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Grading Quinton Dunbar’s four interceptions from the 2019 season

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

I am a Quinton Dunbar skeptic. That line alone may incite some jeers, but I’d rather be honest right away. My hope for Dunbar is in many ways nothing more than pessimism for Tre Flowers. That comment should anger a few more people I suspect, but let’s go ahead and give this new commenting system a spin.

Dunbar has only played in 50% or more of his defense’s snaps once. That was last year when he reached 54%. In that season, he only played every defensive snap three times. I’ll go ahead and call 99% “every” because it’s close enough. He has never played 16 games in a season, has averaged five starts a season, is 28 and has an extensive injury history. In the last two seasons, he has played in 18 games and been listed as questionable in eight games. It’s often difficult to distinguish injury from decline, and in the NFL, 28 can sometimes be awfully old.

That, and about a dozen others things, is counterbalanced by a bogus rating system I won’t even bother to name check, Dunbar’s newfound good reputation and his four interceptions in 2019. He doesn’t make many plays on the ball. In 2019, he had eight passes defended. Which ranks 67th in the NFL along with about 30 other guys with eight passes defended. Passes defended (or “defensed” for some stupid reason) much better predict interceptions than interceptions themselves. That’s at the team level but the logic holds. Great defenders develop a knack for intercepting passes, but even Richard Sherman has seen his year-to-year totals jump around wildly. Picks are just not something you bank on.

However Sherman was consistently great even when he didn’t intercept passes. He didn’t fatten up on good luck and bad quarterbacks. He was not a standout on a bad defense like Dunbar, but possibly the best player on possibly the best defense of all time. That matters to me because we often do not really know how well an individual is playing, but we do know if the defense itself is succeeding. Washington, I’m gonna call them the “Hogs” because that’s my preferred name for the passive-aggressively named “Football Team,” ranked 24th in pass defense in 2019. Against no. 2 receivers, Dunbar’s most likely assignment, they ranked last. The Washington Hogs averaged 43.4% DVOA allowed on passes targeting no. 2 receivers, which is roughly twice as efficient as Russell Wilson was in 2019. When opposing offenses targeted Washington’s no. 2 receiver in 2019, they performed a tiny bit better on average than Peyton Manning did in his record-setting 2013 season.

There’s a lot of smoke, is my point. A lot of not quite precise indications that Dunbar may not be that great. He did fatten up on bad quarterbacks. In 2019, he intercepted passes thrown by Daniel Jones, Josh Rosen and Jeff Driskel. But it’s only fair that I actually analyze the interceptions. I never fail to want every Seahawk to excel, and by extension, I always want any acquisition made by the Seahawks to be good. I’m not one of those fans who relish the failure of my team. But I’m also almost pathologically honest, and this is what’s on my mind.

Let’s see the young man excel.

Interception 1

1ST & 10 AT NYG 40(08:31)

(8:31) D.Jones pass deep left intended for S.Shepard INTERCEPTED by Q.Dunbar [T.Settle] at WAS 41. Q.Dunbar to WAS 47 for 6 yards (C.Latimer).

Pre-snap:

Dunbar is located between the <40 and the 50 at the top of the image.

Washington’s running a cover 3.

Dunbar does a very good job of maintaining a good deep cushion on the receiver while keeping his eyes locked on the quarterback.

With maybe a little help from the deep safety, Dunbar correctly analyzes his shift in responsibility, passing his receiver off and breaking assertively toward Sterling Shepard running a deep crosser.

Jones makes a fatal error. He doesn’t adjust to pressure in his face and throws a weak pass late to a deep out-breaking route.

Dunbar does an excellent job of sawing off the receiver’s route and making an assertive play on the ball.

It’s a great play. Excellent awareness of his responsibility, great read of the quarterback, good break on the receiver, and a clean pick. The return is nothing special but oh well.

Grade: A

Interception 2

2ND & 3 AT NYG 21(06:41)

(6:41) (Shotgun) D.Jones pass deep middle intended for S.Shepard INTERCEPTED by Q.Dunbar at NYG 37. Q.Dunbar to NYG 37 for no gain (S.Shepard).

Pre-snap:

Dunbar’s opposite the innermost receiver on the defensive left in man coverage.

He’s able to jam Shepard’s outside shoulder.

Shepard wins inside position, Dunbar closes, and Shepard is again able to separate on his in cut.

Shepard (87) is pulling away from Dunbar (23).

When Jones throws a wobbly pass behind the receiver which Dunbar picks.

Grade: B-

There’s lots to like about this pick: Dunbar is able to close well. He changes speed well even while in full run, and he has a catch-up gear which allows him to close suddenly. It’s a tough pick, and though Dunbar looks like a body catcher, he’s a DB. It’s a tough pick and he grabs it.

But he’s also more or less beat—not badly but beat. This pick is the product of a very bad pass. Dunbar deserves credit, a lot of credit, for turning a bad pass into an interception, but a better quarterback would have led Shepard and probably completed this pass.

Interception 3

2ND & 10 AT WAS 36(07:52)

(7:52) (Shotgun) J.Rosen pass short left intended for P.Williams INTERCEPTED by Q.Dunbar at WAS 31. Q.Dunbar to WAS 31 for no gain (P.Williams).

Pre-snap:

Dunbar is aligned just outside the 30> on the defensive right.

Josh Rosen fakes an inside handoff. The play’s an RPO.

Rosen chooses pass and thinks no further.

Dunbar maintains a very good functional cushion. He makes a good read and assertively cuts off the receiver’s route snagging the pick.

Grade: B

The pass is so much a gimme that it’s hard to award full credit to Dunbar. On top of that, he double catches the pass—the ball initially splitting his arms, caught only after it reflects off his right thigh.

Interception 4

3RD & 9 AT DET 37(00:54)

(:54) (Shotgun) J.Driskel pass deep middle intended for M.Jones Jr. INTERCEPTED by Q.Dunbar at WAS 46. Q.Dunbar to WAS 46 for no gain (M.Jones Jr.).

Pre-snap:

Dunbar’s at the top, widest right. He does ... well, he does what he does.

Reading the quarterback, maintaining space over top, and closing assertively on the route, chopping it off and intercepting the pass.

Grade: B+

Another gimme, if I weren’t a Seahawks fan writing for Seahawks fans I would be tempted to shift the final three grades down a letter because they’re all gimmes. This one’s especially easy, and like his previous picks, it’s not well secured. Dunbar appears to be a pure body catcher who’s sure to lose some potential picks because of his hands.

These are pretty good picks. Which leaves me feeling a bit better, overall. They’re also pretty much all the exact same kind of pick, excepting the first, in which a bad or horribly bad quarterback makes an inexplicable read and throws up a wobbler outside left to a completely covered receiver. Pump fakes, double moves—it’s not hard to punish overly-aggressive DB play. But Jones, Rosen and Driskel are not the guys to do it.

Nevertheless, Dunbar looks infinitely more capable than Flowers of playing over while reading the quarterback and assertively breaking on the route. His body and especially his mind are working at another speed.

This isn’t meant to be comprehensive. Perhaps a more comprehensive viewing of the tape would reveal many times Dunbar guessed wrong. Or maybe not, I don’t know. But here’s what I can say with reasonable confidence. Seattle is better for having Flowers and Dunbar. Dunbar was better in 2019, and looks much more skilled overall, but Flowers has been more consistently healthy and is probably more talented. In two seasons, Flowers has played 37 fewer snaps than Dunbar did in five seasons. Dunbar is likely to start, but Flowers is likely to start too, just not at once.

I would not expect the addition of Dunbar to be transformative. It only cost Seattle half a season of Nick Vannett, and so the price was obviously incredibly low. Historically, Seattle’s right corner has been an easy position to fill. Brandon Browner was not great and neither was Byron Maxwell, but both excelled in Seattle’s system. Dunbar did good work playing a similar position in 2019, and so this is a pretty good fit.

I’d still much rather see Flowers somehow beat him out. Injury-prone players are a liability for any team with postseason aspirations. As the games get more important, the injury-prone player is less likely to play or play at 100%. And while Dunbar has developed the skills to attempt interceptions, he hasn’t improved much as a receiver. Of his four passes defended which were not picks, three were dropped interceptions.

I couldn’t get a good screen grab of the third dropped INT, but it occurred here ...

3RD & 3 AT WAS 3(00:31)

(:31) (Shotgun) K.Allen pass incomplete short middle to D.Moore (Q.Dunbar).

if you’d like to see for yourself.

He’s an okay player who had a good season on a bad team facing some ruinously bad quarterbacks. It was undeniably his best season. Maybe that means he has finally put it all together, and this level of play can be sustained. If so, Seattle has improved its right cornerback position and more than a little. Typically one good season out of five means regression the next season, as whatever particular set of circumstances which allowed that good season are never to be repeated. As such, Flowers is probably both the upside play, and, very possibly, the cornerback who receives the majority of snaps for Seattle on the right. But that’s just me being rational, risking nothing.

Here’s me being a fan: A healthy Dunbar is likely to be a tremendous upgrade over Tre Flowers. Dunbar improved greatly in 2019, and he’s joining a much, much better run franchise which knows a thing or two about DB play. Even if he only maintains his 2019 level, his marginal value over Flowers can mean everything to a team with a legitimate chance at a Super Bowl. Which means, in the right situation, adding Dunbar can mean everything to the 2020 Seahawks.

When they win the Super Bowl.