The Seahawks' season is halfway over (which is weird as hell to think about) so it's worth taking a look back and handing out a few mid-season awards. Let's just get right into it.
MVP - Russell Wilson
You could make all kinds of arguments about how Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman or Marshawn Lynch is the team's Most Valuable Player, but there's a reason that quarterbacks make more money than every other position by a long-shot. Without a good, potentially really good quarterback like Russell Wilson, the Seahawks' offensive would really be a mess, particularly behind a porous offensive line like we saw in the first half.
Now, I'm not saying that Wilson is the Seahawks best player or trying to oversell him in his development -- he needs to improve in the redzone dramatically in the second half of the year if Seattle wants to contend for the Playoffs -- but you simply will not convince me that there's a more valuable position than quarterback in the modern NFL. Period. And, Wilson's done a pretty good job this season considering all the variables, particularly that he's on pace to be sacked 62 times, 20 more than last year.
Wilson has completed 68.8-percent of his passes (career-high: 64.1) thus far for 1,878 yards at 8.0 yards per attempt (career high: 8.2), 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The completion percentage and yards per attempt is outstanding, while the touchdowns number remains way too low and the interceptions total is on track for a career-high. Wilson's yardage total is on pace (~3,756) to be a career high.
Wilson is on pace for 106 rushes for 606 yards, well off the 2014 pace when he rushed for 849 yards on 118 rushes. More of Wilson's rushing yards this season have come from scrambles, not designed runs, as the team has gotten away some from the read-option.
So, obviously, it's been an up and down year for Wilson after receiving a huge contract in the offseason.
Here's the good news: Over the past three seasons, Wilson's second half splits have by-and-large been better than his first halves, with completion percentage, yards per attempt, and rating improving every year after the halfway point (stats via ESPN).
First, here's 2015's first half splits:
Compare those half-season tallies to his previous three years:
With the Seahawks sitting at 4-4 and in the unfamiliar feeling of being in third place in the NFC West, I do think that Wilson's play overall in the second half must improve in order to give the Seahawks a chance. The absolute biggest indicator, in my mind, will be redzone percentage. The Seahawks are currently dead last in the NFL in converting redzone appearances into touchdowns (29-percent) and that's a big part of the reason Wilson's touchdown totals are down. Get that going in the second half and it does feel like there's no ceiling for this team.
Defensive Player of the Year - Michael Bennett
I chose Bennett because I think he deserves more recognition for his dominant style of play, and also because a lot of the Seahawks' success starts up front. They must get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with consistency -- sack them, move them off their spot, hurry them, hit them -- and Bennett's done that amazingly well thus far. We've heard anecdotally that Bennett is the hardest player on the Seahawks to scheme for and he's the type of player that makes an impact on nearly every one of Seattle's defensive plays. He's the Seahawks' version of J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald, and if you took out his regular disruptiveness and I really wonder how different this defense would look.
The other two players I considered here were Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor, and you could easily make the argument that Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas would take away these honors. Obviously, indecision in determining a team's best defensive player is a good problem to have.
Now, I do think that Chancellor deserves a little aside here because the Seahawks defense clearly, clearly missed him during his two game holdout. I underestimated the importance of Chancellor's presence on the field and on the sideline, and it's been pretty clear that he's the emotional leader of the defense. The Seahawks' pass defense is back to its dominant ways (second in the NFL behind Denver in passing yards allowed per game), and Chancellor is a huge part of that. However, if you give a quarterback enough time to throw, he'll slice up pretty much any defense, so that's why I thought that Bennett is the most important player on that squad for this year.
Offensive Player of the Year - Jimmy Graham
Graham is leading the Seahawks in receptions (38), receiving yards (450), and is tied for the lead in touchdown catches (2). So, while some may see Graham's trade as a mistake, it's clear that he's been a focal point of the offense and the team's top target in the passing game. He's also improved marginally as a blocker, so while he's been put on blast for that part of his game, I have seen some improvement. It wasn't going to happen overnight. The effort is there.
Either way, he's a pass catcher first, and Graham is on pace for 76 catches this year in Seattle's low volume passing attack (just 9 shy of his mark last year in New Orleans), 900 yards (889 in 2014) and 4 touchdowns (10 in 2014). So, again, he's a huge target for Russell Wilson that has been an enormous factor in this offense.
That said, the redzone performance by Seattle has been dismal and that's where Jimmy Graham must step up going forward.
As BGA points out on twitter, Jimmy Graham has been targeted 8 times out of Russell Wilson's 27 total redzone pass attempts, with three catches and two touchdowns, an acceptable conversion rate considering Seattle's absurdly limited amount of redzone throws. For reference, Drew Brees threw at Jimmy Graham 21 times in the redzone last year and 9 of those times it resulted in a touchdown (that was tied with Gronk and Antonio Gates for best in the NFL among TE's).
I said it early in the year and I'll say it again: I don't care too much about the catch total or yards total -- those are important for moving the ball and it's awesome that this season, Graham has already matched his season-long total in explosive pass plays from last year, but touchdowns are still the key metric for me. Seattle desperately needs Graham to be a touchdown maker, and so far he has not been (not that I am blaming him for this, specifically). Seattle's redzone offense as a whole has been completely dysfunctional. That needs to change. Get Graham touchdowns.
Coach of the Year - Michael Barrow
Losing an emotional force like Ken Norton Jr might've played a bigger role in Seattle's early-season struggles than many thought it would. Seattle started out relatively flat in their first two games, a byproduct of Kam Chancellor's holdout and likely due in part to major changes in the coaching staff after Dan Quinn left to be a head coach and Norton left to be a defensive coordinator. I don't care how good the "next men up" are, this upsets a balance, and Norton in particular had been with Pete Carroll for over a decade.
So, despite a rocky start, especially at the linebacker position, I think that Barrow (and Lofa Tatupu) deserve some recognition for getting things back on track for K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Bruce Irvin, who, as a whole, have been great the last six weeks. K.J. Wright in particular has cleaned up his coverage flubs and is playing his best ball. Credit to Barrow and Tatupu, both former pro linebackers, for addressing that and getting things fixed there.
I think that Bobby Wagner's second half will be better than his first half, and Bruce Irvin is quietly playing really well when he's asked to hold the edge as the SAM linebacker. There were a few instances early on in the season where he allowed runs to get outside of him, but I've noticed a marked improvement there in the last six weeks as well. Seattle's linebackers haven't been perfect, but they've definitely cleaned up some issues we noticed early in the season.
So, overall, for an award that's extremely hard to judge from the outside looking in, I think that Barrow and Tatupu deserve some praise for helping to fill a huge emotional vacuum that was created when the fiery Norton left for Oakland.
Comeback Player of the Year - Brandon Mebane
Brandon Mebane missed the Seahawks' final seven games and the Playoffs last season after tearing his hamstring, but has come back this season and upped his game. He's a key cog in Seattle's base defense, lining up in a tilted nose-tackle position and disrupting the pocket and stringing out runs. Mebane doesn't rack up stats and doesn't get a ton of recognition for his "grunt" role, but he's played the fourth-most snaps of all of Seattle's defensive linemen and his ability to stack up offensive linemen while not ceding too much ground allows the Seahawks' linebackers to flow to the ball behind him.
Others considered here: Earl Thomas (back from shoulder surgery), Jordan Hill (back from calf injury).
Offensive Rookie of the Year - Tyler Lockett
Lockett has 20 catches this season for 253 yards and one touchdown (pace of 40/506/2) and has been a strong return man as well with a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown.
This is an easy award to give because Lockett's presence has been more spread out and consistent, but Thomas Rawls also deserves recognition as well. Rawls actually still leads the Seahawks in rushing yards (376), one more than Marshawn Lynch (375) on 34 fewer carries. He stepped up big-time when Lynch was out for two games with a hamstring injury.
Still, while Rawls is primarily now a backup, Lockett is a sure-fire starter whose targets and catches are likely to only increase as the year goes on.
Defensive Rookie of the Year - Frank Clark
This award is more of a default than anything, though Clark has flashed at times. No other Seahawks rookie has featured heavily on defense (or at all) so the honors go to Clark.
Clark has played in 28-percent of Seattle's defensive snaps thus far and that number figures to go up in the second half of the year.
"It's important to get him involved," Pete Carroll said recently. "I'd like to see him get a little bit more than that, maybe get half the plays, at least, as we rotate. We need to keep our guys fresh. But he has really good plays in him. He makes explosive plays," Carroll said, "and did some nice things chasing the ball and stuff."
"So he's done a good job, and we expect him to continue to improve, and also we'd like to get him more plays as we go."
Most Improved - Will Tukuafu
Will Tukuafu has played in 19.5-percent of Seattle's offensive plays (in addition to 8 defensive snaps and 19-percent of all special teams plays) and has really carved out a role for himself. He lines up in the backfield as a lead blocker and can be asked to motion in-line to play as a blocking tight end, and the team has really shown that they trust him in both areas.
It took a minute for Tukuafu to adapt to the Seahawks' system but while his snaps are still limited, he's made a big impact in his key role. He regularly blows up defenders filling gaps in the run game and brings a physical presence that the much smaller Derrick Coleman simply cannot. I expect that Tukuafu will continue to be the primary fullback as the season goes on, and Seattle's switch back to more I-formation stuff bodes well for his playing time.
I would assume there will be disagreements about my choices (this is the internet) so tell me what you'd do differently in the comments below.