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Seahawks 2021 pre-draft checkup: The offensive line

Part 2 of a 9-part series

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Welcome to Part Two of the Seahawks 2021 Pre-Draft Checkup!

Today we’re looking at the offensive line.


Turnover, thus far

Out:

  • Chad Wheeler - released (will not return)
  • Chance Warmack - opted out, then released; may return
  • Mike Iupati - retired

In:

  • Gabe Jackson

Net result: Seattle swapped a starter for a starter but lost 2 backups.


Past and present

Under the current regime, Seattle’s offensive line has been . . . um . . . what’s the word I’m looking for? . . . ah, yes . . .

CRAPTASTIC.

Granted, that’s not the technical term, but it is pretty accurate and so very, very descriptive.

Want proof?

In 2020, Seattle’s offensive line was ranked 16th in the league in pass-blocking.

That actually doesn’t sound bad, right?

(insert comment about “lowered expectations)

It actually isn’t “bad,” per se. And, to be fair, it is sort of an accomplishment in that they (finally) finished ahead of more teams (16) than they finished behind (15).

But only just barely.

And that’s the highwater mark for the last 9 years.

Yes, you read that right. Ranking as the worst pass-blocking O-line in the top half of the league is the BEST that Seattle has ever done with Russell Wilson under center.

.

.

.

Naturally, our franchise QB responded to this news by politely requesting that the team make an effort to improve the quality of the offensive line.

And, naturally, the team responded by . . .

Um . . .

Not really doing much of anything.

Yes, a 5th round pick was sent to the Raiders for guard Gabe Jackson.

And, yes, Gabe Jackson was then signed to a new 3-year contract that is much more palatable for the team.

But what else have the Seahawks done?

We re-signed Ethan Pocic.

And we re-signed 3 backups - Kyle Fuller, Jordan Simmons, and Cedric Ogbuehi.

That’s it.

Nothing else.

Serious question: Do you think that Russ feels like we have adequately addressed his concerns when four of our five projected starters (80%) are the same starters we had last year?

In my opinion, the moves Seattle has made thus far on the O-line are akin to your spouse saying they’re tired of the car always breaking down and your response being to buy a new set of tires for it. And an air freshener.

I mean, sure, you did something, but . . . did you REALLY?

And here’s something else to ponder . . .

Would the Seahawks have made a trade for a Guard OR signed one from another team in free agency OR drafted one . . . if last year’s starter, Mike Iupati, hadn’t retired?

Personally, I want to believe that the answer is, “Yes.”

But, honestly, I’m not so sure.

Here’s why:

Out of 132 Guards that PFF graded last year, Mike Iupati ranked 38th in pass blocking, 22nd in run-blocking, and 32nd overall.

Conversely, out of 55 Centers, Ethan Pocic was 28th in pass blocking, 32nd in run-blocking, and 27th overall.

Given the fact that we re-signed Ethan Pocic (#27 of 55), there is at least a reasonable chance that the team would have re-signed Mike Iupati (#32 of 132).


Statistically speaking

Rankings only mean so much and not everyone “likes” PFF, so let’s look at some actual stats.

Last year’s starters:

  • Mike Iupati: 1 sack, 2 hits, 10 hurries, 13 total pressures (498 snaps)
  • Damien Lewis: 3 sacks, 2 hits, 23 hurries, 28 total pressures (967 snaps)
  • Duane Brown: 2 sacks, 5 hits, 27 hurries, 34 total pressures (1,048 snaps)
  • Brandon Shell: 3 sacks, 4 hits, 12 hurries, 19 total pressures (673 snaps)
  • Ethan Pocic: 2 sacks, 3 hits, 13 hurries, 18 total pressures (932 snaps)

Last year’s primary backups:

  • Jordan Simmons: 3 sacks, 2 hits, 12 hurries, 17 total pressures (593 snaps)
  • Cedric Ogbuehi: 1 sack, 2 hits, 10 hurries, 13 total pressures (277 snaps)
  • Jamarco Jones: 1 sack, 2 hits, 6 hurries, 9 total pressures (192 snaps)

Our lone addition (thus far):

  • Gabe Jackson: 0 sacks, 2 hits, 24 hurries, 26 total pressures (1,062 snaps)

Takeaways

Like any stats, these stats can be interpreted a number of different ways. Here are a few of the takeaways that I got from them:

One. Two of our five starters (Iupati and Shell) missed significant amounts of time last year. Obviously, depth is important.

Two. Supporting the previous takeaway, Iupati’s backup (Simmons) actually took more snaps than he did (593 v. 498).

Three. On a per-snap basis, Iupati’s stats are actually pretty good (more on this in a moment).

Four. Gabe Jackson might be end up being our best offensive lineman in 2021.

Per-snap breakdowns

  • Sacks: Brown = 1 every 524 snaps (1:524); Iupati = 1:498; Pocic = 1:468; Lewis = 1:322; Shell = 1:224
  • Hits: Lewis = 1:483; Pocic = 1:311; Iupati = 1:249; Brown = 1:210; Shell = 1:168
  • Hurries: Pocic = 1:71.7; Shell = 1:56.1; Iupati = 1:49.8; Lewis = 1:42; Brown = 1:38.8
  • Pressures: Pocic = 1:51.8; Iupati = 1:38.3; Shell = 1:35.4; Lewis = 1:34.5; Brown = 1:30.8

Parsing through that, Mike Iupati had the 2nd-best sack rate, the 3rd-best hit rate, the 3rd-best hurries rate, and the 2nd-best pressures rate.

Not exactly our weakest link.

Even if we assume that different positions should be judged differently (which is probably true) and only compare Iupati to Lewis and Simmons . . .

  • Sacks: Iupati = 1 every 498 snaps (1:498); Lewis = 1:322; Simmons = 1:198
  • Hits: Lewis = 1:483; Simmons = 1:297; Iupati = 1:249
  • Hurries: Iupati = 1:49.8; Simmons = 1:49.4; Lewis = 1:42
  • Pressures: Iupati = 1:38.3; Simmons = 1:34.9; Lewis = 1:34.5

Putting that another way, Iupati ranked #1, #3, #1, and #1 in sack rate, hit rate, hurry rate, and pressure rate (with #1 being BEST / lowest); while Lewis ranked #2, #1, #3, #3; and Simmons ranked #3, #2, #2, #2.

Again, Iupati was not exactly our weakest link.

For reference . . .

Gabe Jackson: Sacks = 0:1,062; Hits = 1:531; Hurries = 1:44.3; Pressures = 1:40.8


The O-line, as a unit

Interestingly, I actually feel pretty good about the offensive line right now.

My head tells me that I shouldn’t.

But I do.

Or, more accurately, I don’t feel as bad about the offensive line as I think that I should.

(semantics)


The projected starters

Duane Brown

Our starting left tackle is ancient - in football terms.

But he logged more snaps than any of our other O-linemen last year and he’s the one player that I am the least concerned about in that position group.

PFF ranked Duane Brown #9 overall last year. He was 19th in pass blocking and 23rd in run blocking.

And that was out of all offensive linemen. Duane Brown was #9 out of 321 . . . league-wide.

Ranked against only the Tackles, Brown was #6 overall (of 136). He was #12 in pass-blocking, and tied for 15th in run-blocking.

Do we need to be thinking about a succession plan (i.e. looking for a replacement for him)?

Yeah, probably.

Should we be looking for his replacement this year - when we only have 3 draft picks and precious little cap room?

Probably not.

At least not unless someone like Liam Eichenberg is still on the board when Seattle gets on the clock.

And even then, I might argue that we have bigger needs.

Brandon Shell

On the one hand, it can be argued that Brandon Shell is “average” in almost every way.

On the other hand, “average” is light years better than what we had during “the Germain Ifedi experience.”

Would I like to see us get better at right tackle?

Sure.

But at what cost?

Brandon Shell’s cap hit in 2021 is $5.35M. He has $2M in dead money on his contract so his “true cost” is $3.35M.

Could we get someone better than Shell for $3.35M?

Right now, after the majority of free agency has run its course?

I doubt it.

And right tackle isn’t a position of need in the draft.

I mean, not really.

But . . .

If our 3 picks were to multiply and somehow become 6 or 7 picks . . .

And if Notre Dame’s Robert Hainsey were still available on Day Three (preferably on the back half of Day Three) . . .

There are worse things we could do with a late pick than to select a player who started 30 games at the O-line factory that calls itself a college.

Ethan Pocic

I like Ethan Pocic.

I really do.

I like him as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, can-back-up-all-3-interior-positions offensive lineman.

As a starter . . . not so much.

And it’s not even the fact that he graded out as an average Center last year. Grade-wise, I think he can improve with more experience.

But I’m not sure how MUCH he can improve. And I think that Seattle can - and should - “do better” at the Center position.

Of all the O-line positions that Seattle could address in the draft, Center is the one that I would argue they should address in the draft. Preferably on Day Two - but maybe not at #56.

If Seattle could trade back once or twice, grab some extra picks, and then grab Alabama’s Landon Dickerson, Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey, or Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz in the high-80s, low-90s . . . that would be a coup.

Worth Noting: Dickerson suffered an ACL injury in the SEC Championship game and has a history of injury so there would be a risk with taking him “early” and it’s unclear if he’ll see the field this season. Still, someone’s going to take him on Day Two and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Seattle.

Damien Lewis

Until recently, I was under the (mistaken) impression that Damien Lewis was a 2nd round pick. And, until recently, I thought he had a really good season “for a 2nd round pick.”

Turns out that he’s actually a third-round pick (#69 overall) which means my impression of him is even better now - cuz he had a really, really good season “for a 3rd round pick.”

To be fair - or unfair, depending on your perspective - he did cost us a W in Arizona when he went the wrong direction on a critical 3rd down play near the end of regulation that could have allowed us to run out the clock and avoid overtime.

But rookies make “rookie mistakes” and I don’t actually think that one was all that bad (in the grand scheme of things).

Side Note: One of my “quick tests” when it comes to judging a player is to count the # of players I would be willing to trade the player for “straight up.” Entering his second season, that number is much lower than I would have expected with Mr. Lewis.

Gabe Jackson

I will admit that I knew almost nothing about Gabe Jackson when last season ended. Now? He’s probably 40% of the reason for my irrational optimism about our offensive line.

Statistically, Mike Iupati wasn’t terrible. But he only played half the snaps last year and he wasn’t demonstrably better than his backup (Jordan Simmons).

Gabe Jackson should be demonstrably better than Simmons. And Damien Lewis. The fact that he’s signed through 2023 is awesome.

I am a Jackson believer!

For now.


Depth on the O-line

Was it really just a year ago that we had 328 offensive linemen on our roster?

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration.

But, seriously . . .

Shouldn’t we have better depth than we do right now?

In terms of experienced backups, we’ve got Cedric Ogbuehi at tackle and Jordan Simmons at guard.

Jamarco Jones is listed as the backup to Duane Brown, but Jones doesn’t actually have all that many snaps to his credit at tackle. Or, really, all that many snaps period.

Kyle Fuller, Phil Haynes, and Tommy Champion are apparently “in like Flynn” with the coaches (especially Mike Solari - obviously), but does anyone trust them to take meaningful snaps in an actual game?

Anyone?

And Brad Lundblade? I honestly had no clue who that was until I started paying attention to the “bottom” of the roster a couple months ago. And even now, most of what I know about Brad Lundblade came from this (rather excellent) article over at Gang Green Nation.


Final thoughts

On paper, the O-line is improved - even if the only actual change is replacing Mike Iupati with Gabe Jackson.

It is a marginal improvement though.

Returning 4 of our 5 starters could, theoretically, lead to an improvement as there IS something to be said for consistency and familiarity.

The main reason for optimism is our new OC and the changes that he is reportedly (rumored-ly) planning to make.

Seattle’s O-line ranked #16 in the league last year and while that’s not great, it’s not as bad as we’ve been in the past. If Shane Waldron can help push us into the Top 10 . . .

That could be enough.

Our depth is suspect / uninspiring.

We could definitely use another starter-caliber center.

At some point we need to think about the succession plan at left tackle.

Bottom line

If Seattle enters Week 1 with zero additional changes on the O-line . . . I wouldn’t be completely unhappy.

I might even find myself being “cautiously optimistic.”

Hopefully Russell Wilson agrees.