RENTON — One first-round draft pick’s rise back to prominence on the Seahawks’ defense is another’s fall from grace.

For the moment, anyway.

Not that L.J. Collier, the team’s first-round pick in 2019 (No. 29 overall), won’t again have a chance to play a role of importance for Seattle. He might see more time as soon as Sunday at San Francisco depending on the health of Kerry Hyder, who suffered a concussion last week (though he was a full participant in practice Thursday), or if Seattle simply changes its rotation up front some.

But when Robert Nkemdiche, a 2016 first-round pick of Arizona attempting to revive his career in Seattle, played 44 snaps last week against the Vikings as a practice squad elevation and then was signed to the 53-man roster Tuesday, it spoke loudly to where Collier stands with the Seahawks right now.

While Nkemdiche was playing more snaps of anyone on the defensive line other than Poona Ford last Sunday, in part taking on a greater role once Hyder went out in the second quarter, Collier was a healthy scratch for the second time in three games,

“They are both playing the same position, and Robert is really stepping up and playing a lot,’’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said this week. “L.J., again, our main thing around here is competition so we have two big guys competing to play. So it will make them both better.”

This is hardly how anyone could have envisioned Collier’s career starting as he enters his third season.


Collier was an official starter for all 16 games last year, notching three sacks, after being limited to 152 snaps as a rookie in 2019 due in part to injuries.

The hope was he would pick up where he left off and become an even more consistent contributor at the team’s strongside defensive end position.

But Collier was also inactive for the opener, and then played just 20 snaps against the Titans with one assisted tackle and a quarterback hit before being inactive again last Sunday.

“It came down to competition, being able to play, being able to make quick decisions, and right now we feel that Nkemdiche was a little ahead of him,’’ Norton said of moving Nkemdiche ahead of Collier on the depth chart.

Collier was a somewhat debated pick for Seattle since he’d only been a starter for one full season at TCU and hadn’t put up especially impressive sack totals.

But the Seahawks needed to replenish the defensive line after trading Frank Clark to the Chiefs shortly before the draft rather than sign him to a long-term contract.


They also might not have needed to draft a defensive lineman first in 2019 had Malik McDowell’s Seahawks career not officially ended in March 2019 when the team released him after deciding he was not physically fit to play following an ATV accident in summer 2017 after he was taken in the second round.

It doesn’t help how things have played out that McDowell has revived his career in Cleveland, starting all three games this year with five tackles and 30 or more snaps in each contest, while Collier is buried on Seattle’s depth chart.

If Collier’s future is uncertain — as well as the legacy of his draft selection will be viewed — he still has time to rewrite the story, Norton said.

“He has a lot of confidence in himself, and he’s the type of guy that’s going to keep fighting until he gets it back,’’ Norton said.

The Seahawks can also sell that taking the risk on Nkemdiche has so far paid off to give the kind of production they wanted out of Collier.

Nkemdiche was taken in the same 29th spot by Arizona three years earlier out of the University of Mississippi, but started just six games in three years there before being waived.


He played two games in Miami in 2019 before being released with the NFL Network reporting that “tardiness’’ was at least a partial reason.

After being out of football last season, it was unclear if Nkemdiche had much of a future left. But Seattle took a flyer on him in April for a minimum salary contract.

And Nkemdiche, who at 27 is just a year older than Collier, now appears as if he could be a long-term fit in Seattle, having so far proven the worth of his words that he was determined not to blow what might have been his last chance.

“I think the more he’s around us, the more we understand how passionate he is, how much he loves the game, and how much he really wants to be good, he really cares,’’ Norton said. “It’s really important to him to be a part of this team and to be an impact player.”

Said Nkemdiche on Thursday: “I mean this is what I love doing, so just being back on the field doing what I love doing is everything. It meant everything to me, and I’m looking forward to the next one.’’

For Collier, the question is when the next one will come.