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Clayton: Seahawks’ pass-rush could be among NFL’s best in 2017

Cliff Avril helped the Seahawks produce 42 sacks last season, tied for third-most in the NFL. (AP)

During “Movin’ The Chains” on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday, Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller got into their rankings of the best pass-rushing defenses in the NFL.

They agreed on the third-best, each choosing the Seahawks. Miller picked the Panthers and Broncos as his top two. Kirwan went with Denver first and Carolina second. When I co-hosted with Kirwan on Wednesday, the topic came up again, and Kirwan was bullish on the Seahawks’ pass-rush.

“They have lots of guys,” Kirwan said. “I’m big on sack ratio. I like the Panthers’ pass rush, but the Seahawks had about 100 less pass plays than the Panthers (on defense), and they had five less sacks. Plus, they were up there in quarterback hits and pressures.”

The Seahawks had 42 sack in 2016, tied for third-most in the NFL, but the numbers project to be better in 2017. The one thing that was missing from the Seahawks last year was that second inside pass-rusher in nickel situations. Michael Bennett moves to defensive tackle in passing situations but he often gets double- and triple-teamed.

That leaves single blocking for the other defensive tackle. Jarran Reed had 1.5 sacks as a rookie. Ahtyba Rubin had one sack. The Seahawks drafted Quinton Jefferson last year hoping he could develop into the inside pass-rusher they’ve been missing since Clinton McDonald left for Tampa Bay. McDonald had 5.5 sacks in 2013, his final season with Seattle. He was a factor on a defense that was historically good.

That’s where rookie second-round pick Malik McDowell could be the difference. McDowell is expected to play defensive end on early downs and provide interior pass-rush in nickel situations.

Players will tell you it takes a little longer for young defensive linemen to develop in Pete Carroll’s scheme. Carroll will compensate by using more experienced defensive tackles who can recognize where the play is going to go and help communicate with the rest of the line.

Reed should be better in his second season. If McDowell can produce five or six sacks, Seattle’s pass-rush will be among the best.

The Seahawks now have three legitimate rushers in Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. Avril had a career-high 11.5 sacks last season. Bennett had five. Clark had 10, up from three as a rookie in 2015.

And then there’s what Bobby Wagner does as a blitzing middle linebacker. He didn’t blitz much his first couple of years, but last season, he was given more freedom and he was effective with 4.5 sacks.

So much of the success of Seattle’s pass defense will depend on what happens on offense. Carroll wants to make up about 100 carries that were missing from last year’s running game. If that plan works with Eddie Lacy and/or Thomas Rawls at running back, that should give the Seahawks more second-half leads.

The Seahawks only had 11 interceptions last season, but that number could grow with extra pressure on the quarterback..

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on

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