Most-heated position battles? Is DK Metcalf for real?
That and more in the latest edition of the Seahawks mailbag!
A: That’s a great question. Of the three you mention, I think the first two — receiver and nickel cornerback — are definitely the most wide open.
Right tackle is Germain Ifedi’s to lose, and I think it would take quite a bit for Ifedi to lose it. Ifedi is a popular lightning rod for fan and media criticism, but I know the coaches think he made a big jump in play last season, and I think most objective observers agreed with that assessment, as well. Fant will compete there, and Jamarco Jones, as well, and if Ifedi does not play well this year Seattle may feel more comfortable with its options to make a change than it did the past few years — Fant is actually making more than Ifedi this year ($3.09 million on his restricted free agent tender compared to the $1.57 million of Ifedi on the final year of his rookie deal), so the Seahawks are going to want to use him.
But Fant’s role last year as an eligible tackle/tight end was a vital one (he played at least 12 snaps in every game from week five on once his role became established in the wake of the injury to Will Dissly) and I think ideally Seattle would like it if Ifedi kept progressing and Fant could play that spot again this year.
But the other receiver spot and nickel have no real incumbents.
All we really know about receiver is that Tyler Lockett is going to start and play a ton of snaps.
With Doug Baldwin’s retirement and the drafting of Metcalf (more on him below) there has been growing speculation that Lockett could play more in the slot in 2019 — Baldwin’s primary spot during his career.
As Pro Football Focus noted, Lockett played there quite a bit last year, both in place of Baldwin when he was injured and then also just at times the way the alignments turned out — PFF stated Lockett had 457 snaps last year in the slot and 496 outside.
So he can do either, and well — Russell Wilson had a perfect passer rating throwing to Lockett last year, and as PFF also noted “among WRs with at least 20 receptions in the slot, Tyler Lockett ranked 2nd in yards per reception (17.5), one spot behind Tyreek Hill (18.2).”
The hunch here, though, is Lockett is too valuable on the outside to make him simply a slot receiver, and Seattle has some other players who seem good fits there, as well — draft picks Gary Jennings and John Ursua both played there in college and some draft analysts have felt that could be Metcalf’s best spot.
David Moore and Jaron Brown obviously return, and coach Pete Carroll has already mentioned several times that he hopes to get more this year out of Brown. Then there’s the enigma that is Amara Darboh, a 2017 third-rounder who remains on the roster.
If I had to pick five receivers to make it as of today I’d go Lockett, Metcalf, Jennings, Moore and Brown. The sixth, if the Seahawks kept that many, would be a battle between Darboh, Ursua and maybe Keenan Reynolds.
How quickly the rookies progress will tell a lot about how the rotations will go — would the starting three be Lockett, Moore, Brown? Lockett, Metcalf, Moore? Lockett, Metcalf, Jennings?
Lots to sort out there.
But one thought is that there could be more of an equitable snap distribution this year then there was last season, when Lockett and Baldwin tended to almost always be on the field — Lockett played 85 percent of the snaps last season and Baldwin played 81 percent or more in each of his last nine games despite battling the injuries that forced his recent release. Lockett could see that same usage but other snaps might be spread around more evenly. Or maybe Metcalf lives up to the early hype (more on that below) and takes that role.
As for the nickel, anyone’s guess may be as good as anyone else’s right now.
Akeem King appears the leader going in of the three available nickels on the roster who return from last season, the others being Kalan Reed and Jeremy Boykins. Boykins hasn’t played in an NFL game while Reed didn’t play last season and King saw 145 snaps, getting one start against the Bears due to injury and playing most of the regular season finale against Arizona due to another injury.
Seattle also just signed veteran free agent Jamar Taylor, a 2013 second-round pick, to compete for that job, and his 41 career starts (29 with the Browns in 2016 and 2017) make him by far the most experienced of the potential nickels on the roster, though until the team gets more of a look at him in its defense it’s hard to know where he stands on the depth chart.
And then there’s rookie safety Ugo Amadi out of Oregon, who ended up getting a long look at nickel during rookie minicamp, Carroll saying later he got used there more than the team anticipated, which might have been a sign that the team got more interested in seeing him play there the more they saw him play there. Taylor signed after rookie minicamp, but he’d visited before the draft and his signing might have been in the works for a while.
There’s a few other really intriguing things to watch, such as how the defensive line unfolds (if Ziggy Ansah is healthy from week one that goes a long way to solidifying how that will look), and the third-down running back role (more on that below, as well).
But receiver and nickel are undoubtedly as intriguing as any.
A: Can I be like Jon Ryan or Michael Dickson and punt on this question and say some of both?
As you note, Carroll is eternally optimistic. It’s usually news mostly when he speaks about a player in non-glowing terms rather than the other way around.
And he seemed pretty happy about everybody following rookie minicamp other than the quarterbacks (which foreshadowed the signing of Geno Smith). So yes, there’s some cautionary salt-taking advised.
That said, it wasn’t just Carroll who was wowed by how Metcalf performed in the rookie minicamp — former QBs-turned-local-radio analysts such as Hugh Millen and Jake Heaps took to the airwaves and/or social media to rave about what they saw.
I wouldn’t dispute any of that — Metcalf is listed as 6-3, 229 by the team and his size and speed was evident throughout, as was some rare body control on a leaping, twisting catch on the first day of minicamp that kickstarted the weekend of hype.
Carroll said later Metcalf showed an ability to run everything in a normal receiver route tree despite the fact that one of the knocks against Metcalf coming into the draft was that he was asked to do very little in terms of route running during his career at Ole Miss. Wrote Pro Football Focus of Metcalf’s usage at Ole Miss: “The way Ole Miss’ offense deployed a dynamic skill set like Metcalf was comically simplistic. He was left wide receiver – no slot, no motion. Defenses knew exactly where Metcalf would be every snap. 324 of his 344 snaps came at left outside wide receiver with the handful of others coming at right outside wide receiver. From there, he ran go routes/fades/clear outs snap after snap. Defenses could either roll a safety over the top or play their corners well off and eliminate the threat of Metcalf’s deep speed.”
That helped feed a perception that Metcalf will need a lot of work to learn how to play different receiving spots. But Metcalf spent the winter working with noted receiver coach Jerry Sullivan and Carroll said he couldn’t have been more pleased with what Metcalf showed in that regard during minicamp.
But again, there are big caveats to minicamp —no pads, no contact, really basic plays, and Metcalf was going up against cornerbacks who were all undrafted free agents.
And Carroll did sound one note of caution when talking about Metcalf saying after heaping on some praise, saying “now he’s got to go fight and figure out how to play football.”
That’s the test now — taking unquestionably impressive physical traits and becoming a true NFL receiver.
And that’s a journey Metcalf truly begins this week as the Seahawks get on the field for Organized Team Activities when the veterans and the rookies will all be on the field able to do 11-on-11 drills against each other for the first time this offseason.
A: This has actually always been Seattle’s main plan for Prosise, to use him in a way that maximizes his receiving ability. On the day Prosise was drafted the team talked about him being used first as a third-down/two-minute back, the role the team reserves for its best receiving running back.
“Can run all of the routes, downfield stuff with intricacies,” Carroll said then.
But Prosise’s injuries, and then the merry-go-round at tailback his first two seasons, stunted just about every plan.
Prosise was used mostly as a third-down back in his first few appearances as a rookie in 2016 — in the first four games he played that year he had nine carries and eight receptions.
But injuries, as well as the decision to release Christine Michael, then led to Prosise being elevated to serving as the everydown tailback for two games before he then got hurt and was done for the season.
In 2017, the Seahawks again planned early to use Prosise as the third-down/two-minute back and in the first three games of the season he had eight carries for 20 yards but six receptions for 87, illustrative of how the team hoped to use him.
But then he again got hurt and barely played the rest of the season.
Last year was more of the game — Prosise was used substantially in the third-down/two-minute role in the second game of the year against the Bears, on the field for 18 snaps, catching three passes for 22 yards (while not getting a carry). But then he again got hurt and played just five more snaps the rest of the season.
So, the Seahawks have always tried to use Prosise in that role, they just haven’t been able to, due to Prosise being healthy enough to play in just 16 of a possible 48 regular season games.
Prosise enters what is the final season on his rookie contract in 2019 again having a prime opportunity to be the third-down/two-minute back with Mike Davis — who primarily handled that role last season — now off to the Chicago Bears.
In fact, with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny entrenched as the 1-2 punch to be the every-down back, winning the job as the third-down back might be the only way Prosise makes the roster.
It won’t be easy as the Seahawks also drafted Travis Homer in the sixth round out of Miami to compete for that spot and J.D. McKissic can also play it. Seattle also signed Bo Scarbrough late last season, but that was presumably moreso to add depth as an everydown back, meaning the two-minute/third-down back candidates are basically Prosise, Homer and McKissic, and probably mostly a Prosise/Homer battle.