The start to Shaquem Griffin’s career was a whirlwind, and that’s only counting up to half-time of his first career game against the Broncos.
Crushed the Senior Bowl.
Watched 140 names go ahead of him in the 2018 NFL Draft, only to finally get drafted to the same team as his twin brother.
An injury to defensive stalwart K.J. Wright opened the door for Griffin to start in Week 1 of his rookie season, on the same defense as his brother Shaquill. By half-time, Shaquem Griffin had been benched, at fault for a Denver touchdown and overmatched in space against an NFL passing attack.
By Griffin’s second training camp he was no longer the fan favorite and inspirational story, he was an embattled sophomore, fighting for a roster spot in a position group that had a minimum of seven NFL-caliber linebackers. A roster spot seemed far away when Griffin went down with a knee injury which robbed him of the majority of the preseason. However, despite the injury and lack of opportunity, Griffin stuck on the 53 to begin the 2019 season.
As the pass rush appeared more and more toothless, the calls for Griffin to crack the defensive line rotation grew louder. Here was a player who totaled 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss over his final 26 college games, toiling away as a backup linebacker and on special teams, while the Seahawks were unable to create pressure against even the worst offensive lines.
In prime-time against the 49ers in Week 10, Griffin got that opportunity as Seattle’s pass rush came alive with five sacks and 10 QB hits. Griffin played just 14 snaps in San Francisco, but it was immediately evident his speed fulfilled a need the Seahawks’ front had been crying out for. In Seattle’s next game, against the Eagles, Griffin’s snaps rose to 25 and he notched two QB hits and several more pressures.
Ezekiel Ansah’s no-show 2019 hurt the Seahawks. Not only did they need a secondary rusher, they needed the type of rush he would have brought: Speed off the edge. When Ansah did show up—most notably in the regular season win in Philadelphia—he was winning with power. Instead, it was Griffin who brought the speed Seattle needed off the edge.
In that same Seahawks victory, Griffin displayed another outstanding way he can disrupt the opposition, which proved to be perfect for the star player alongside him. Griffin is able to loop inside from the edge with tremendous short-area quickness, causing confusion and creating opportunity for those around him.
A big part of why Ansah’s missing speed killed Seattle is that Jadeveon Clowney is a narrow rusher, someone who wins with either power or his devastatingly effective inside swim moves. He won’t threaten the corner, and it made the Seahawks’ pass rush all too predictable. The way Griffin could loop inside with devastating pace or turn the corner on an opposing tackle enabled Seattle to overload a certain side, and eased the predictability issue when he was on the field.
As Griffin proved toward the end of the Seahawks’ divisional round loss, when he combined with his brother for a sack on Aaron Rodgers, he can make a difference for Seattle’s defense. Though it took until Week 10 for Griffin to see the field as a pass rusher, the sophomore averaged a pressure once every 7.5 rushes, with a total pressure percentage of 13.3 percent. It’s a small sample size, but over a full season (minimum 300 rushes) that would be a higher pressure percentage than edge rusher luminaries such as Calais Campbell, Melvin Ingram, Everson Griffen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham, Yannick Ngakoue, Jerry Hughes and Frank Clark, among others.
Griffin became the Seahawks’ agent of chaos at the line of scrimmage over the second half of the season, pressuring opposing quarterbacks and creating countless more opportunities for the rushers around him with his frenetic energy. Griffin began the 2019 season fighting for a roster spot, but finished it by proving he deserves a role in 2020 and beyond.