First, K.J. Wright’s status on the 2020 Seahawks was seemingly uncertain, with considerable cap savings available by cutting ties after a bounce back 2019 season from the veteran linebacker.
Then, Wright’s availability for the start of the season, following offseason shoulder surgery, was in doubt.
After Wright was locked into the 53-man roster, it looked like he could lose snaps to Jordyn Brooks, with the rookie spelling him on a handful of series’ in weeks one and two.
A season-ending injury to Bruce Irvin in Week 2 forced a position switch for Wright, from WILL linebacker to SAM—a reversal of a fateful position switch that occurred seven years prior, with Wright moving to the weakside from the strongside in order to accommodate Irvin.
Yet all along, Wright has done the same thing he has done for a decade—quietly go about his business on the field, doing everything correctly with little recognition compared to his superstar teammates.
Since Jordyn Brooks’ injury in Week 3, another blow to a depleted linebacker corps, the 31-year-old Wright has played 236 of a possible 240 snaps. Not only has Wright been able to play almost every snap, in what is unideal circumstances, but he has played absolutely marvelously.
When a move to SAM linebacker was first suggested by John Schneider, after Brooks’ selection in April, it came with the presumption that it would lead to fewer snaps for the veteran. After all, with a recent history of knee problems and a surgically repaired shoulder, there was no way Wright could play down after down practically on the line of scrimmage. A platoon approach to the position, with the younger and more physical Brooks taking early-down snaps before Wright came in on passing downs, would have made sense.
Instead, Wright has been a constant and has held up incredibly well playing on the edge. A combination of rare length and flawless positioning has allowed Wright to be a disruptive, disciplined run defender at a position usually reserved for true EDGEs in Seattle, such as Irvin. The move, as Pete Carroll explained, has allowed Wright to be more involved than he otherwise would be off the line of scrimmage at WILL: “He sure has been really active. You know, playing on the edge, it really seems to put him in position to see some things a little bit differently, and he’s able to be a factor in a lot of stuff, so we’re really excited about it.”
Perhaps even more impressive is that Wright’s coverage ability, which has always been his best trait, has gotten better playing on the strongside. Wright has erased running backs, tight ends, the entire flat, and wherever else his drop may take him. Among linebackers, Wright currently ranks first in pass breakups and is allowing just 55.6% of passes thrown his way to be completed—the sixth-lowest mark for his position (minimum 15 targets).
The depth and positioning of his drops into zone coverage have been as natural as ever, an amazing feat in itself with Wright on the opposite side of the field to where he has spent the majority of his career.
However, Wright’s zone drops maintaining an unparalleled level of flawlessness should come as no surprise to those who know how he prepares. “A lot of your pass coverage is done pre-snap when you look at formations and tendencies, you know what’s coming,” sophomore Cody Barton said of Wright’s success in coverage. “Being intelligent, he knows when things are coming and how wide to get, how deep to get or not really drop at all.”
Barton, in his praise of Wright’s professionalism and coverage ability, gets at what has made Wright’s 2019 and ‘20 seasons so incredible. Wright’s game has never been predicated on spectacular physical talent, but in recent years that has become even more prevalent. However, Wright has excelled into his 30s due to a complete mastery of the position, a genius at linebacker holding off diminishing physical talent by knowing exactly where to be. Time and time again.
In a funny way it’s fitting, the Seahawks’ perennial unsung hero, knowing just how well this year has gone for him, with Wright saying after Week 4, “I look excellent. I look great. And I’m thankful that I’m healthy, still balling. To play ten years in this league, to play ten years with the Seahawks and to look this good, couldn’t ask for a better career. I’m just getting started. We got a long ways to go and I gotta make sure I finish strong.”
Seattle has been lucky enough to see a string of Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and future Hall of Fame defenders come through over the past decade. Though Wright has only earned one Pro Bowl nod over the course of his career, at 31, he may very well be playing better than ever before.