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What kind of impact will Uchenna Nwosu make in 2022?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 USC at Colorado Photo by Marc Piscotty/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Uchenna Nwosu is about to see a lot of things change in 2022. The Seattle Seahawks signed him to a two-year deal, which means he will be venturing outside of California for the first time in his football career. And I mean ever. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nwosu played college football with the USC Trojans and went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers. So he is in for a change of scenery as he heads up north to join the Seahawks in the pacific northwest.

With a very top-heavy slate of free agent pass rushers, I was never surprised to see that the team didn’t make a huge move for a Von Miller, Chandler Jones, or Haason Reddick type of player. Honestly, the fact that they avoided making a move like paying Randy Gregory is commendable. Look at the contracts below.

While their cap hit in the coming season is comparable — with Gregory’s even being a bit lower in 2022 — the overall discrepancy in AAV and guaranteed cash in the long-run is noteworthy; according to Field Gulls’ own John Gilbert,

“Nwosu will carry cap hits of $6.295M in 2022 and $12.76M in 2023. For those curious, if for some reason the team would decide to move on after the 2022 season, doing so would carry a $4.75M dead cap hit while saving a little over $8M against the cap.”

Comparatively, Randy Gregory’s salary takes a significant leap after 2022. According to Jon Heath of Broncos Wire,

“Gregory’s base salary will jump to $14 million in 2023 and he’ll have a $16 million cap hit, according to OTC. His cap hits will be $16 million in 2023, 2024, 2025 and 2016, but his base salaries will vary.”

But is the production commensurate with the gap in pay? Hardly. In fact, Nwosu has arguably been the more productive player between of the two over their last four seasons, respectively. And this isn’t a single year aberration, Uchenna has consistently produced at a level on par with or even better than Gregory. Consider these statistics over their last four seasons (*note: Randy Gregory did not play in 2017 or 2019, so these statistics include his 2016 season as well):

  • Uchenna Nwosu has 115 pressures for a 12% pressure percentage on 957 pass rush snaps, 16 sacks, and 67 hurries. In addition to this, he has batted a small handful of passes (4).
  • Randy Gregory has 107 pressures (12.6% on 852 pass rush snaps), 16 sacks, and 60 hurries.

And Uchenna isn’t just a statistical anomaly; that is to say, Nwosu’s strong play can be seen on the field. Michael Peterson over at Bolts from the Blue featured him multiple times on the “Surge” list late in the season (Week 13 and Week 15) as fans and analysts generally agreed that he was playing the best football of his career late last year. And he really jumps off the tape as a pass rusher at times, and not just against inferior competition. He has made some of the biggest plays of his career in big moments, against premier tackles. Just see the clips below.

In this first clip, Nwosu embarrasses Minnesota Vikings first-round tackle Christian Darrisaw, rendering Kirk Cousins so angry that he nearly beans his blindside blocker in the head for his failure. But that really isn’t fair to Darrisaw, Nwosu is just that quick. But he isn’t purely a speed rusher, either. See below.

Translating speed to power, he simply bulldozes New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead back into Brees before the receivers can find a soft spot in the coverage. I would love to see him doing similar stuff to the Matthew Staffords, Kyler Murrays, and Trey Lances/Jimmy G.’s of the NFC west. And even when he doesn’t get home for the sack, he still manages to be disruptive and make life difficult for opposing QBs. And he hasn’t been shy to do so during divisional matchups, like this one with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

This isn’t the only time he has made life hell for Orlando Brown, Jr.; the biggest play of his young career came on this strip sack of Lamar Jackson in the playoffs during his rookie season.

In one blink-and-you-might-miss-it/so-smooth-it-needs-to-be-reviewed motion, Nwosu explodes out of his four point stance and rushes by three-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown, Jr.; Without ever losing focus on the quarterback, he uses his speed to separate his body from the blocker and his length to separate the ball from the baller. Lamar Jackson ends up scrambling in futility as he sees the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl aspirations spiraling aimlessly out of their grasp on the cold Maryland grass.

Generally, I am pretty impressed with Nwosu’s performance and style. He seems to be a talented player with a diverse skill-set and a well-developed arsenal of pass rush moves. He is capable of lining up in multiple spots on the defense, and can rush out of a two-point stance or with his hand in the dirt, which will be beneficial for the team in their new look defense; given that Seattle is reportedly transitioning to a 3-4 base this season (or at least more fully committing to it), Uchenna may be a great fit for what Clint Hurtt is looking to do in his first year as defensive coordinator.

Of course, the team already has a small but exciting number of pass rushers on the team — particularly Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson — so in some ways, this signing seems a bit like the Kerry Hyder move last year; a high-upside move with a mid-level contract investment; that is to say that the team is definitely shelling out some money to sign players like this, but it doesn’t feel like they are going all-in on a player with upside but not a ton of production to back it up. Of course, I am hoping for best case scenario here; I would love to see Nwosu become the next under-the-radar pass rusher signing that turns into money down the road. We will see how he fairs as the offseason progresses and what kinds of moves the team makes in the draft. Regardless, this pass rush is going to look... different in 2022.