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Boye Mafe aside, Seahawks not getting enough in 2023 from widely praised 2022 draft class

The second-year leap is really only happening for one player.

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Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks are 5-3, which is pretty good, but the team doesn’t feel like it’s making that next step towards being a Super Bowl contender. Geno Smith is not performing to the same level he did last season, and that’s gotten the most scrutiny, but there’s another aspect of the 2023 team that has been lost in the shuffle a bit.

There was justified, widespread praise of the Seahawks’ 2022 draft class, which was integral in lifting Seattle into a postseason berth and immediately maximizing the start of the post-Russell Wilson era. Kenneth Walker and Riq Woolen were both Rookie of the Year finalists, and Charles Cross and Abe Lucas looked like bookend franchise tackles. Coby Bryant had a four-week stretch of forced fumbles, Dareke Young was getting some run as a wide receiver/fullback hybrid of sorts, and Boye Mafe was a rotational piece on an otherwise inconsistent Seahawks pass rush.

We tend to assume linear improvement from young players, so the second-year leap was among the reasons to look at the Seahawks as a playoff contender.

Well...

Boye Mafe has six consecutive games with a sack, and at this rate he will be a Pro Bowl level player with potential to get All-Pro votes if he keeps this upward trajectory going. This has been absolutely huge in the development of building the next great Seahawks defense, and Mafe’s performance should be duly acknowledged.

But that’s really been it.

To be fair to the 2022 group, there have been several injuries that have prevented that “sophomore leap” from happening.

Literally can’t contribute right now

Abe Lucas - On injured reserve

Coby Bryant - On injured reserve

Dareke Young - On Injured reserve

Bo Melton - Not on the roster

Tyreke Smith - Practice squad

Had injuries earlier in the season

Riq Woolen (offseason knee surgery, missed entire preseason)

Charles Cross (missed Weeks 2-4)


Hell, Mafe missed Week 2 if we want to get really deep about it.

Even a healthy Bryant would be struggling for snaps on the roster. Devon Witherspoon is essentially the primary slot corner, and with a healthy set of safeties there’s no real reason for Bryant to be in for anything other than minimal rotational snaps. Lucas is clearly the missed player here and we don’t know if he’ll be back this season.

But that leaves you with Charles Cross, Kenneth Walker, and Riq Woolen as the only other 2022 draftees getting any serious playing time for Seattle. It’s not easy to evaluate offensive line play but Cross’ PFF grade is just 58.3 this season, down from 63.7 as a rookie. While his pass block grade has improved, his run blocking grade has tanked to 51.2.

Walker, in theory, has improved from last season. Even though he rushed for over 1,000 yards, he did so about as boom-or-bust inefficiently as possible. This season his success rate has gone up from 39.9% to 46%, which is still just 14th among 23 running backs with at least 100 carries. His PFF grade is down from 83 to 75 (which is still very good), but offensive line struggles or not, Walker has yet to truly have a breakout game this season. And yes, both him and Zach Charbonnet are just freestyling out there.

Lastly, there’s Riq Woolen. He was the sensation and one of the steals of last year’s NFL Draft. This season has been an unexpected and very unwelcome progression. Woolen’s PFF grade is just 62 (compared to last year’s 71), and his coverage grade has dropped from 77.8 to 64.7. Advanced metric sites seem to have different definitions of “passes targeted” but to just stick with PFF, Woolen has given up 23 receptions on 34 attempts for 218 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. For perspective, Woolen only allowed 38 catches on 68 targets for the entirety of 2022.

Even the best corners will give up touchdowns and big plays because that’s the nature of the sport. I cannot imagine that Pete Carroll tolerates this level of sub-par tackling from a Seahawks corner.

While that Edwards run in the Ravens game actually started with Devon Witherspoon getting run over, we’ve already seen ample evidence of Witherspoon’s willingness to hit and his ability to finish his tackles. Woolen’s tackling issues almost justify why Seattle was so infatuated with Witherspoon. Add in “Big Play” Tre Brown’s impressive showings this season and Woolen has become, as our own Frank T. Raines recently wrote, the “worst” corner of the trio.

In totality, if not for Mafe’s extremely encouraging and exciting development, the collective sophomore campaign for the 2022 class has been a serious disappointment. Yes, there’s bad luck due to the injuries, but the point remains that one of the keys to the Seahawks’ projected high ceiling was last year’s rookies building upon their early success. It hasn’t happened yet, and there’s no guarantee it will happen.

The saving grace is that Seattle is getting significantly positive play from its 2023 rookie class. Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a slow start but he has 17 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns since the bye week. Devon Witherspoon is a serious contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Anthony Bradford and Olu Oluwatimi haven’t been sparkling but they have not looked out of place as starters when pressed into action. Jake Bobo wasn’t drafted but he’s still a rookie and the most productive UDFA receiver by a mile. Zach Charbonnet almost has an incomplete grade at this point given he doesn’t even have 40 touches to his name with the season halfway over.

When diagnosing what ails what is still a 5-3 Seahawks team, there’s a lot more to it than just “Geno Smith isn’t playing very well” or “the offensive line can’t stay healthy” or other very real issues. Seattle’s long-term hopes of contending require consistent improvement from its young core, or else maybe this team’s ceiling is not high as once thought.