE11) April 15, 2019
Baldwin lacked his consistent quick-separation skills due to suiting up hurt. The battle for that type of receiver appears to be between former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and 2019 7th-round-pick John Ursua. Both have flashed the crafty route-running ability to succeed in the slot. This preseason will be huge for the pair as they attempt to refine their craft and establish a chemistry with Russell Wilson.
2nd-round wideout D.K. Metcalf is exactly that, an X receiver restricted to the outside. Meanwhile, 4th-round selection Gary Jennings is nearing more of an X too. He certainly doesn’t fit the mold of a quick separator underneath and his best route is the post.
Putting Tyler Lockett into the slot more often therefore feels like the obvious move. Indeed, Lockett has spoken about how he is working on his slot releases and routes. Still, when Lockett lines up outside to maximize his ability to separate late on Wilson’s best throw—the deep sideline go—someone needs to be able to step into the slot as the Z receiver.
3rd down running back
This at first seems like a bizarre statement, given Seattle spent a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny in 2018. When you consider that the 3rd-down running back role is a different proposition to early downs, demanding excellent pass protection, it starts to make more sense.
The departure of Mike Davis to the Chicago Bears is lowkey huge. The Seahawks were right not to pay him what Chicago did. That said, Davis was able to get the hard yards running inside zone, defying backfield penetration to find a seam and squeeze through. Davis was also excellent at pass pro. He wasn’t a backup, rather he played the crucial 3rd down running back role in Seattle’s offense.
The Seahawks will hope Penny will have gained a better idea of protection schemes given he is entering his second season in the NFL. But if Penny can do that, and stay healthy, he’s likely to form a much more balanced 1-2 punch with Chris Carson, leaving the 3rd down spot open.
Travis Homer has the pass-catching ability to make him an interesting proposition. On the other hand, the 6th round pick will require a large adjustment period in pass pro, despite his aptitude. Remember when Seattle signed an ageing Fred Jackson purely for his knowledge of pass pro?
J.D. McKissic is fully healthy now and has always been a scintillating target. His pass pro ability is largely unknown too. Whoever ends up grabbing the 3rd down running back role, they better be good. Bad performances at the spot could totally derail Seattle’s hurry-up attack and dramatically hamper the overall offense.