We’ve reached the part of the NFL offseason where listicles really take off as the premium source of content prior to the start of training camp and preseason. Once again ESPN compiled the thoughts and rankings of “more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions,” and it should be clarified that this is specifically a ranking for now and not projecting well into the future.
Here’s a little more on their methodology for the rankings before we get started:
Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.
The defensive side of the rankings just completed and as you would expect, there’s very little Seattle Seahawks involvement. Bobby Wagner dipped from 1st to 3rd behind Devin White and Fred Warner, but obviously league executives and other insiders believe him to still be an elite linebacker at 31 years old (because he is still an elite linebacker).
Seattle doesn’t get a sniff of a mention at cornerback, interior defensive line, or edge rusher, but Jamal Adams does crack the top-5 at safety. What’s interesting is he was #1 last year just prior to being traded from the New York Jets to Seattle, but this year he dropped to 4th and the range of placement is wider than last year. In 2020 his lowest ranking was 5th, but in 2021 there’s at least one voter who doesn’t see him as top-10 at all.
Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks
Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 11 Age: 25 | Last year’s ranking: 1
“Truly one of a kind,” an AFC exec said. “Enforcer, blitzer, energizer. You have to track him every snap.”
Adams’ disruption off the edge helped define Seattle’s defense, with his 9.5 sacks leading all safeties by a massive margin. No other safety had more than 3.5.
But Adams’ Pro Football Focus pass-coverage grade fell to 44.5 late last season after posting in the high-80s the previous season with the Jets. Adams’ success rate — percentage of successful plays for the defense when serving as the nearest defender — was 48% last season, around the league average.
To be sure, Adams got traded in late July and had limited time to absorb Seattle’s system. He also missed four games due to injury, and Seattle’s pass defense was worse without him (7.0 yards allowed per dropback with Adams sidelined vs. 6.1 with Adams on the field). The Seahawks believe familiarity will produce better pass coverage from Adams in 2021.
Still, many evaluators call him, essentially, a weakside linebacker.
“But he does so many things at an elite level that all of that doesn’t concern me much,” an NFC exec said. “I don’t think he’s a terrible cover guy. That’s just not his strength. Not a weakness but not what he does best. What he does best is wreck a game plan.”
By the way, that’s not the biggest gap from best ranking to worst ranking even at safety. John Johnson III, formerly of the Rams and now with the Cleveland Browns, placed 8th overall but had one voter rank him 2nd and another at 14th.
This will be Adams’ first proper offseason with the Seahawks and it’s expected that he’ll get a better grasp of the system and hoped that he’ll stay healthy. The moves Seattle made this offseason on the defensive line ideally reduce the need to blitz Adams as much as they did last year, and given how shaky the cornerback situation is I think it’s almost mandatory for Adams to not be used as often as an extra rusher. We’ll learn a lot more about his coverage abilities in a larger sample size in due time. Oh yeah, and he has a contract extension looming but ideally that is not an issue entering Week 1.
ESPN’s survey rollout is still ongoing and Duane Brown is an honorable mention at tackle. Check back next week to see how many other Seahawks make it onto this year’s list.