In part two of our assessment of the Seahawks’ offseason roster moves, we turn our attention to the defense. The Hawks’ defense led the NFL in points-per-game for the fourth season in a row in 2015, turning around a shaky start to end the regular season with a dominating 36-6 victory versus the Cardinals.
Led by the Legion of Boom in the secondary and Pro Bowl linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, it’s not surprising that the Seahawks draft class included only two defensive players out of 10 picks. Head Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider obviously feel confident in the group they have, and most early indications point to the Seahawks having another dominant defensive unit in 2016.
Carroll and Schneider value having a tenacious defensive line more than almost any other coaching staff in the NFL. This is evidenced by the long term contracts of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, both of whom have four-year $28.5 million contracts. Both are locked up for the next two years and combined for 19 sacks and 64 tackles in 2015.
On the interior, Seattle lost run-stopping, belly-rolling beast Brandon Mebane to a three-year, $13.5 million contract with the San Diego Chargers. Mebane’s loss will be mitigated by the very capable Ahtyba Rubin, who was one half of defensive tackle duo that did not allow a 100 yard rusher in all of 2016.
Two of the defensive players the Hawks drafted were defensive linemen Jarran Reed of Alabama and Quinton Jefferson of Maryland. Reed is a 6-foot-3-inch run-stopper with a 33-foot- ¾’-inch wingspan who may have fallen in the draft because of a DUI arrest in 2014. Jefferson is a 6-foot-4-inch pass-rusher who overcame a torn ACL in 2014 to finish this season with 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks. Look for the Seahawks to have a premier pass rush and solid run-blocking line next year.
As is the case with any successful team in a league regulated by a salary cap, the Seahawks fell victim to free agent departures of top players after last season. Perhaps the most heavily missed will be linebacker Bruce Irvin, the 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft who played in all but six games during his four years in Seattle. Irvin left for big money with the Oakland Raiders, and although he was a talented contributor, he never quite performed to the level his contract renewal would have demanded. Irvin has 22 sacks in four years, not enough to be considered a premier pass rusher in the NFL.
Luckily, the Hawks still have Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, the latter of whom was ranked second out of all linebackers last season by Pro Football Focus. In classic offseason fashion, rumors are circling that Frank Clark has lost the necessary weight to make the jump to a pass-rushing linebacker. The Seahawks will have a solid group of linebackers this season.
Safety was a position of legitimate concern for the Seahawks for the first time in a while last year. Kam Chancellor’s holdout clearly left him unprepared to jump back at full speed when he returned. At least one game the Seahawks should have won were dropped due to lapses in communication and execution. In week six versus Carolina, Chancellor and free safety Earl Thomas miscommunicated and let Panthers tight end Greg Olsen slip past for the game winning touchdown. This was part of a larger trend of the Seahawks vaunted secondary letting leads slip away in the fourth quarter. They also blew leads versus the Bengals, Rams and Packers.
That being said, I truly believe this was just an off-year for the enforcers of the Legion of Boom. Chancellor is not expected to hold out in 2016 and history tells us that this is still one of the best safety groups in the NFL. Opposing receivers will still feel terror for what’s coming their way when they turn upfield in the 2016 season.
Everybody knows about the Legion of Boom, and after a two year jaunt around the NFL the LOB is welcoming back a founding member, cornerback Brandon Browner. Though Browner set the dubious record of most penalties ever committed with the Saints last season, his return will be great for leadership and morale with a possible bonus of a solid backup at right corner.
One can’t forget about Richard Sherman, self-proclaimed best corner in the league, as well as recently resigned Jeremy Lane. Lane had a noticeable impact when he returned from injury last season, intercepting Pittsburgh backup Landry Jones for a touchdown in his first game back.
Depth is still a major concern, however, with both Tharold Simon and DeShawn Shead having yet to prove themselves as long-term solutions. Even with concerns about depth, the Hawks should be solid at the back end with Sherman and Lane leading the charge.