The Seahawks finished 2018 as the surprise of the NFL, with a 10-6 record and a postseason berth. With the season behind them, our Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Mike Vorel now hand out a bevy of post-season awards.
So maybe you feel like the season itself was just one, big award — a major one, at that — as the Seahawks surprised the skeptics to finish 10-6 and get into the playoffs.
But we’re here to continue the award season as Seahawks beat reporters Bob Condotta and Mike Vorel hand out some more hardware honoring the season that was.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
CONDOTTA: QB Russell Wilson. Yeah I’m going to take the easy and obvious way out here in selecting Wilson. But how can you avoid it in a season when he set a franchise record with 35 touchdown passes while adapting to the team’s move back to more of a run-first offense? And don’t forget Wilson’s role in that philosophy — a key to Seattle’s revived running this year was its increased use of the zone read, plays on which Wilson has the choice of keeping the ball or handing it off. According to Pro Football Focus, 195 of Seatte’s 534 runs this year were zone reads (by far the most in the NFL), plays on which Seattle gained 885 yards and scored nine of their 15 rushing touchdowns.
VOREL: LB Bobby Wagner. Russell Wilson, Chris Carson and Tyler Lockett all belong in this conversation. But why is Bobby Wagner the Seahawks’ most valuable player? The 28-year-old linebacker wrapped up the regular season with 138 total tackles, 60 more than the team’s No. 2 tackler, Bradley McDougald. His 11 passes defended were also the most on the team from the linebacker position. Wagner has made five consecutive Pro Bowls, and he had arguably his best season without an established supporting cast (or a full season from fellow linebacker K.J. Wright). The choice here is clear.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
2018 IN REVIEW
CONDOTTA: P Michael Dickson. Tre Flowers is a great choice, too. But Dickson showed just what a punter can mean to a team, setting a franchise record with a 42.5 net punting average in becoming the first rookie punter to make the Pro Bowl since 1985. He also, well, finished the season tied for the team high in yards-per-carry, at 9.
Rookie of the Year: CB Tre Flowers. Tre Flowers was never supposed to be a starter in his rookie season. The Seahawks brought veteran cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and Byron Maxwell into training camp, with the expectation that one of them would win a job opposite Shaquill Griffin. Johnson actually won that job, but promptly suffered a groin injury and was placed on IR. Flowers — who played safety at Oklahoma State — proceeded to start 16 of 17 games and produce 67 tackles, six passes defended and three forced fumbles. He was not a liability. He didn’t look like an emergency option. Instead, Flowers is now an emerging piece of the Seahawks’ young defensive core.
BREAKOUT STAR OF THE YEAR
CONDOTTA: WR Tyler Lockett. We can define “breakout” in a few different ways, and I’m going to use it here to describe the player who most solidified his standing among the NFL’s elite this season. Lockett was known as a solid receiver entering the season. But some questioned if he was really worthy of the three-year $31.8 million deal he received last summer. He looked underpaid by the time the year was over with a team-high 57 catches for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns with Wilson turning in a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when throwing his way, only the second time in NFL history that’s happened.
VOREL: RB Chris Carson. Who else? After playing in just four games in his rookie season before suffering a broken leg, Carson piled up 1,151 rushing yards, 4.7 yards per carry and nine touchdowns in 14 games in 2018. The second-year running back eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark six times, including three consecutive games to close the regular season. He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month in December for his efforts. Wilson may be the face of the Seahawks’ offense, but Carson quickly became the focal point of that attack under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Don’t expect any of that to change in 2019.
MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
CONDOTTA: DT Jarran Reed. Reed had one of the best years for a tackle in team history with 10.5 sacks — just the third Seahawks tackle ever to get 10 or more, the others being Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle. Yet, he seemed like he was still under-the-radar when the season ended. Reed’s rookie deal runs out following the 2019 season, so put him on the list of those who may get extensions sometime this offseason. He looks as important as any of the rest given the season he just had and Seattle’s needs up front.
Most underrated player: S Bradley McDougald. You know about him locally. But when, exactly, will the rest of the NFL catch wind of Bradley McDougald? All the 28-year-old safety did in his second season with the Seahawks is start every game, finish second on the team with 78 tackles and add three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He can cover. He can stop the run. He’s equally capable of playing both safety spots or dropping down to the second level. He provided leadership in a secondary stock full of first- and second-year players. He may not be a Pro Bowler, but McDougald had a Pro Bowl season in 2018. It might just take a while for the rest of the league to recognize it.
CONDOTTA: Injuries to key players. I was going to maybe go with defensive end Dion Jordan, who after the promise he showed at the end of the 2017 season, had just 1.5 sacks this season while battling a chronic knee issue. Jordan made it clear he’s not going to be a longterm answer as a pass-rushing end. But injuries to proven vets such as Doug Baldwin, K.J. Wright and Earl Thomas make this a real ‘what-might-have-been?’ of a season despite the 10-6 record. And with Wright and Thomas potentially on their way out, the links to the Super Bowl team just keep getting thinner.
VOREL: WR Brandon Marshall. I get it, the Seahawks signed Marshall to a one-year deal with very little financial risk. But remember the buzz surrounding the 34-year-old wide receiver in training camp? Marshall was supposed to be Wilson’s long lost red zone threat. He was supposed to provide valuable leadership for an incredibly young team. This was the guy who arrived in Seattle with six 100-catch seasons and eight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards. But none of that came to fruition in 2018. Marshall was released after seven games, catching 11 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. He was essentially beat out by former seventh-round pick David Moore. By the end of the season, the Seahawks certainly could have used another consistent receiving threat. Marshall wasn’t it.
PLAY OF THE YEAR
CONDOTTA: Lockett/Baldwin catches against the Chiefs. I was going to do with Dickson’s “Big Balls’’ run against Detroit. But as fun as that was, Seattle was going to win that game anyway. They might not have even gotten to the playoffs if not for the spectacular catches by Lockett and Baldwin to set up the final TD to clinch the Kansas City game. For each, the catch rated as maybe the best in their careers — especially Baldwin’s juggling, one-handed grab.
VOREL: Chris Carson’s run, hurdle and flip against the Panthers. Sure, there were plenty of other plays that meant more in games this season. But which play will the fan base remember the most? Which play truly defines the season? I’ll go with Carson, who found a hole in the middle of the Panthers’ defensive line early in the third quarter, took off into open field, attempted to hurdle safety Eric Reid, was spun in the air like a gymnast in the floor exercise, landed on his feet and kept right on running for a 15-yard gain. Offensively, at least, this season was marked by the Seahawks’ running resurgence. They led the NFL in the regular season with 160 rushing yards per game, and those 15 yards were by far the most memorable.
BIGGEST POSTION IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT FOR 2019
CONDOTTA: Defensive end. The Seahawks will keep Frank Clark, which will give them one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. But Clark can’t do it alone — aside from Reed no other Seahawk had more than three sacks this season. Seattle statistically was solid with its pass rush this season, finishing with 43 sacks, tied for 11th in the NFL. But more than half came from Clark (14) and Reed (10.5). And that led to a few games where the pass rush seemed non-existent. In what is increasingly a passing league (and especially in an NFC West featuring the Rams and the 49ers) having as many pass rushing options is more vital than ever.
VOREL: Free safety. The Seahawks have plenty of options here. They could use more depth on the second level, they need to continue to add pass-rushers, Wilson would love another legitimate receiving threat and, once again, Seattle is in the market for a placekicker. But two seasons into his career, Tedric Thompson doesn’t look like the answer at free safety. Delano Hill also showed promise late in the regular season but has started just two games in his career. Shalom Luani and Maurice Alexander are also question marks. McDougald is capable of playing either safety position, so that gives the Seahawks some flexibility both in free agency and the draft. John Schneider and Co. shouldn’t feel satisfied with what they have on the back end of the Seahawks’ defense.
EARLY EXPECTATION FOR 2019
CONDOTTA: This was the true changing-of-the-guard season for Seattle, with a core no longer consisting of a major share of players from the Super Bowl seasons (even if the two most important players — Wilson and Bobby Wagner — remain from that group). Seattle benefitted this year from being a little under-the-radar entering the season and transitioned nicely thanks to some tweaks to its offensive scheme. Seattle won’t catch anyone off guard next season, though. The Rams look like they’re here to stay and the 49ers might finally be ready for a breakthrough next season. Still, as long as Wilson is upright and in his prime, Seattle will be a playoff contender.
VOREL: The Seahawks surpassed all realistic expectations in 2018. With a young, talented core returning, there’s no reason they should not be able to build on that success next season. It will be difficult to upend the Los Angeles Rams at the top of the NFC West, but the goal for these Seahawks should be a division title and home field in the playoffs. They’ll need to add more pieces, especially defensively, to accomplish that. But the Seahawks showed what they’re capable of in a pleasantly surprising 2018 season. Now it’s time to take the next step.