The Seahawks are still the best team in the NFC West, but what about their running game, their offensive line, and their aging defense? This draft didn’t feel like a slam dunk.
Step into your figurative time machine for a second and set the date back to May 4, 2016. Like now, the Seahawks were about a week removed from the draft and more than a month removed from free agency.
Do you remember how you felt about the team’s Super Bowl chances at that time? My guess is you were pretty optimistic.
But do you feel that way today? Because I’m not sure I do.
I’m not saying the Seahawks will nosedive and miss the playoffs for the first time in six years. They are still the best team in the NFC West and boast one of the NFL’s most menacing defenses.
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It’s just that, with the draft dust settled and free agency complete … I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like they got much better, does it?
Start with the running game. Do you feel like a resurgence there is imminent? After being among the top four rushing teams in the league every season for four years, the Seahawks ranked 25th in 2016.
Part of that might have had to do with Thomas Rawls injuring himself early. But even after Rawls healed up, he tallied just 123 yards on 49 carries (2.5 yards per carry) over the last four games of the season.
To think he is going to post the kind of numbers he did as a rookie, when he led all running backs in yards per carry (5.6), is far-fetched. And to think the newly-acquired Eddie Lacy, who is coming off an injury that required surgery to insert two screws, two wires and a plate into his ankle, is going find his old form might be a pipe dream as well.
Of course, with the offensive line they rolled out there, it’s quite possible the Seahawks could have had Jim Brown and Barry Sanders in the backfield and still finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing. And ask yourself: Did they get much better on that front, either?
Had they been able to sign someone like T.J. Lang, the guard who went to the Lions after they outbid Seattle, the answer would have been yes. Instead, the answer is more like um … I guess?
Tackle Luke Joeckel commanded a one-year contract worth $7 million in guaranteed money, but that spoke more to the market than it did his production. This offseason, evaluation site Pro Football Focus listed more than 210 free agents with better position grades than Joeckel (Lang was 14th). Go down another 100 spots or so on that list, and you’d have found new Seahawks guard Oday Aboushi, who’s on his third team in five years.
Throw these guys in with the likes of Germain Ifedi, one of the lowest-ranked guards last year, and George Fant, one of the lowest-ranked tackles, and it’s hardly a game-changer. And the idea that center Ethan Pocic, one of Seattle’s second-round picks, will develop into a stud is dubious considering the Seahawks have never re-signed a lineman they’ve drafted in the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era.
Without a running game to keep opposing defenses guessing, or a line to protect him, Russell Wilson will likely operate under as much distress as he did last year. And though Wilson was playing through pain through the first part of the season, his production was still pretty average when his mobility returned.
We’re talking about an offense that went three games without scoring a touchdown last year and three more in which it scored just one. We’re talking about a group that struggled to find consistency from Day 1.
Barring a draft-day sleeper, the Seahawks didn’t add much “win now” material on that side of the ball. If the Hawks can’t score, it doesn’t matter how ferocious their defense is.
And on paper, that defense appears like it can be quite ferocious. It didn’t lose any significant personnel. It added rookie Malik McDowell — the 35th overall pick with skyscraping upside — to the defensive line, and drafted three safeties and a cornerback.
But there are still questions.
After breaking his leg, will Earl Thomas return to his best-safety-in-the-game self? After the most tumultuous season of his career, will Richard Sherman, who asked to be traded, be more problematic than productive?
Will Cliff Avril (31 years old), Ahtyba Rubin (30) or Michael Bennett (32 in November) lose a step due to age? And how many, if any, of the draftees will end up being valuable?
Don’t worry, this is hardly an R.I.P. column. Maybe Joeckel and Aboushi respond well to new scenery. Maybe Wilson returns to 2015 form, when he led the league in passer rating. Maybe Sherman is as motivated as ever and comes up with 10 picks.
You never know in football, which is so contingent on health and a few big plays, anyway.
There is still plenty of talent on this roster. There will still be intrigue this season. The Seahawks are still going to be good.
I’m just not sure they got better.