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Position Group Preview: High-end talent replaced with depth and youth

NFL: JAN 05 NFC Wild Card - Seahawks at Eagles

The position that was an endless cause of consternation a year ago has remained under the microscope all offseason long in Seattle, as the Seahawks restocked their stable of pass rushers with a handful of secondary and tertiary threats. While the absence of a primary rusher and Jadeveon Clowney’s ongoing free agency has led to Seattle’s pass rush retool still feeling incomplete, the Seahawks’ roster construction seems to suggest their work there is done. So, much like Seattle’s defense in 2019, we’ll make do with what we have in previewing this year’s EDGEs.

Expected group

The Seahawks’ two defensive end spots seem to be settled, less than two weeks away from Week 1. At LEO, Benson Mayowa has received the bulk of first-team reps in camp and should start the season there.

Mayowa should be backed up by rookie Alton Robinson, who has received a healthy dose of praise already. On the other side, Rasheem Green projects as the starter at 5-tech, with L.J. Collier in desperate need of a strong sophomore season behind him.

Darrell Taylor is a bit of a wildcard in any projection. The team’s second-round pick this year is still recovering from a stress fracture and is in a race to be ready for Week 1. Once healthy and a part of the rotation, he’ll see snaps at LEO and likely enable the team to flip Robinson between both spots.

Bruce Irvin and Shaquem Griffin, both of whom will rush the passer on a fair number of their snaps, are seen as SAM linebackers in Seattle’s defense.

Dark horse

With such a crowded group at EDGE, it will be supremely difficult for anyone on the fringe of the roster to breakthrough. Among those expected to make the 53, Robinson is the dark horse to contribute as a fifth-round rookie, while Collier could take advantage of low expectations to surprise some—particularly as an interior rusher.

Reason for optimism

In 2019, as Clowney attempted to perform as a one-man show, the Seahawks’ lack of depth was startling. Now, they have that depth in bunches with numerous proven contributors and ascending young players. While it won’t make up for the lack of high-end talent at the top, Mayowa and Irvin consistently get to the quarterback at a steady rate and should continue to do so in 2020. Elsewhere, it’s difficult not to be excited about Green, who made a very promising jump as a second-year player and should continue to develop in his age-23 season.

Where it could go wrong

In a way, it appears as though Seattle has traded a high ceiling for a high floor between 2019 and ‘20. Between that and a stacked secondary, the expectation is that they will produce at a higher level rushing the passer this season. However, the lack of elite (or even great) talent is glaring and it’s difficult to project any one player as likely to reach double-digit sacks. The defense as a unit should be improved but the pass rush dragging itself towards 30 sacks for the second year in a row is not all that difficult to envision.

Outlook

Ultimately, the Seahawks have seemingly sacrificed high-end talent in the name of depth and youth. In the long run, it should certainly pay off. For a team in a Super Bowl window, the payoff needs to come in 2020 as well. Without Clowney, it remains to be seen if it will.