The Seattle defense had an uneven ride in 2015, but it finished in the usual spot — allowing the fewest points in the NFL for a record fourth consecutive season. Wright’s improved play was a key in offsetting some of the struggles at other spots.
With the Seahawks set to report for training camp July 29 (practices begin the next day), it’s time to look at the players I feel are most pivotal in 2016.
Call it “16 for ’16,’’ as we count down the 16 most important Seahawks in 2016, unveiling one new player each day from now until the team reports.
The countdown continues at No. 14 with linebacker K.J. Wright, one of the more unheralded players on the team.
Player: K.J. Wright.
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Position: Weakside linebacker.
2016 contract status: Wright is entering the second season of a four-year, $27 million contract signed in December 2014. He will earn a base salary of $5.25 million this season.
Expected 2016 role: Wright again will man the weakside linebacker spot, playing alongside middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Why he’s ranked here: The Seattle defense had an uneven ride in 2015, but it finished in the usual spot — allowing the fewest points in the NFL for a record fourth consecutive season.
Wright’s improved play was a key in offsetting some of the struggles at other spots.
His fifth NFL season was by far his best. Some observers said he played as well at his position as anyone in the NFL.
The football analytic site Pro Football Focus has drawn the ire of Seahawks fans for some of its rankings. But PFF’s analysts had nothing but high praise for Wright’s play in 2015.
Consider that at the end of the season, PFF wrote this about Wright:
“Smack in the middle of all these playmakers is Seattle’s most underrated and consistent defender — K.J. Wright. Wright is rock steady. While playing on 994 snaps, he missed only four tackles all season. He also led the team with 54 stops. Wright is very good against the run, and is elite in pass coverage. While names like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas grab headlines, Wright may be just as valuable to Seattle’s defensive success.’’
PFF also called Wright one of the 10 biggest Pro Bowl snubs and assessed that he was far more worthy of a spot on the team than Green Bay’s Clay Matthews.
Wright particularly stood out in 2015 in a game against Minnesota, when his sure tackling and lateral speed helped hold Adrian Peterson to 18 yards, the third-lowest total of his career.
And though Wright always has been solid in pass coverage (his height and length make him well-suited for that), he had a few lapses at key times in 2014. But he tightened those up considerably in 2015.
Some aspects of the Seattle defense appear to be more stable than a year ago, particularly a now-healthy secondary.
One big question, though, is who will replace strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin, who left via free agency. Veteran Mike Morgan would get the call if the season began today, but others such as Cassius Marsh, Eric Pinkins and Kevin Pierre-Louis could also factor in.
While that transition takes place, Seattle is counting on its sure things, Wright and Wagner, so its linebacking corps won’t miss a beat.